The Mumbai terror attack seems to have hit the UPA government like a thunderbolt and enlightened its vision. The government that used to rubbish any nationalist suggestion to ensure national security by dealing firmly with the terrorists and their domestic harbingers has suddenly woken up and started speaking a new language.
Only time will tell if it is an election stunt or a genuine policy change. One thing is clear. Even if the government is serious it has no time left to execute these policies. So it seems more a poll talk than an honest resolve to combat terror on Indian soil.
There are only three months left for the government to do anything concrete on this front. But most of the things now on its agenda will take years to get into the administrative mould. The new Home Minister P. Chidambaram says his biggest ally is public opinion, when he talks of setting things right on the security front while admitting to the failure of the political system, in an interview to The Indian Express editor.
?We should have a good national population register by 2011-12, data of every citizen?, he says. This has been on top of the BJP agenda for almost a decade now, and any mention of this was pooh-poohed by the Congress and its allies all these years.
Again, Chidambaram says, a Bangladeshi has no business to come to India unless he has a visa. ?He has no business to live here unless he has a resident permit, and no business to work here if he has no work permit.? This has so far been the major battle cry of the BJP plank on terror. Investigations have proved that the Bangladeshis infiltrated into India have, for long, become the sleeping cells of ISI operations in India. And that at least 30 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants have spread out into the nook and corner of the country and established formidable settlements here. All attempts to detect and deport these aliens have been defeated by the Congress, Communists and other pseudo-secular outfits as part of their vote bank strategy. Who does not know that the Congress in Assam, the CPI(M) in West Bengal and Tripura and RJD in Bihar have been encouraging these infiltrations to keep them as captive block votes at the time of election. The IMDT Act in Assam was misused to the hilt, to invite strong strictures from the apex court only two years ago. Yet the UPA government at the centre colluded with the cynical state government in Assam to protect the aliens and circumvent the National Citizens Act by issuing an ordinance. The media which make a hell of a racket over every instance of search or deportation of a Bangladeshi also play a notoriously unhelpful role in fighting illegal migration.
So far only the BJP, its affiliates, the AASU and AGP have taken a stand against Bangladeshi infiltration. The Congress used to condemn the campaign as communal and aimed to create violence. Last month the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad launched a nationwide agitation from Chicken'sNeck on Indo-Bangla border and submitted a well-documented memorandum to the President, the Prime Minister and Home Minister highlighting the challenge the Bangladeshis pose to India'sunity and social cohesion. The ABVP undertook a detailed survey of the border states in the east, to prepare the study and it documented the demographic change that was fast becoming a national calamity.
It is as if the UPA has invented and became aware only now of the gravity of the menace. When it talks of drawing up a five-year plan to confront the situation by proposing a national population register it sounds like poll talk. If it is serious it should make an open commitment that even if it is not voted back to power, it will support any move by any political party that comes to power after the poll to undertake this mission. Such a commitment will give some credibility to its latest posture.
On fighting terror, dealing with Pakistan, deporting Bangladeshis and national citizens register the Congress is now talking like the BJP. This only shows the BJP has been right in highlighting these issus as part of its political manifesto and that they are immensely popular with the Indian public. It is a national demand. And by trying to appropriate them as part of the Congress lecture on terror it is trying to take political mileage on the eve of the poll. As such the UPA has nothing else to show as achievements of the last five years. Its political expediency is understandable. But take it with a bitter pack of salt. In a sense it is good that many things that the BJP was shouting from the rooftop for the last many years have now become part of the Congress pre-election roadshow. The Congress is good at shifting goalposts and templates. And it has no qualms about stealing slogans. A political consensus on issues of nationality is however a welcome shift.