IT is evident from the sequence of events that followed the violence in the Bodoland Territorial Administered District (BTAD) areas in Assam, that the country, particularly the political establishment, cannot continue to neglect the illegal immigrants issue as a myth. That a few doctored smses/mmses allegedly originating in Pakistan can cause panic and result in the mass exodus of thousands of Indians belonging to one region of the country from another region of the country also exposes the fragility of India’s socio-political fabric built on the oft touted theme of unity in diversity. This is a consequence of sixty five years of divisive politics, opportunism and corruption which have repeatedly undermined the guiding principles of our Constitution which were incorporated to make India cohesive and progressive. The illegal immigrants issue is a manifestation of the prevalent unethical and divisive political and governing practices which have pervaded the system.The issue which has frayed the time-tested bonds of socio-communal harmony in Assam has been allowed to fester and remain unresolved despite the Assam Accord signed in 1985 only in the interests of vote-bank politics. But the recent nationwide repercussions over the issue shows that henceforth the country can continue to ignore the reality only at its own peril.
There is nothing communal about the issue as people from the minority community have been peacefully co-existing in Assam’s heterogeneous society for centuries.However in Assam even within the community there are distinct divisions.There are those in the community who came to Assam in the 18th century or earlier as a part of the invading Moghul armies and remained to settle down here mainly in the upper Assam region. Another stream which settled mainly in the central Assam districts of then undivided Nowgong and Darrang migrated from the Sylhet and Mymensing districts of erstwhile undivided Bengal and later East-Pakistan in the pre and post- Independence eras but before the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Of more recent origin is the post-1971 unabated influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who are settled mainly in the border districts.
Except for their religion there is nothing common culturally, socially or politically amongst them.On the contrary those who came first have assimilated completely into the Assamese society and contributed significantly towards its socio-cultural evolution.Even though the migrants who came later in the twentieth century but before 1971 retained some of their cultural and social moorings, they adopted Assamese as their mother tongue and are today the backbone of the State’s agriculture and unskilled labour force. There has never been any dispute or controversy about their resident status or citizenship as they are accepted as an inalienable part of the multifaceted Assamese community. In fact they themselves feel threatened by the large-scale influx and the government’s policy of appeasing Muslims of foreign origin and have formed the All Assam Khilonjia Axomiya Unnayan Parishad for the welfare of the nearly 30 lakh indigenous Assamese Muslims.
The real issue in Assam is about the post March 25th 1971 illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.Their citizenship status, their enrollment on the electoral rolls of Assam dubiously , their continued influx and in nearly three decades the State and Central government’s complete failure to implement some of the vital clauses of the Assam Accord such as sealing the international border to stop the influx, providing constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people or protecting the democratic rights of the genuine Indian citizens from being subverted by illegal immigrants. Giving the issue a linguistic and communal slant just because an overwhelming number of the migrants happen to be Bengali Muslims, or citing fertility rates or trying to downplay the growing threat by comparing Assam’s decadal growth rate with the national average are attempts to skirt the real issue.
It is true that on the whole in the last two decades Assam’s population growth has declined and been below the national average.From a population growth rate of 18.92 per cent in 1991-2001 it fell to 16.93 per cent in 2001-2011 against the national average of 21.34 per cent and 17.64 per cent respectively. But the reality is that out of the 27 districts of Assam the minority dominated border districts registered a high decadal growth rate of 22 per cent-25 per cent.Whereas the rest of the districts recorded much lower growth rates with the eastern districts recording a growth rate of only 9 per cent.This significant difference in the population growth rates between the minority dominated districts bordering Bangladesh and the rest of the State is unusual and cannot be dismissed lightly.
How many more innocent lives will it take to explode the myth and accept reality?