As per reports, HT Imam, political advisor to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, told the press that they have received assurances from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that those left out of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam would not be deported to Bangladesh. This revelation exposes the hypocrisy of the Modi-led government.
In April 2014, Modi had made an election speech in Assam declaring that local people were losing jobs to people migrating from Bangladesh, and that he would stop these intrusions. After the Supreme Court-monitored draft NRC was published, Amit Shah labelled the 40 lakh names left out as ‘infiltrators’, hence assuming that they were undocumented immigrants.
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What emerges here is that the Modi government seems to be caught in a bind. On the one hand, the entire Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaign in Assam was based on jati mati bheti, essentially playing the Assamese nationalism card. They constantly accused the Congress and other parties of not doing anything about the ‘foreigners’ issue’. Yet at the same time, no treaty has even been proposed to be signed between India and Bangladesh regarding the issue. On the other hand, the party has tried to push the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 despite vocal opposition coming from all non-BJP quarters across the Northeast.
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Interestingly, the NRC process was never initiated by the BJP nor by any government whether at the Centre or in Assam. The Congress attempted a pilot project in 2010. However, this was quickly aborted due to violent protests led by the All Assam Minorities Students Union (AAMSU) in Barpeta. The entire process has been initiated and monitored by the Supreme Court. Some may argue that this would amount to judicial overreach. However, the issue has been the one plaguing the state since partition if not from before.
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News of the prime minister’s assurances to his Bangladeshi counterpart has drawn flak from the Congress. The Sentinel reported that Randeep Singh Surjewala said that “the BJP has one stand in Assam and another in Bangladesh. We do not know if Prime Minister Modi will remain silent on this issue as well much like in the Rafale scam.”
What perhaps is the biggest challenge for any Union Government irrespective of party is that Bangladesh is the key to India’s internal stability in the Northeast. The complication is that human migration – whether documented or not – has spurred ugly conflicts on India’s side of the border.
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India’s efforts in combating armed political groups in the Northeast got a boost when Bangladesh took action against the camps located within its borders. When similar action was taken in Bhutan, the result was a massive reduction in armed violence, as many cadres were captured and the few remaining shifted base to Myanmar. This, insulated Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura from the bulk of violence. Therefore, an uncooperative Bangladesh will severely hamper the Indian State in combating armed political groups.
Another tangle to this precarious situation is that Nepal decided not to participate in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) military drills. Thus, keeping the main Bay of Bengal country close becomes more important. Several eyebrows were raised in 2016 when Bangladesh bought two submarines from China. On the other hand, there is also the possibility that since Bangladesh is heading towards their general elections in December this year, such statements may have been made to assure their constituencies that a Rohingya-like situation will not occur in the north of the country.
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Whatever the case may be, this news has the potential to damage the saffron party’s credibility, particularly since the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has not been scrapped yet.