Treading cautiously

Print edition : February 16, 2018

Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister: "There is a system in place to hear the cases of those who fail to figure in the list. Their claims will be examined fairly and impartially." Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Senior BJP leaders admit that deportation of illegal immigrants is near impossible though it has been on the party’s agenda in Assam.

LIKE Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the issue of identifying and deporting “foreigners” (read Bangladeshi nationals) from India, especially from the border State of Assam which has been witnessing social unrest over the issue since 1971, has been high on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) agenda. Over successive elections, it has used the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants issue politically, and it came to power in the State for the first time in 2016.

Now that the ball is in the BJP’s court, the party finds itself in a catch-22 situation over how to proceed with the exercise once foreigners have actually been identified. The first list of citizens, the draft National Register of Citizens which was published on December 31, 2017, according to the deadline given by the Supreme Court, has names of only 1.9 crore out of the 3.29 crore people who had submitted valid documents. The State government has made it clear that this is only a draft, and a second list will be published by February 28. The Central and State governments have assured people that even after the final list, objections and claims will be invited and a proper hearing given before the final list is prepared by July 31 this year.

But the question of what to do with the large number of people who may not figure in the final register is daunting.

Senior BJP leaders, who did not want to be named, told Frontline that talking about deporting foreigners was easy but in reality the task was near impossible. “How can we deport anybody? First, the receiving country has to accept these people as its citizens, which Bangladesh does not do, and second, we don’t even have a deportation treaty with Bangladesh. How are we going to deport anyone?” said a senior leader when it was pointed out to him that Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had made a categorical statement that all those who failed to figure in the list would be deported.

“Besides, the issue is not limited to Assam alone. Once you start deporting people, it will spread to the entire country because you have Bangladeshi nationals settled in all parts of India. We have advised the Chief Minister to refrain from giving such politically insensitive statements,” said the senior BJP leader who is in the know of things.

The BJP is worried that the sensitive issue of foreigners, which has had a violent past and resulted in one of the most gruesome massacres in the country (Nellie massacre in 1983), might turn into a Pandora’s box if not handled carefully. “We are aware of the sensitive nature of this issue, hence we have advised the State government to go easy with the exercise. We have also advised the State leaders to refrain from giving sensational statements,” said a senior BJP leader.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is closely monitoring the situation, said the government was bound by the orders of the Supreme Court to complete the exercise by July 31, 2018. He assured the people of Assam that there was no reason for anyone to be scared. “There is a system in place to hear the cases of those who fail to figure in the list. Their claims will be examined fairly and impartially,” he said.

But he refused to talk about those who are finally declared “foreigners” once the exercise is completed. “At the moment I cannot talk about what we will do then. But I want to make it clear that there will be no inhuman treatment for anyone in India, whether a citizen or a foreign national,” he said. According to him, the BJP draws its political sustenance from the Sangh ideology and the “RSS is the biggest social organisation in the world which is engaged in social service”.

The Congress feels the BJP government is deliberately going slow in order to keep the matter pending for as long as it can.

“The entire exercise of collection of documents had been completed by the previous Congress government. This government had to only examine and publish the list, but they could not complete that in time as a result of which there is a sense of unease among the people. Even genuine people have been left out in the first list, and this is creating frustration among them. This is a potentially explosive situation,” said Gaurav Gogoi, Lok Sabha member from the Congress, whose father, Tarun Gogoi, was Chief Minister for years.

The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF)sees a political design behind the entire exercise. “The issue of illegal immigrants is a creation of successive Congress governments in the State which used these people as vote banks. Now the BJP is trying to do the same with its Hindu vote bank,” said Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, president of the party and a Lok Sabha member. Interestingly, his name and that of his brother, a Lok Sabha member, too were missing from the first list along with that of scores of MLAs from both the Congress and the BJP.

“There is a sense of insecurity among the people. We are trying our best to keep them calm, but the BJP is as usual playing its dirty politics. It will try and isolate Muslims as foreigners while bringing in Hindus, Jains and others as citizens, which it can do once the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed in the coming session of Parliament,” Badruddin Ajmal said. According to him, once this Bill is passed, non-Muslims from countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be eligible for Indian citizenship in the name of religious persecution in their respective countries, while Muslims will be ghettoised and kept in camps.

He says the Assam government already has such small camps which can house 20,000-30,000 people. “The Assam government has acquired huge lands in the Gwalpara, Kokrajhar and Silchar areas for building more such camps,” he said. According to him, the BJP had fooled everyone by claiming that it would deport foreigners. “They would be only kept as refugees, devoid of any political rights,” he said.

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