The issue of illegal immigrants in
Assam represents lack of
national clarity over a desirable policy on the issue of immigrants. Numerical
guarantee in elections has solely authored this ambiguity over the decades by
undermining, in the process, considerations of national security. However, if
ambiguity is by choice, its motif should hardly be electoral considerations when
it comes to the domain of national security.
In a series of about turns, the Government of India performed the latest
volte-face when it retracted its position that there were about 50 lakh illegal
immigrants in Assam.
On 23 July, 2004 Union Minister of State(Home) Manikrao Gavit made a
‘clarificatory note’ in the Rajya Sabha on behalf of Union Minister of State
(Home), Shriprakash Jaiswal that the figures provided by the latter on the same
floor on 14 July was not based on ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œa comprehensive studyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬¯ but on ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œhearsayÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬¯.
Sriprakash Jaiswal had stated that there were 1, 20, 53, 950 (over 12 million)
Bangladeshis living across 17 states as on
31 December 2001.
Out of that, the estimate given for Assam was 5 million. Prior to that, Jaiswal
told the Lok Sabha on 6 July that the number of illegal immigrants in the state
was 26,490! The clarificatory note followed pressure on the Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh by the Tarun Gogoi government which contended that it was ‘‘a
sensitive issue fraught with serious political implicationsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬¯. Manmohan Singh
obliged by declaring on 20 July that ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œ‘we do not know how reliable the estimate
is or how they were arrived atÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬¯. The history goes back thirty years ago to the
then Chief Minister Hiteshwar Saikia who overnight ate his words that 30 lakh
Bangladeshis entered Assam every year.
The message sought to be conveyed was that no realistic assessment of the
situation could be made and hence, no authoritative voice accepted. Along with
this, however, went another undeclared message: the government does not take the
issue seriously. It is the latter that the nation cannot afford knowing well
that the ghosts of the
Assam agitation are creating havoc and can strike with fuller force in the
coming days. It is common knowledge how an anti foreigners movement got
appropriated in a demand for sovereignty.
In February 2001, the Report of the Group of Ministers on Internal
Security had said, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œthe massive illegal immigration poses a grave danger to our
security, social harmony and economic well being.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬¯ In 1999,
Assam Governor, S K Sinha drew
attention of the Centre to the fast changing demographic patterns in the state
in the context of the advocacy of ‘Greater Bangladesh’. The reported estimate
was that the illegal migrants were in a position to influence the outcome in 32
per cent of the total Assembly seats (40 out of 120). The Group of Ministers,
while noting that a proposal was under consideration, recommended the repeal of
the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983, which in its
opinion had served the negative purpose of actually retarding deportation of
Controversial provisions of the IMDT Act 1983 have also strengthened a
belief among many Assamese that they are being discriminated upon. The Act has
made detection and deportation of illegal immigrants virtually impossible.
Besides putting the onus of proof on the complainant, it requires the
complainant to be within the radius of 5 kms of the migrant. As the name
suggests, tribunals led by retired judges, not the executive as is the norm,
would decide on that. It provides that anybody who settled in
Assam before 25 March 1971 is a
legal citizen of India
whereas the cut-off date for the rest of
is 19 July 1948. The double migration policy can hardly be seen as just.
As if the above legal framework is not enough, after more than twenty
years of the passing of the Act, the Government of India has privileged
ambiguity over the issue through numerical contestations. It does not help the
cause even of the legal migrants. Recent history is witness to that.
Two options are clear. One is to advocate the case for a
South Asia with open borders.
It involves acknowledging the historical tragedies and carrying forward the
may champion the ideals of global oneness and abolition of artificial
boundaries. The second, not bad by the yardsticks of the practices of
international nation-state system, is to continue the principle of
differentiating nationals and citizens from aliens and foreigners.
subscribes to the latter with dishonesty and hence cannot pretend to be
champions of the first either.
In a democracy, the logic of power tends to suppress the democratic spirit
by employing the same democratic frameworks. On such occasions, people may
revolt either against the power or democracy itself. The nation can afford