Indiaís total international border runs into about 15318 km in which her borders with Bangladesh have a length of approximately 4000 km, running along the States of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizorom, and Tripura. There has been a lot of hue and cry over the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh. With the different political actors adding colors to the issue, the border between Bangladesh and Assam holds centre-stage in political circles. The article reflects the political fallout of the large-scale illegal human movements from Bangladesh to Assam. It also attempts to highlight the changing electoral patterns and voting behavior of the affected area.
An estimate by a former Governor of Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal holds that about 5 million illegal migrants from Bangladesh are settled in Assam that constitute more than one-fourth of the total population, i.e. 22 million, of the State. According to the Central Home Ministry/ Intelligence Bureau sources, ďAssamís alien population from Bangladesh stands at about 4 million.Ē These reports not only indicate the magnitude of illegal migration but also sound an alarm bell and tell a sorry state of affairs with a substantial impact on the polity and economy of this State.
There are different facets of political and demographic changes generated by the large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh that have taken place in States having border with that country. Two changes are crucial - first, the massive influx of illegal migrants has the potential to alter the demographic composition of an assembly constituency, thereby affecting the voting behavior of that constituency, and second, the large-scale migration from Bangladesh may be instrumental in changing the composition of the original inhabitants of a state.
The issue is much sensitive in Assam where the magnitude of the problem of illegal migration is much more severe comparatively. The influx of the illegal migrants has a substantial bearing particularly on the geo-strategically-vital districts of Lower Assam. There is also widespread apprehension in Assam that in the near future political power will be taken from the original inhabitants by the migrants. The Group of Ministersí (GOM) report states, ďThe Bangladeshi migrants were in a position to influence the results of elections in a large number of constituencies in the Northeast including 32 constituencies in Assam.Ē If the large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh to Assam continues at the same speed, it will not be too late when the indigenous people of Assam will be in minority in their home State.
The political mandarins who jump into the electoral ring are not far behind in aggravating the situation further. Majority of the Muslim migrants from Bangladesh are inhabitants in the char areas. They are considered as vote bank in the electoral politics of Assam and every political party, both national and regional, tries to woo them thereby giving them indirect assurances to stay in the state without any fear. Once these people cast their votes, the use of this political right induces them to enjoy other civic rights also, like the rights enjoyed by any other citizen of the country. Such developments create a situation where any attempt on behalf of the government in its drive to identify the illegal migrants becomes futile.
The presence of 4 to 5 million of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam would mean that between 18 to 22 percent of Assamís populations comprises of illegal aliens. So in a first-past-the-post ballot system that is used in our country, if the 20 percent voters vote en masse to a particular candidate in any political party in an Assembly election, it has more possibility of returning the candidate to power. Also, in a multi-party contest, if there would be any polarization of the votes by the majority of these 20 percent migrants, it would give an advantage to a party in coming into power. According to S. K. Sinha, ď57 of Assamís 126 constituencies were found to have more than 20 percent increases in the number of voters between 1994 and 1997, whereas the all-India average is just 7.4 percent.Ē This dramatic increase indicates the presence of a large number of voters who are illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
The revision of electoral rolls in Mangaldoi Parliamentary Constituency in Assam in 1979 detected the names of thousands of Bangladeshi nationals and the entire population of Assam revolted against this. But without knowing the long-term effects of the issue, Muslims all over the country, by and large, were sympathetic to Bangladeshi infiltrators. Thus, the infiltrators have a much larger say in the political spectrum of the country. For instance, when the Maharashtra Government tried to deport a few hundred Bangladeshi illegal migrants, different political parties started a chorus of politically motivated protests.
The IM (DT) Act of 1983, which is applicable in Assam to detect and deport the illegal migrants, is ineffective in achieving its purpose, because the different political parties of Assam and the important national parties have divergent viewpoints on this. While the former government of Prafulla Mahanta wanted to repeal this Act and instead favored the promulgation of the Foreigners Act, the present Tarun Gagoi government wants to continue the IM (DT) Act to detect and deport the illegal migrants. In August 2000, the Supreme Court of India ordered the central government to repeal the IM (DT) Act by January 2001. The Court ruled that the law, which is largely aimed at illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, is being applied only in Assam and is therefore discriminatory in nature. But the Centre has expressed its inability to repeal the Act due to lack of consensus.
Lack of farsightedness coupled with the craving for instant political gain by the politicians made the issue more problematic. Here, it may be mentioned that the leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Mr. P. A. Sangma, advocated the granting of the Citizenís identity cards to all the people in the Northeast, including all illegal Bangladeshis in Assam. The above provision would, in a single stroke, manage to not just keep Assamís Bangladeshi vote-bank intact but also permanently legitimize them. The Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, sometime back announced that national identity cards would be issued to the people in 13 states including Assam to combat the serious threat to internal security caused by the Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants. But illegal Bangladeshis have their names in the votersí list and have acquired ration cards. They have become a part of vote bank politics making it difficult for political parties to muster the political will to make their exit possible.
There exists an implicit relationship between the voting intention of these illegal migrants and the different types of political freebies given by the political parties to win their hearts at the election time. This unholy equation creates roadblocks at different levels in checking the continuing illegal migration problem. It is high time for all to recognize the enormity of this problem. All the political parties should evolve a broad-based consensus by going beyond their narrow political interests. Equally important is the need to implement the decision seriously. Apart from this, both the state and central government should take some proactive measures by taking into account the national interest of the country.