By Sushmita Sihwag:
In an attempt to paint the seven sisters saffron, Amit Shah announced the BJP’s agenda to give Indian citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh as a part of their pre-poll promises, while simultaneously removing illegal Bangladeshi immigrants from India.
“Next elections will be fought on this issue. Assam poll will be for freeing the state of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Assam polls will also be for development of Assam and North-East,” said Amit Shah at a rally in Guwahati.
Eyes on the North-East
After winning 14 seats in Assam in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP plans on further strengthening its base there. It plans to build strong ties with the tribal leaders of Assam, and there have been reports of the BJP conducting secret meetings with the Bodoland People’s Front party, which recently broke its eight-year alliance with the Congress party.
At the rally in Guwahati on Sunday, party president Amit Shah made an announcement to provide Hindu refugees from Bangladesh with Indian citizenship if the BJP comes into power in the Assembly polls next year. He promised that along with Assam, his party will work on providing citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindu refugees across the country.
Acknowledging the demand made by the state of Assam last year for the centre to frame a policy to provide asylum to the people who had escaped religious persecution in Bangladesh during the partition and taken refuge in India, Shah said, “Some Hindus have come from Bangladesh due to religious disturbances. The BJP will give all of them citizenship once we come to power in Assam next year.” He also added that only the BJP can free Assam from illegal immigration.
Now, the question is how will the BJP decide who comes under the definition of an “illegal” Bangladeshi immigrant, given that the Hindus would now have the advantage of calling themselves refugees. Could it be an indirect reference to the Muslim immigrants? In that case, Shah’s announcement becomes even more worthy of notice because the party seems to adopt a completely different strategy in the neighbouring state of West Bengal where Muslims constitute around 25%-30% of the vote bank. The party president for West Bengal, Rahul Sinha, said in a statement, “We have been reaching out to the Muslim population and explaining them that we are not an un-secular or anti-Muslim party.”
It is clear that the party views the sizable Muslim population in these states as the biggest hurdle to their dream of assuming power, and attempts to woo the Hindu voters there by covertly raising the issue of illegal Muslim immigration from Bangladesh. “Earlier there were religious conversions in Assam but now there is illegal immigration of Muslims from Bangladesh. There are also cases of ‘love jihad’ where Muslims are marrying Hindu women and using them as child-producing machines,” said a party leader from Assam.
Another important aspect that needs to be considered here is that since the power to provide Indian citizenship to the Bangladeshi refugees lies with the centre and not the state government, why does Mr. Modi need to wait for assuming power in Assam to do so? Finally, BJP needs to answer if this move is a step to solve the pressing problem of illegal immigration in Assam, or to further its own political agenda by polarisation of votes?