• Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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Will sanity prevail in Assam?

  • Published at 05:20 pm August 18th, 2018
Is the NRC process transparent and objective?
Is the NRC process transparent and objective? / REUTERS

Irresponsible comments by political leadership in India could foment anger in the region

No country should undertake any action that might result in a negative osmotic effect, the ripples of which can cross traditional politics. Such a scenario then results in instability, abuse of human rights, and transgression of international law.

We in Bangladesh are already facing the dire effects of ethnic cleansing and genocide where inhuman conditions have resulted in more than one million Rohingya Muslims crossing the international border between Bangladesh and the Rakhine state of Myanmar and seeking sanctuary in our country. 

These affected people were residents of that part of Myanmar for at least four to five generations. This affected population has suffered because they were Muslims and not Buddhists. That was also the primary cause for their citizenship being denied, in some cases revoked -- and them being defined as Bangalis and illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

The world in general and Bangladesh in particular is now watching with deep concern the evolving situation in the contiguous Indian State of Assam and the measures being taken by that state’s local government regarding the latest draft of the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC). 

It may be noted that the first NRC was prepared in 1951 and included all those who were mentioned in the 1951 census of India. Analysts have drawn attention in the media to some provocative and irresponsible comments made by political leadership of different parties and mentioned that the denotation and connotation of such action can only create instability and inter-communal strife. 

This has included the unfortunate comment made by BJP Telangana legislator Raja Singh from Goshamahal on July 31 after the publication of the latest draft of the NRC. He has made the demand that to keep India safe, Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims are “a danger to India” and they should be shot if they do not leave India voluntarily. 

He also posted a video message on a similar vein on his social media account. He apparently believes that millions of Bangladeshis who had sought sanctuary in Assam during the 1971 War of Liberation have continued to stay on in Assam.

In a similar vein, on July 19, Pravin Togadia, president of the Antarashtriyo Hindu Parishad, has also made the controversial remark that the BJP leadership during the 2014 election had promised to deport illegal migrants from Assam and the rest of the country, but had failed to live up to expectations. 

In this regard, he has pointed out that the Indian army should now occupy a portion of land in Bangladesh and settle all Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in India in that territory if the Bangladesh government refuses to take them back.

In the recent past, some extreme right wing political leaders in India have also remarked that fanatical Muslims in Bangladesh have been instrumental in creating situations that have resulted in many from the Bangladeshi Hindu community migrating illegally to India.

Such comments are not only provocative but also unnecessary -- especially in a situation where the bilateral relationship between India and Bangladesh in the last few years has been constructive, based on discussion between senior political leaders of both countries, including their heads of governments. 

This exchange of views has enabled both countries to work together to contain any growth of terrorism, to reduce killing at the border of the two countries, create greater socio-economic connectivity, and facilitate joint approaches with regard to solution of problems that affect both countries -- be it on land or in the sea. 

The exchange of views has also helped in the growth potential in many areas -- education, health, energy, trade, and investment. The easing of the Indian visa process will facilitate this paradigm.

Consequently, it has been heartening to note some important observations made by others in the Indian leadership.

The Indian Express has helped in this regard by drawing attention to Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s comment on July 20 in the Indian Rajya Sabha, where she informed all present that according to demographic data available with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 there were 8.4% Hindus in Bangladesh, but in 2017, it had risen to 10.7% of the population.

It has also been important to see the comment made in front of journalists on August 1 by Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh. 

He has pointed out that Bangladesh does not need to worry about the exclusion of 4 million people from NRC in Assam. 

He also indicated that the NRC process is being carried out in an objective, transparent, and meticulous manner to ensure safety and security. This, according to him, will enable a person left out of the NRC to appeal to the Foreigners’ Tribunal. 

In the meantime, according to him, there is no question of anyone being put in a detention centre after the publication of the latest NRC list. 

It was also observed by him that: “If anyone is found not to be the citizen of India, it does not mean he or she is a Bangladeshi (as is being unfortunately observed by many far right Indian politicians) and will not be deported to Bangladesh.”

The Bangladesh high commissioner in New Delhi and our Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka have, in the meantime, mentioned that the evolving situation in Assam and its implications are an internal matter that India will have to resolve by itself. 

However, the political matrix being sensitive, Bangladesh quite correctly has started taking pre-emptive steps along its 265km border with Assam to prevent any intrusion into Bangladesh by people from Assam. 

On the other side, in Assam, Section 144 of the CRPC has been imposed on seven districts -- ostensibly to prevent unnecessary communal tension and violence.

These are laudable efforts.

One can hope that sanity will prevail and the relevant authorities will desist from initiating a process that can only foment anger, misunderstanding, instability, and possible violence among civilians. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]