In this article, Jagmohan analyses the consequences of vote bank politics vis-a-vis Assam. This article was published in The Statesman this week.
Carnage in Assam- part II
Paying For The Sins Of Vote-Bank Politics
Exasperated by the attitude of the Central and the state governments, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court by Sarbananda Sonowal, former president of All Assam Students Union, challenging the validity of the IMDT Act. In its order of 15 July 2005, the court declared the Act unconstitutional.
What is no less significant than the declaration of unconstitutionality of the IMDT Act is what the Supreme Court said about the motivation of the framers of this law and also about the attitude of the Central government to the problems of internal security. The court noted: “How one-sided the provisions of the IMDT Act are. They have been so made that they only result in giving advantage and benefits to an illegal migrant and not for achieving the real objective of the enactment, namely, of detection and deportation of a Bangladeshi national who has illegally crossed the border on or after 25 March 1971. It was underlined: “Though inquiries were initiated in 310,759 cases under the IMDT Act but out of this only 10,015 persons were declared as illegal migrants and finally only 1,481 illegal migrants were physically expelled up to 30 April 2000. This comes to less than half per cent of the cases initiated.”
Drawing attention to the hard facts in the knowledge of the Central government, the court lamented: “The disinclination of the government, for political reasons, to wholeheartedly embark upon identification and deportation of Bangladeshis from Assam.” The court also directed that all cases relating to illegal “migrants should be decided in the manner provided in the Foreigners Act. Even after the clear ruling and direction of the Supreme Court, the nihilist and negative forces refused to change their ways. They proceeded to carve out an alternative route to serve their ends of power. Through a devious act of subordinate legislation, the Central government amended the Rules under the Foreigners Act, and virtually introduced the same procedures of detection, declaration and deportation as were laid down under the IMDT Act.
The above amendments were also challenged by Sarbananda Sonowal through another writ petition. In its judgment, given on 5 December 2006, the Supreme Court not only declared these amendments as “unreasonable, arbitrary and invalid” but also left no one in any doubt how poorly it thought of the intentions of the Central government. It observed: “Though we would normally desist from commenting, when the security of the nation is the issue as highlighted in Sonowal I, we have to say that the bonafides of the action leaves something to be desired.”
The court’s observations, though polite, are pertinent and point to the depth to which our vote-bank politics could descend. For our brand of democracy, petty ends of power and short-term gains and more important than the security of the nation and its long-term well-being. The management of about 4,000-km-long porous border with Bangladesh, which has a vast riverine area in the West and a hilly terrain on the North-east and East and has as many as 162 enclaves, is, undoubtedly, difficult. But it is largely the impaired national vision, selfish politics, exploitative democracy and division-prone social structure that has resulted in the emergence of a huge vicious circle of inter-connected problems.
During all these intervening periods, the Ulfa had tasted blood, accumulated huge funds and weapons, changed its stance with insistence on having a sovereign Assam, and even established friendly contacts with the ISI of Pakistan and Bangladeshi forces hostile to India. It also used the period of ceasefire and negotiations through interlocutors to regroup and strengthen itself. Now a situation has emerged in which a parallel economy, rooted in terrorism and subversion, has come to stay. A potent network of extortion, intimidation and protection-money now operates at the ground level. It is placing a substantial portion of central and state government’s funds in the hands of the militants.
The continuing infiltration of Bangladeshis in Assam and the vote-bank politics that is associated with it have already resulted in the emergence of several political outfits with pronounced communal and parochial tilt. These outfits include the Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam, Muslim United Liberation Tigers, Liberation Islamic Tiger Force, Muslim Volunteer Force, Student Islamic Movement of India and the Islamic Liberation Army. The cross-border contacts of the extremist elements within these organisations with the fundamentalist political parties in Bangladesh have the potential of further undermining the peace and integrity of Assam and other parts of India.
Of late, Bangladesh has become a cocoon of terrorism and beehive of fundamentalist organisations. Three of these organisations ~ the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamic Oikyo Jote and the Jaito Party(M) ~ were partners in the ruling alliance led by Khaleda Zia. Under their influence and patronage, the fundamentalist elements have penetrated not only in the power structure of the state but also in the educational institutions and other layers of the society. The agents of the ISI and Al-Qaeda are now able to strike a sympathetic chord in quite a few sections of the Bangladeshi society and the state’s power structure. This has enabled them to establish a number of training camps for the militants, provide safe-havens to them and, taking advantage of the porous border, send them to different parts of India to carry out acts of terrorism.
To retrieve the prevailing agonising conditions, I have a few suggestions to make. The Supreme Court, in its order of December 2006, in Sonowal II, has already directed that the new arrangements under the Foreigners Act should be put in force within four months. The Centre and the state government should carry out this direction and effectively enforce the provisions of the said Act and the Rules made thereunder. If this is not done, Sonowal or some other public-spirited person should again move the Supreme Court and request it to set up a monitoring committee to ensure that the court’s directions are complied with. Such a monitoring committee was appointed by the Supreme Court in what is known as the Delhi “Sealing Case’, and its impact has been decisive.
All the Bangladeshi migrants who are detected and declared as illegal foreigners under the Foreigners Act but whose physical deportation causes practical problems should be given temporary work-permits for specified items till they return to the native place. In any case, their names should be deleted from the electoral rolls and they should be prohibited to participate in any other national activity.
Currently, Ulfa’s top leaders are directing their operations from Bangladesh. They are doing so in close cooperation with the ISI and Bangladesh and other outfits. They have developed strong vested interests in the huge funds that flow to them. To register their presence, they do not hesitate even to blow up innocent Assamese children gathering for independence parade or for buying vegetables from the market. To talk to such leaders, either directly or through interlocutors, amounts to nothing but feeding the evil. The government must, therefore, declare in no uncertain terms that no negotiation or any kind would be held with Ulfa unless it abjures violence and gives up its demand for sovereignty state of Assam.
The blood-chilling incidents of the last few days in Assam once again remind us that “India can be governed firmly or not at all”. The national leadership of all hues and colours must realise that the country’s integrity and well-being can be ensured only by principled and effective governance and not by creating vote-banks or appeasing negative and nihilist forces. The leadership will also do well to keep in mind what Paul Wilkinson, a noted scholar of terrorism and subversion, has underlined: “Rebellions do not generally fade away; they have to be put down firmly and ruthlessly, if normal life and business are to be restored”.