The political hue and cry over the release of the final draft of the Assam NRC (National Register of Citizens) is an unscrupulous political shenanigan; a ploy to garner transitory electoral advantage at the cost of long term national interest. This malicious campaign, though couched in moral overtones, is basically a deceptive camouflage that attempts to debunk the realities of history, casts logic to the winds and puts the sovereignty of the nation in jeopardy.
The Assam crisis is not an inadvertent crisis emanating from unforeseen circumstances or accidental factors. It is a crisis by design; a crafty machination that spans two centuries and a work in progress; an artful ploy that seeks to exploit displacements triggered by economic disparity to alter demographic equations and reduce the majority to a minority and vice-versa—all with the intent of changing the religious character of a region and redefining the boundaries of the Indian nation.
To realise the gravity of this issue and the need for urgent resolution it is imperative that we delve into the pages of history to ascertain its genesis.
The tragedy of the indigenous people of Assam (or for that matter the people of the Northeast) is a story of systematic marginalisation that has all the elements of a Shakespearean opus: a tale that has its origin in the economic penury of Bengal of the late 19th century, that metamorphoses into a conspiracy with communal overtones around the time of partition and then surprisingly and shockingly is allowed to go unchecked in independent India as a result of political expediency and now persists in its distorted form: being projected as an economic calamity transmuted to one with communal overtones by the BJP.
In the 1800s, the British administration began transporting indigent, mostly Bengali Muslim peasants from the overpopulated regions of Bengal to Assam for labour. The negative impact of this migration prompted the then Census Superintendent, C.S. Mullen to remark: “…the most important event in the province during the last 25 years…which seems likely to alter permanently the whole feature of Assam and to destroy the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilisation has been the invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry immigrants mostly Muslims, from the districts of East Bengal” (Sanjoy Hazarika. Rites of Passage. Penguin Books, 2000. p72).
The colonial administration did, however, take measures to curb this problem by introducing the “Line System” that demarcated specific areas for migrant settlers.
Muslim leaders of pre-partition India, who supported the idea of Pakistan, enthusiastically viewed this uncontrolled deluge as a golden opportunity that could be exploited to gain control of Assam with the ultimate aim of its amalgamation into Pakistan. Not only did they encourage migration, but consistently opposed moves to evict the illegal settlers in order to keep their plan on track.
Prominent among these politicians was Sir Syed Mohammad Saadullah (the first Premier of Assam in 1935) and Maulana Bhasani (president of the Assam Provincial Muslim League).
Find below some excerpts from the book, Assam Muslims: Politics & Cohesion by Bimal J. Dev, Dilip Kumar Lahiri (Mittal Publications, 1985) which attest to this scheme:
“Saadulla Ministry also found in the ‘Grow More Food’ campaign a convenient mechanism of striking at the root of the Line System and facilitating the ultimate inclusion of Assam in Eastern Pakistan Zone. In the name of ‘Grow More Food’ campaign the Muslim League dominated Ministry settled 1,60,000 bighas of land with immigrants and even the Viceroy of India felt tempted to characterise the Ministry’s programme as ‘Grow More Muslims’ programme…
“In the middle of May, 1946 Bhasani resorted to fast unto death ‘unless the Government of Assam stopped the eviction of immigrants’”(p 49).
“Bhasani was elected the President of the Assam Provincial Muslim League which marked the beginning of a new era in Assam politics…the Muslim League became increasingly militant for achieving the twin objective of Pakistan and abolition of the Line System” (p 42).
Over the years, the orchestrators of this devious game plan have changed labels but the goal of displacing the natives of Assam by a demographic invasion has remained. With the advent of an apparently friendly Bangladesh, this inflow did not fade away. Bangladesh continues to view India’s Northeast especially Assam as its lebensraum.
Below are excerpts from an article written by prominent columnist Sadeek Khan in the Bangladeshi newspaper Holiday (18 October, 1991) and referred to by Governor S.K. Sinha in his report “Illegal Migration into Assam. Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha. November 8, 1998. Report submitted to President of India”:
“The question of lebensraum or living space for the people of Bangladesh has not yet been raised as a moot issue. All projections, however, clearly indicate that by the next decade, that is to say by the first decade of the 21st century, Bangladesh will face a serious crisis of lebensraum…
“There is no reason why regional and international cooperation could not be worked out to plan and execute population movements and settlements to avoid critical demographic pressures in pockets of high concentration…
“We shall hope for the best in international cooperation. We shall hope for the best in accommodation from the developed world…The natural trend of population overflow from Bangladesh is towards the sparsely populated lands of the South East in the Arakan side and of the North East in the Seven Sisters side of the Indian subcontinent.”
So, what we see here is an ostensibly rational plea to accommodate the increasing Bangladeshi population, but also a fait accompli that Bangladesh will not attempt to prevent; in other words, India’s Northeast is fair game for the land-strapped Bangladeshis.
Let us not fall into the trap of making this a Hindu-Muslim issue, but see it for what it actually is: illegal immigration, plain and simple, confined to the Northeast with a definite communal slant that poses a national security risk and one that needs to be dealt with firmly and promptly by stringent identification (and deportation.). Even if deportation is not practical at this juncture the NRC exercise may serve as a warning for intending illegal migrants seeking to flood into India.