National Register for Citizens (NRC) has sparked a massive debate in the country on what defines citizenship and how should India treat immigrants who have become embedded in the Indian economy.
Illegal immigration was a product of blatant vote bank politics whereby successive government turned blind eye to the immigrants. Instead of stopping them from entering the border, it turned into a lucrative trade.
Neither borders were fortified not illegal immigrants were marked to be deported later. Instead, local politicians ensured that they end up with ration cards which became the first step to get a voting card from the government of India.
Bangladeshis infiltrate to India because of lack of opportunity in their own country. Sovereign states have the right to deny access to illegal immigrants when they end up changing the demography of the area, thereby affecting social harmony.
The indigenous communities of North East have suffered for long. Today you can travel deep inside Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur and you would discover to your horror that large settlements of illegal Bangladeshis have come up there. It is not difficult to recognise them. The ethnic differences are too pronounced to be ignored. It has created hundreds of mini insurgencies in the North East as the majority of communities feel that they may end up becoming minorities in their own land.
Worst is the case with Assam. Not only illegal immigration has altered the demography, but also altered the power dynamics within Assam. Same has been the case in West Bengal where both Left and Congress did not attend to the issue of illegal migration.
So porous has been the eastern border that a large colony of Rohingya Muslims exists in Jammu which is another corner of the Indian state. After the creation of nation-states and formalisation of borders, migration is not a free-wheeling affair. The argument that India should be large-hearted is also very elitist in nature. It is unfair in nature and, in the garb of diplomatic issues, does not address the problems faced by the original inhabitants of the land. Assamese cannot be allowed to become a minority in their own land.
The same goes for the state of West Bengal where the majority community cannot be subject to politics which rests on the votes of the immigrants.
Many scholars argue that anti-immigrant politics amounts to xenophobia. However, I strongly disagree. These politics rests on the demonisation of the cultural aspirations of the Hindu majority which through rising national middle class has expressed itself solidly in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Politics cannot be divorced from the cultural and faith-related aspirations of people. India has always remained a plural society, but it can never be at the expense of the majority community. North East is ethnically fragile area and the first duty of the state remains the protection of its indigenous people. India’s relationship with Bangladesh remains an important issue.
The question of deportation is also crucial and a vexed question. But it does not mean we turn a blind eye to the plight of the Assamese in their own land. BJP government must fulfil its promise of 'Khilonjia Sarkar' - a government made up of indigenous / locals that works in their interest.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)