Sunday, Aug 14, 2022

'Nothing But A Political Gimmick'

In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview in Guwahati, the Assam Chief Minister gives his reasons for opposing the repeal of IM(DT) Act, while listing his government's successes in the past two years. Excerpts from the interview.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, completed two years in power on May 19, but celebrations were, however, tempered with the knowledge that an old wound is sought to be reopened by the BJP-led NDA government. Gogoi feels that the Centre's decision to introduce a Bill on the last day of the Budget session [see stories in the right hand bar] seeking to repeal the contentious Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals ) Act, 1983, has the potential to create chaos and confusion in Assam.

You have just completed two years in power. How do you look back on this period?

Tarun GogoiMy biggest satisfaction in the past two years has been the turn around that we have been able to achieve in people's mindset. Earlier, everything was looked upon with a negative approach. People were afraid of going out in the evenings. Everyone thought that unless insurgency is ended there would be no development. In the past two years I have been able to show that despite pockets of insurgency, development can be achieved. Today, people are not afraid to eat out, celebrate festivals like Bihu late into the night without any fear. Land prices in Guwahati have registered a phenomenal growth in the past two years; we have been able to attract business and investment in the state. The state's fiscal position is much better, prompting even the Planning Commission to laud our fiscal management. People are now yearning for economic development and prosperity. They are no longer obsessed or overwhelmed by. That I think is my big gain in the past two years.

Has the introduction of the Bill to repeal the IM(DT) Act come as a surprise to you?

No, not at all. You see, the BJP is in the habit of raking up this issue as general elections approach because they think this way they would gain some extra seats from Assam. I have said time and again that the BJP's move to try and repeal the Act is nothing but a political gimmick.

But this time, the Bill has been introduced in Lok Sabha...

There is a lot of difference between the introduction of a Bill and its passage. The Standing Committee will examine it, ask for comments and then further steps would be taken.

Why is the Congress so vehemently opposed to the repeal IM(DT) Act?

Let me explain. We are not opposed to the repeal of the IM(DT) Act per se. We are opposed to the application of Foreigners Act, 1946 in detection and deportation of foreigners if IM(DT) is repealed for the simple reason that under the Foreigners Act, the police is both the prosecutor and the judge. This gives scope for harassment of genuine Indian citizens and makes police all-powerful. The IM(DT) Act is needed because it gives judicial protection to genuine Indian citizens.

But the Foreigners Act has been applicable in rest of India.

Yes, it is applicable in rest of India but how many foreigners have been identified under its provisions, tell me. In Delhi, the BJP keeps saying there are lakhs of Bangladeshi nationals. So why haven't they been able to detect and deport them? The Foreigners Act, you must remember, was proclaimed even before Independence and was meant for limited purposes. The situation has changed after that. You cannot leave everything to the police.

But ultimately the police will help in detection and deportation, isn't it?

Yes they will but there has to be system of checks and balances. Let me give you an example. Between 1986 and 2002, the lower level police in Assam launched enquiries against 3,68, 000 people suspecting them to be Bangladeshis. Then, senior police officials did further screening. Do you know how much the final number of suspects was? Just 65,000. Which means the rest (303,000 people) were Indian nationals. The 65,000 cases were then referred to the tribunals. You see, when the police are given unbridled power, innocent Indian citizens will face harassment. This is exactly why we are saying that detection and deportation should have a judicial aspect.

But will you deny that Assam is faced with the problem of infiltration?

I am not denying that infiltration takes place. In fact I am all for putting in place more stringent measures to stop infiltration. But whose responsibility is it? I have been telling the Centre to increase the BSF(Border Security Force) deployment along the international border in Assam. I am asking the Centre to expedite the fencing work. My government will fully cooperate in any measures that can stop infiltration. Beyond that, census figures of the last three decades indicate that Assam's population growth has been less than the national average. So where's the "massive influx" that everyone talks about? I even pointed this out to (Prime Minister Atal Behari) Vajpayee and (deputy Prime Minister LK) Adavni. They kept silent when I quoted these figures.

All that I am saying is any law that is applied to detect and deport foreigners should not be aimed at harassing genuine Indian citizens. If you want to scrap IM(DT), it should be repealed only when an alternate judicial mechanism to detect and deport foreign nationals is in place. Otherwise there would be chaos, confusion and a fear psychosis among genuine Indian Muslims which we cannot tolerate.