The persisting fissures in Assam, which periodically lead to outbreaks of communal violence, are not between Indian Muslims and non-Muslims. They are between Indian sons of the soil, whatever be their ethnicity, religion or language, and Bangladeshi intruders.
The failure of successive governments to deal effectively with continuing illegal immigration from Bangladesh by sealing the border, by strengthening border controls and by identifying and throwing back the illegal immigrants is giving rise to understandable concerns in the minds of the sons of the soil that they are being inexorably reduced to a minority in their own homeland.
There are even suspicions and fears of political and administrative connivance in facilitating the illegal migration and the integration of the illegal migrants with our own citizenry. The extent of these suspicions and concerns was evident from the observations of a Bodo student in an NDTV debate on the night of July 28, 2012. He alleged that due to inaction by successive governments the Muslims constitute 75 per cent of the population in certain areas.
While his figures seemed to be exaggerated, officials in our intelligence and security establishments agree that the failure of the state and central governments to counter head-on the problem of illegal immigration is eroding our internal security machinery in the North-East.
There are similar suspicions and concerns in the Rakhine state of Myanmar over the non-stopping illegal immigration of Muslims, known as Rohingyas, from Bangladesh. The anger among the sons of the soil over these intruders from Bangladesh periodically leads to outbreaks of violence between Muslims and non-Muslims.
There was one such outbreak recently in which there were about 80 fatalities and the internal displacement of a large number of persons who live in camps. A state of emergency was proclaimed by the Myanmar government in the entire state and the Army was deployed to restore and maintain order and communal peace. Despite this, total normalcy has not yet been restored.
The Myanmar government, security forces and political leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi have been maintaining firmly that the problem in the Rakhine state is one of effective enforcement of law against foreign intruders. Suu Kyi, who is a strong defender of the ethnic rights of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, has steadfastly refused to recognise the Rohingyas as an ethnic group of Myanmar. They are looked upon as intruders from Bangladesh who have no right to enjoy the same rights as the citizens of Myanmar.
Despite pressure from the UN , the Organisation of Islamic Countries and Western non-governmental human rights organisations, the Myanmar government has been firmly adhering to the view that these illegal migrants should either go back to Bangladesh or migrate to other countries that might be prepared to accommodate them.
Compared to India, Myanmar is a weak country. In spite of that, it has stuck to its position that it cannot extend the same protection and legal benefits to illegal migrants as it extends to its sons of the soil.
We call ourselves a big power. We pride ourselves on our national strength. And yet, we do not have the national will to act firmly and decisively against the Pakistan-based terrorists and the Bangladesh origin illegal migrants who are slowly corroding our internal security.
The failure to admit and address the problems posed by the presence of a large number of Bangladeshi intruders in Assam and the continuing further intrusion is due to various factors such as political opportunism, political and administrative complicity with the intruders and an inability and unwillingness to understand the strategic threat posed by them to peace and harmony in Assam.
The problem is rendered even more explosive by the insensitive attitude of the indigenous Muslims of Assam. They are one of us. They are our co-citizens entitled to the same rights and protection as you and I. But their misplaced feelings of religious solidarity with the Muslim intruders from Bangladesh and their tendency to downplay the extent of illegal migration and the threats posed by the migrants are creating suspicions in the minds of the non-Muslim sons of the soil.
The indigenous Muslim sons of the soil should identify themselves with the feelings, suspicions and concerns of the non-Muslim citizens. They should be in the forefront of national solidarity. Otherwise, the wedge between the Muslim and non-Muslim sons of the soil could grow wider and create more tensions and violence.
It is time for the governments at the centre and in the state, the political parties, the administration and leaders of the indigenous Muslims to do a serious introspection over the gathering concerns in Assam and act unitedly against the intruders from Bangladesh. Ideas being floated by some think-tanks orchestrated from outside India for regularising the stay of the migrants by issuing them work permits are harebrained and should not be touched.
The only solution is stopping further illegal immigration through border fencing and identifying and throwing out those who have already come in. There is no question of their illegalities being regularised.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai centre For China Studies