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India's migration politics will destabilise BD - I.

Byline: B Z Khasru

INDIA'S migration politics - an assertion that there are 40 million Bangladeshi migrants illegally living in India and that they must be pushed back - will morph into an explosive crisis in South Asia and destabilize the region. This is how things will unravel: India's plan to round up suspected millions of illegal migrants and detain them in now-under-construction concentration camps will give Hindu nationalist zealots a license to terrorize Muslims, forcing them to flee into neighbouring countries. In an attempt to avoid detention, many of these non-citizens, especially those in highly charged States of Assam and West Bengal, will rush toward Bangladesh because of its close proximity. India's most friendly but highly sensitive neighbour, Bangladesh, will refuse them entry, creating tremendous border tension and a humanitarian disaster.

Enraged by the plight of the Muslims at their border, Bangladeshi Muslims will turn against their fellow Hindu countrymen. Any atrocity on Hindus in Bangladesh, in turn, will infuriate India's Hindus, who will vent their anger on Muslims in India. Unless Delhi halts its misguided politics, this sectarian tension will spiral out of control and spread all over the region and beyond, perhaps to the Middle East and Europe, where Muslim presence is significant. India will face an international public-relations nightmare, which will force it to divert attention from its most pressing task on hand, fixing country's economy. India will get more than it is bargaining for if it pushes its long-term residents into Bangladesh: Violent anti-India street protests will rock Muslim-majority nation of 163 million Bengalis; pro-India Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's govt will fall; and Hindus in Bangladesh will face Muslim fury, forcing them to flee to India.

How current crisis began: India's current migration politics has its roots in its northeastern state of Assam, where local politicians have periodically incited violent protests over the past 70 years to drive out non-Assamese - both Hindus and Muslims - stoking regionalism for parochial political gains. The non-Assamese, mostly Bengali-speaking people from today's Bangladesh and West Bengal, routinely voted for the Congress Party because of its secular platform. Assam and Bengal were once one administrative unit under the British, and people moved freely throughout the region. After Britain divided India - as well as Assam and Bengal - in 1947, many (former) East Pakistan-based Hindus migrated to India and settled in Assam. This influx of migrants made indigenous Assamese angry and local politicians exploited this resentment to their advantage. A student group that waged a six-year-long anti-Bengali violent campaign captured state power in 1985 and again in 1996.

Then came Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, and Hindutva - the anti-minority politics of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party - followed. Modi swept to power with a promise of jobs and growth, downplaying his roots in the powerful Hindu-nationalist group RSS - Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the National Volunteer Organization. After a heavy defeat later on in Bihar, the BJP adopted an aggressive line, spreading the sectarian venom that India is a Hindu nation, and blacklisted minority Muslims. Of India's 1.3 billion people, 14 percent are Muslim. Modi's Party does not target migrant Bangladeshi Hindus, rather promises them citizenship. But it seeks to deport Muslims, showing its anti-Islam bias. Modi faced global criticism for the Muslim massacre in 2002 in his Home State of Gujarat. He ruled Gujarat for 13 years before becoming Prime Minister in 2014. During his election campaign, Modi told migrants in states bordering Bangladesh to keep their 'bags packed,' ready to be sent home. But he waited until his re-election in 2019 to take up the issue with Bangladesh.

Indo-Bangla uneven bonds: Since Hasina returned to power in Bangladesh in 2009, Dhaka-Delhi relations have improved remarkably to such an extent that many Bengalis think India is the strongest leg of her throne. Indeed, Hasina has always been India's favourite. When Bangladesh fought against Pakistan for independence in 1971, Delhi played the midwife, and later stood by Hasina's father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh's founder. After his assassination in 1975, India sheltered a young, orphaned Hasina. In 1981, India nudged the military-strongman-turned-president, General Ziaur Rahman, to ensure her safe return home, paving the way for her to capture power in 1996. Later, Delhi helped Hasina defeat the slain president's widow, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, in the 2008 parliamentary poll.

A grateful Hasina repaid her debt in kind by handing over an Indian separatist leader to Delhi, signing a land boundary agreement, and allowing India to ferry food and grains to its landlocked northeast through Bangladesh. On top of all this, she turned down a Chinese offer to help build a military base in Bangladesh to keep India happy. To reciprocate her gesture, Modi in 2015 singed 22 agreements with Bangladesh during a visit to Dhaka, and extended a $2 billion credit line and pledged $5 billion worth of investment. And, when Hasina visited Delhi in 2017, she signed two defence pacts, the first suzch deals between India and any of its neighbours, enabling the two countries to conduct joint military exercises and training. - To be continued.
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Author:B Z Khasru
Publication:Pakistan Observer (Islamabad, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Oct 19, 2019
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