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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Parivar behind exodus of "Bangladeshis"

New Delhi: The massive exodus of Bangladeshi migrants from upper Assam during the last two weeks is fast snowballing into a major controversy. Concerned by the development, the Union government has sought a report from the state government on the issue. Some observers feel that the development could affect the Congress party’s poll prospects in the state.

ABVP demo in Guwhati

ABVP demo in Guwahati

The campaign to evict “Bangladeshis” started from Dibrugarh in upper Assam which is home of Ulfa chief Paresh Barua who belongs to the Matak, the dominant tribe of the district. According to sources in the central home ministry, Ulfa could be behind the SMS campaign to evict suspected Bangladeshis. But Ulfa has denied this. Meanwhile a senior home ministry official linked the move to the assembly elections in Assam next year. The state government has conveyed to the home ministry that so far they have not been able to identify the source of SMSes. But Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has blamed the SMS campaign on the BJP’s newly elected state in-charge Pramod Mahajan. He said that the BJP and RSS are trying to foment communal tension in Assam and vowed that he would not allow the "traditional communal harmony in the state to be disturbed."

Gogoi on May 19 threatened to take action against Mahajan if he tried to take the law in his hands by communalising the atmosphere of the state on Bangladeshi issue. Gogoi further said that those who were forced to flee from the Upper Assam districts in the name of evicting illegal Bangladeshi settlers were genuine Indian citizens. He told reporters that the move was the "brainchild" of Mahajan. The CM alleged that the RSS had drafted the plot which Mahajan was executeing through the youth organisation, Chiring Chapori Yuva Mancha of Dibrugarh. The Mancha is accused to be behind the SMS campaign. Gogoi asserted that he would not allow Mahajan to vitiate the atmoshpere of the state by giving a communal colour to the Bangladeshi problem.

Gogoi cautioned the people of the state to remain vigilant to such conspiracies of the saffron brigade. Mahajan, after his appointment as in-charge of the Assam BJP had visited the state and raked up the foreigners issue.

Gogoi has also dismissed the report of Assam governor Ajai Singh to the central government as "baseless". The governor in his report had said that upto 6,000 illegal infiltrators enter Assam and other states in the region every day. Gogoi said that such reports only add to the confusion and tension in the state. The previous governor, SK Sinha, too gave such a report, he said, adding that census figures and the population growth rate in Assam do not indicate presence of large number of Bangladeshis in Assam.

The CM said that his government had formed vigilance groups in all the districts to prevent the harassment of genuine Indian citizens in the name of driving away “Bangladeshis”.

The Assam government ordered a probe into the exodus of alleged Bangladeshi immigrants from parts of eastern Assam after the campaign of the Mancha. Reportedly over 10,000 people have already fled many towns and villages in the districts of Dibrugarh, Golghat and Jorhat in eastern Assam since the May 7 deadline. 

The Assam government has, however, played down the exodus figures citing district administration reports that only 500 people had left Dibrugarh and other two districts. 

The Mancha had asked the Assemes people not to employ or offer food and shelter to any Bangladeshi. They distributed handbills and sent email messages to the people.

States neighbouring Assam raised an alert and called for a "barrier" to prevent the fleeing people from sneaking into their territory. The Northeast Students Organisation asked respective governments to be wary of fleeing “Bangladeshis” trying to sneak into their states. However, the All Assam Minority Students Union has reacted strongly to the sanctions imposed on people belonging to a "particular" community, i.e., Muslims.

The authorities in the three affected districts said there was little they could do about this forced exodus because the methods adopted by the Mancha so far have been “non-violent”. People seem to be supporting their campaign against providing food, job and shelter to illegal migrants, said a senior officer in the Dibrugarh district administration.

The situation took a communal turn on May 17 when some students tortured suspected “Bangladeshi” workers in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district and burnt more than 20 houses and shops of north Indian Hindi-speaking businessmen in Bandarwar area of North Lakhimpur district in two separate incidents.

The first, which created panic among the daily wage labourers, took place in Devi Pukhuri area of Tinsukia town. The Bengali speaking labourers claimed that they were residents of Toofanganj in West Bengal. The district administration requested the media not to report the incident. The police has arrested students involved in the incident. 

In the second incident, in North Lakhimpur district, the police said that the incident took place after the recovery of the body of one Appu Tamuli who worked in a shop. The mob was allegedly led by some local AASU leaders, who charged that Tamuli’s employer killed him. 

CM Gogoi and Assam home minister Rockybul Hussain maintained that the people fleeing eastern Assam were not Bangladeshis. The state government has sought a report from the home department on the issue. Home Commissioner BK Gohain is expected to submit the report within a month.

It is clear that the action of the youth organisation is illegal and extra-constitutional. They have no right to force the suspected “Bangladeshis” to leave the country. This should be left to the authorities and courts to be decided. There is already a law in the state to deal with it. 
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