After the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam identified 4 million people as suspected ‘foreigners’, the BJP’s West Bengal unit has planned to employ a proposed central legislation to demand the inclusion of Bangladeshi illegal Hindu immigrants living across the state as citizens. The BJP’s political programme would also include “inviting” Bangladesh’s minority Hindu community to emigrate and avail of Indian citizenship, less than a year before parliamentary elections are held in the summer of 2019.
Speaking to the South Asian Monitor on the BJP’s programme to deploy the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the 2016 Citizenship (Amendment) Bill issues in West Bengal, the party’s state unit president, Dilip Ghosh, revealed that “500,000 leaflets” that “explain” the inflammatory issues to the electorate would be “distributed across the state beginning later this month”.
Ghosh said quite candidly that for the BJP the vital issue, in relation to Bengal and Bangladesh, “is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill by which we intend to target Hindu immigrants”, thereby indicating that his party will make an all-out effort to woo immigrants belonging to the community who are already settled in the state as well as members of the Bangladesh’s minority group. South Asian Monitor had earlier reported (from Dhaka) on the RSS’ plans to seek greater political representation of Hindus living in Bangladesh.
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“We are not really concerned about the Muslim illegal immigrants who have settled in West Bengal. Besides the Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants who have found their way to this state, we would also welcome those from that country’s minority community,” Ghosh said unabashedly, while also confirming that the RSS has been playing a “role” in pushing “all major Bangladeshi political parties to nominate greater number of Hindus as candidates for the December general election there”.
In the backdrop of the potentially volatile situation that is likely to arise from the BJP’s pro-Hindu immigrant programme in West Bengal and the fears caused among Assam’s minority community, inflammatory and communally sensitive statements by the party’s national president Amit Shah has not helped the situation. Over the past 15 days or so Shah has repeatedly raked up the issue of “deporting” Bangladeshi illegal immigrants from India from different parts of India and thereby sought to project it as a “national issue”, with just eight months left for the parliamentary elections.
Shah declared on September 15 in Hyderabad in southern India that his party would do everything it takes to deport illegal immigrants (read Muslim Bangladeshis settled in different parts of India) to their country of origin. This was in obvious reference to the NRC whose first draft, recently submitted to the Supreme Court, temporarily struck out 4 million people, both Hindus and Muslims, leaving them faced with an uncertain future. A couple of weeks ago, Shah, then in Jaipur in Rajasthan, thundered that the Narendra Modi government was committed to identify and drive out illegal immigrants back to Bangladesh.
Prima facie, Shah’s threat sounds more like pre-poll rhetoric: while elections to the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram assemblies will be held this winter, it is expected that Telangana too would be go to the polls the same time as the other four states. The BJP’s strategy has gradually begun to unfold. It seeks to give an early twist to its “tried and tested” communal agenda now and build it to a crescendo by the time India gets ready for the parliamentary elections in 2019. Besides Shah, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who has strong opinion against illegal immigration from Bangladesh to India, warned a few days ago that those people in Assam who could not produce any proof of Indian citizenship, and therefore presumed to be foreigners, would be deported to Bangladesh.
It is clear that the potentially divisive NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which promises citizenship to minorities living in India’s neighbouring countries (read Bangladesh), will now be deployed as the BJP’s main electoral weapons by projecting illegal immigration as a ‘national issue’ which the saffron party first tried to employ way back in the early 1990s with limited success.
The Modi regime has reportedly assured the government of Sheikh Hasina that India has no plans to deport the hundreds of thousands of alleged Bangladeshi nationals supposedly detected in the NRC-backed identification-and-segregation drive. And yet, Shah has made it abundantly clear that his party will exploit the issue even if it were to cause disquiet and consternation in India’s eastern neighbour where general elections to the JatiyaSangsad (National Assembly) are expected to be held in December – around the same time that the four Indian states go to the hustings.
Even as the BJP is prepared to use the incendiary issue of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in the forthcoming assembly and parliamentary elections, the RSS has sought to project a conciliatory image of itself. Speaking at an ongoing three-day conclave in Delhi, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat said that the outfit doesn’t seek to establish the supremacy of any one identity and that India’s diversity must be celebrated.
Bhagwat sought to assuage the Indian electorate, even going to the extent of distancing the RSS from other Hindutva affiliates and their attacks on Muslims. But the BJP has decided to openly launch a communal electoral programme with Shah recently referring to the 2015 lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh in a dismissive and cavalier manner.
Notwithstanding the RSS’s efforts to put its best foot forward, less than a year before parliamentary polls are held in India, there are others in the Sangh, such as senior functionary Sheshadri Chari who didn’t mince words to describe illegal immigration from Bangladesh as a “national issue”. Chari, who was previously editor of the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, said that illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Assam and West Bengal was the result of the “laid back attitude of the people” of these two Indian border states. “The two states got cheap labour from across the border (Bangladesh). Now it has become a complicated issue,” Chari added.
Noted journalist and author of two forthcoming books on the Indian right-wing and another on Hindu nationalism and the freedom struggle, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, said that the Sangh’s three-day conclave in Delhi, that began on September 17, is “essentially a public relations exercise designed to drum up support for the BJP ahead of the 2019 polls”.