By Joginder Singh
Illegal immigration from Pakistan and Bangladesh poses a serious threat to our internal security. Thanks to vote-bank politics, our politicians are indifferent.
Our international border is around 15,318 km long, of which our boundary with Bangladesh is 4,000 km long, running along West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. It is the Government of India’s responsibility to guard the country’s international border and prevent foreigners from entering our territory illegally as well as control the entry of those travelling with valid documents. This is a responsibility that the Government has clearly failed to fulfil as was evident from a statement by the Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs: “As per information available, 1,283 Pakistani nationals (who presumably entered India legally) remain untraced/missing as of June 30, 2011.”
A month earlier, while replying to a query under the RTI Act in July, the Government had said: “It is not possible to estimate the total number of such foreign nationals, including Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals, who have entered into the country without valid travel documents and are staying in the country since entry of such foreign nationals into the country is clandestine and surreptitious.” The response also added that over 73,000 people from various countries have stayed on even after their visas expired; nearly 50 per cent of these people were from Bangladesh and about 10 per cent were from Pakistan, according to data available as of December 31, 2009. In 1996, the then Union Minister for Home Affairs, Indrajit Gupta, had informed Parliament that over 25 million Bangladeshis were illegally living in India.
The fact remains that despite the threat of cross-border terrorism faced by the country from illegal immigrants, the Ministry of Affairs does not maintain a centralised source of information on people crossing the border to enter India from Pakistan and Bangladesh without valid documents. Except where it suits its own concerns, the Union Government refuses to act even in the face of judicial pronouncement. The Supreme Court held in 2005 that provisions of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act of 1983 were ultra vires to the Constitution and were accordingly struck down. The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Rules, 1984, were also determined to be ultra vires and hence were struck down.
The issue of illegal immigration has and continues to figure in high-level meetings related to internal security. It has figured prominently at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security and Law and Order held in New Delhi . At this conference serious differences emerged among the north-eastern States on the issue of illegal immigration — some States openly accused Assam of contributing to the mounting problem of illegal immigration in the region.
The then Chief Minister of Nagaland virtually charged Assam with not taking any steps to check illegal immigration from Bangladesh. He said, “Assam has almost become a breeding ground for illegal immigrants as they are procuring documents like ration cards in that State and then coming to the hills. This is very dangerous.” He also claimed that such immigrants were being settled in areas that were under dispute between Assam and several other States. He even urged Assam to settle its decades-long boundary disputes with Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur in an accommodative spirit as it was the largest State in the region.
According to a former Governor of Assam, “57 of Assam’s 126 constituencies were found to have more than a 20 per cent increase in the number of voters between 1994 and 1997, whereas the all-India average was just 7.4 per cent.” This dramatic increase indicated the addition of a large number of voters who were really illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. He added that a revision of electoral rolls in Mongoldoi parliamentary constituency in Assam in 1979 detected the names of thousands of Bangladeshi nationals and the entire population of Assam revolted against this development.
The former Governor also felt that without knowing the long-term effects of the issue, Indian Muslims by and large were sympathetic to Bangladeshi immigrants. Thus, the illegal immigrants now have a much larger say in the political affairs of the country. For instance, when the Government of Maharashtra tried to deport a few hundred illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, several parties started a chorus of protests that were politically motivated.
There is a direct relationship between the voting patterns of illegal immigrants and the freebies given by political parties to win their votes in elections. This unholy nexus creates roadblocks at different levels, especially when it comes to checking the continued problem of illegal immigration which also gives rise to the possibility that such elements could possibly become sleeper cells of terrorist organisations and help them launch terror attacks within India.
The truth is that even though all politicians realise the enormity of this problem, their craving for electoral gains and desperation to secure the votes of illegal immigrants make them ignore the imminent dangers of the problem. Politics in our country has become hostage to political expediency which is often disguised as ‘principles’. These ‘principles’ are frequently tailored to suit the occasion.
The trouble is that politicians world over are essentially the same. Most will say anything to get themselves elected to office. Later, they hope that they can escape scrutiny on account of the fact that the people have a short memory and tend to forget pre-election promises. Thus, all of us who participate in the electoral process (as well as those who don’t come out to vote on polling day) are responsible for the rise of bad politicians to power. The time has come to tell people who don’t vote that they can’t complain about the quality of politicians who are elected to office.
A senior politician who has served as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha once pleaded for identity cards to be given to all people in the North-East, including illegal immigrants from Bangladesh living in Assam. A former Governor of Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal holds that at least five million Bangladeshis who entered India illegally have settled in Assam. They constitute a fourth of the State’s population of 22 million people. According to estimates prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Intelligence Bureau, Assam’s alien population from Bangladesh stands at about four million.
These statistical details not only indicate the magnitude of the problem of illegal immigration but also reflect the enormity of the security threat that the country is facing on account of this. This is apart from the fact that illegal immigration deprives Indian citizens of employment opportunities. All countries, including Western nations, especially the US, ensure and protect their citizens’ job opportunities and, unlike our Government, are not apologetic about doing so .
Machiavelli, Hobbes and others have defined man as a lump of matter whose most politically relevant attribute is a form of energy called “self-interestedness.” In this context, it means that the issue is simply not one of changing religious demographics or illegal immigration; it is not about being remorseful or repentant for taking a stand wherein we do not protect our own self-interests. As the former Australian Prime Minister, Mr Gough Whitlam, once said: “The punters know that the horse named Morality rarely gets past the winning post, whereas the horse named Self-Interest always runs a good race.” The Government should know one horse from another