Friday, March 11, 2016
BJP again playing the religion card in Assam
Sectarian politics has always worked for fascists. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a fascist Hindutvadi organization that has used bigotry to come to power. It does not mind exploiting the religion card to polarize the electorates and collect their vote.
BJP has vowed to disenfranchise millions of Muslims in Assam, waging a polarizing election campaign in a bid to form its first government there. As I have noted before, Assam - originally part of Bengal - always had a sizable fraction that is Muslim. When the border was drawn in 1947, many of those Muslims continued to live there. However, simply because of their faith, they have been described by the Hindu majority as new immigrants or infiltrators from East Pakistan (or Bangladesh). There is no truth to that assertion.
In campaign rallies in Assam, officials of the BJP have also promised to identify and deport younger illegal migrants, in response to rising discontent among the state's Hindus.
When Assam elects a state legislature in April, an estimated 10 percent of its 20 million voters will be Muslims who are Indian citizens.
"Legal Indian citizens are being branded as Bangladeshis," student Ismail Hussain, wearing a white skullcap, told Reuters at a rally held by a mainly Muslim party in Assam.
"The BJP can't just do what they want. We have faith in the Indian constitution."
After a heavy defeat last autumn in Bihar, the BJP has pursued a more confrontational line. It has promoted the idea that India is a Hindu nation and rounded on "anti-national" opponents, in what critics say is an attempt to marginalize minority Muslims.
India is officially secular, but four-fifths of its 1.3 billion people profess the Hindu faith. Muslims comprise 14 percent of the population, with Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and others making up the rest.
At 34 percent, Assam has the second highest percentage of Muslims of any Indian state. The BJP's plan risks re-igniting communal tensions that have led to deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims, although analysts doubt there will be a full-scale drive to expel Muslim immigrants.
"All this is pre-electoral mobilization," said Ajai Sahni of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, which tracks security issues across South Asia.
"You don't have a state that has the capacity, the instruments and the institutions to do anything about this."
If the BJP gains traction in Assam, hardliners in the BJP and the Hindu-nationalist movement that backs it, the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS), could push a similar brand of anti-Muslim politics in West Bengal, a bigger state that also borders Bangladesh and votes in April and May.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP's campaign manager in Assam, told Reuters that if the party is elected it will try to bar Muslims of Bangladeshi origin who entered India between its first census in 1951 and 1971, when Bangladesh won independence, from voting. They can stay but would have to re-apply for citizenship, he said.
Facts are no Muslim Bangladeshi settled in Assam after independence of Bangladesh in 1971. However, the same is not true for Hindus who migrated during the War of Liberation. With family members well established inside India, esp. in places like Assam, West Bengal and bordering states of India, many chose to remain there while selling the same parcel of land fraudulently to multiple Muslim buyers who now must fight it out in the corrupt courts of Bangladesh to establish their ownership. That is the sad reality.
Interestingly, the BJP's campaign does not target millions of Hindus who have left Bangladesh for Assam. The BJP also plans to deport illegal immigrants who arrived subsequently and strengthen a citizen registration program to track future inflows, said Sarma.
"There are about 2 million immigrants (who came before 1971) and their descendants. Let them grow economically and educationally," he said. "But their status should be refugee and, on the basis of individual application, if someone becomes an Indian citizen that's a different issue."
Opposition to the BJP plan is vocal. At a rally this month in Jaleswar village, on the southern bank of the Brahamputra River upstream from the Bangladeshi border, leaders of a largely Muslim party likened themselves to Myanmar's Rohingya minority.
The Rohingyas, many with roots in Bangladesh, are deemed stateless and have been excluded from the democratic transition in Myanmar. They have been targeted in attacks by hardliners from Myanmar's Buddhist majority.
"We all know what has happened to the Rohingya Muslims. It could happen to us too," Aminul Islam, a leader of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), told the crowd. "There's a conspiracy to disenfranchise 4 million of us. We will become stateless if we don't come together."
When Modi swept to victory in 2014, the election was marred by sectarian violence in Assam that killed more than 40 people.
During that campaign, Modi told illegal immigrants in states bordering Bangladesh to have their "bags packed" ready to be sent home should he win.
That is the sickening health of secularism in Modi's India.