Dialogue  January-March, 2005, Volume 6 No. 3


Editorial Perspective

On the Slippery Slopes of the Vote-bank Politics

In a just concluded (April 3, 2005) mammoth rally of the Assam unit of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind held at Guwahati, its national president, Maulana Asad Madani, threatened to dethrone the Congress Government in Assam if minorities’ problems are not solved. The rally, among others from various political parties, was also attended by Governor Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ajai Singh, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Madani, pointing towards Mr Gogoi, sitting by his side, said amid loud applause and in a charged atmosphere:

 “We are giving you six months’ time to address to the grievances of the Muslim community, and after seeing your response to it we would take a decision regarding our stand in the forthcoming assembly elections”

Madani further said: “You are liable to fulfill your promises as you have been voted to power because of your assurance to fulfill the hope and aspiration of the minorities. If the promises prove to be futile, you will be thrown out of power.” He wanted Gogoi to change his way of functioning: “You decide whether you will change your way of functioning or not, otherwise the Jamiat will decide against supporting you.” Jamiat submitted 18-point Charter of demands to the State Government. Madani asked the Assam Government to ensure that two of his demands are met within six months which are: (i) distribution of land pattas to Muslim settlers in the char (river islands) and other areas of the State and (ii) issuance of the citizenship certificates to the members of the minority community for their social security. The Assam State unit of the Jamiat Ulema passed a series of resolutions. One of them strongly defended the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act and demanded its extension to the entire country. It also wanted March 25, 1971 to be accepted as the base year for the identification of foreigners as provided in the Assam Accord. Jamiat also called for the reservation of jobs in government and academic institutions reflecting the population pattern.

Two more developments of similar nature have simultaneously taken place in Assam. Minority cell of the ruling Congress Party has demanded the party high command to give tickets to minority candidates to as many as 38 Assembly constituencies in the forthcoming Assembly elections. Similarly, the Assam unit of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) have announced to field 50 candidates against the ruling Congress and the Opposition Asom Gana Parishad. Never have a Chief Minister and the ruling party been threatened publicly or held to ransom like this. Apparently the past sins of courting communal vote bank politics of the Congress and other political parties has come home to roost.

The gravity of these developments should be viewed in the light of certain undesirable developments going on in the North-East (and the rest of the country) after independence. The population growth of the region, especially Assam, has been alarmingly high. The growth of population in Assam from 1901 to 1971 (70 years) was from 3.29 million to 14.6 million i.e., 343.77 %; the country’s population growth during that period was only 150 per cent. This trend continues afterwards also. The abnormal growth of voters in the state was equally worrisome. It increased from 4.493 to 4.943 million (10%) within five years (1957 to 1962). It further increased 13% in next four years to 5.585 million. By 1970, the number of voters was 5.72 million. Within a year after that it rose by 10.42% and stood at 6.296 million. The abnormally high growth rate of Muslims and that of the voters in Assam have been almost entirely due to illegal immigration of Bangladeshis. Out of the 27 districts of Assam, six districts – Goalpara, Dhubri, Barpeta, Nagaon, Karimganj and Hailakandi – have become Muslim majority districts. The minimum number of the Bangladeshis in this country is reported to be 10,810,000, out of which 40 lakhs are reported to be in Assam; another 40 lakhs and twenty lakhs are supposed to be in West Bengal and Bihar respectively.

The illegal migrants have become very powerful in India due to the competitive politics of vote bank. They have become voters and can “determine” the outcome of polls in 52 Assembly constituencies and “influence” the outcome of another 100 constituencies out of 292 Assembly constituencies of West Bengal. The situation might have worsened further during the past years as the above-mentioned findings are based on the study made a few years ago. The situation in the North-East, especially in Assam, is no better. The aliens have become so powerful and our politicians so powerless and shortsighted that a Chief Minister like Hiteshwar Saikia had to withdraw his statement about them. The recent controversy about the statement of Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs of the Central government points towards the same phenomenon. The West Bengal Government stopped the trains carrying aliens from Mumbai to the border some years ago. The controversial IMDT Act protects the infiltrators, is a well-known fact. The tribunals formed to detect and deport illegal immigrants have deported about 1000 of them since 1983 and we have spent 400 crores for maintaining the tribunals uptil now. Assam Government is for the retention of the Act. The AGP and the Vajpeyi governments did nothing to scrap it. IMDT Act was enacted to help the aliens at the cost of this country’s interests. The agencies and the Indian political parties working for its retention are, knowingly or unknowingly, facilitating the creation of Grater Bangladesh in long run. Their nefarious design should not be allowed to succeed. Similarly, the attempt towards communal reservation and grant of citizenship to the illegal immigrants should also be frustrated. It is high time to recognize that one of the important causes of our backwardness is the politics of vote bank. It is also an anti-secular act.

The bottom line is that unless political parties, whether national or regional, belonging to left, right or center; who are active in North-East politics wakeup in time and give up their self servicing agenda; they are bound to destroy the whole of North-East, and deal a lethal blow to country’s stability. Its time we wake up to the strategic realties of the region. China, Pakistan and Bangladesh are working in tandem; though unobtrusively to “box” India within the South Asian Region. The clubbing of the April 2005 visit to the countries of the South Asian region by the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to the countries of the South Asian region is a clear message. For China, India is not a stand alone entity in the region. Its just one of the players. The USA is unwittingly (perhaps knowingly) helping the process due to its strategic dependence on Pakistan in West, Central and South Asia. The North East of India is no more a question of buying peace by pandering to the ever burgeoning and endless artificial ethnic constructs. Its increasingly, and more than Kashmir, becoming the test of our national mettle and resilience. Distance from Delhi should not minimise its importance or significance for the future. To start with we must revisit and re-evaluate our principles of the governance of the region. Its colonial foundations are based on erecting barriers of inner line, schedule VI which divide people and encourage social and cultural distancing. It needs to be dismantled with concurrence of participating states and entities. Vested interests will oppose but national interest must supercede sectional interests.

— B.B. Kumar


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati