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Different strokes on Hindu migrants

Guwahati/Silchar, March 6: The ruling Congress in the state has tied itself up in a bundle of contradictions in trying to wean away the Bengali Hindu votes from the BJP by speaking in different voices on the status of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh.

While AICC general secretary in-charge of Assam, Digvijay Singh, has gone by the 1971 cut-off date for identification and deportation of foreigners, chief minister Tarun Gogoi favours a “humanitarian” approach.

Gogoi said Bengali Hindus were a persecuted lot in Bangladesh and, hence, deserved refugee status if they came to India, a line espoused by the BJP.

Assam PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita, defending both Singh and Gogoi, today said the party would toe the central government’s line.

Singh made the observation while addressing party workers in Silchar on February 17, leaving Bengali organisations infuriated.

Gogoi tried to douse the fire sparked by Singh ahead of the Assembly polls with his humanitarian touch on February 28.

Kalita went all out to put the lid on the controversy sparked by Singh but it left no one wiser.

Asked about the party’s stand on the issue, he said, “Both our stands are correct. While Digvijayji has stated the legal position, our chief minister had gone by the humanitarian aspect. I don’t think there is a dispute over the two positions.”

While initial reactions from Barak valley suggested that the Congress appeared confused over the issue, party insiders wished Singh had not touched upon the issue given its sensitive nature just ahead of the polls because the ruling party is likely to face a tough time from the BJP and AIUDF.

“Sometimes it is better to remain vague. Gogoi and Kalita did their best to end the controversy but the Opposition will try to exploit the situation to their advantage because Barak valley is highly polarised along religious lines,” an insider said.

Nabarun De, columnist and engineer from Silchar, told The Telegraph, “The Congress’s stand is very confusing. Since the abrogation of the IMDT (Act) and the commitment made to the immigrants from East Pakistan and Bangladesh under the Immigrants (Expulsion Law), 1950 and the Nehru-Liaquat pact, India is duty bound to grant citizenship to Hindu refugees.”

The All Assam Bengali Youth Students’ Federation, which has been fighting for protection of the Bengali Hindus, has accused the government machinery of harassing, detaining and deporting the refugees, estimated to be anywhere between 6 and 10 lakh, a number which can be decisive in a touch-and-go situation.

The Congress had won only six of the 15 seats in Barak valley last time.

The refugee issue apart, Kalita said the party would be fielding between 30 and 35 per cent of new faces in the Assembly elections going by tradition and that some MLAs, including ministers, may miss the bus.

He said the decision on whether he would contest would depend on the high command.

“Who will be the chief minister will be decided by the elected MLAs,” he said when asked whether he was in race for the coveted post.

“Our candidates will be announced by March 15 and we will win big. Selection will be done going by the chance of success of an aspirant whose antecedents will also be checked,” he said when asked whether chargesheeted aspirants would get party tickets.

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