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NATIONAL ISSUE

Life is never quite safe for the “aliens” in Assam. It can be very dangerous if the native population feels threatened by them. Last week’s carnage in Assam shows once again how the mutual distrust between “outsiders” and “native” settlers makes the state an ethnic cesspool. The tragedy this time is supposed to be linked to the elections in the area earlier last month. The “aliens” were suspected to have voted for a candidate of their choice, thereby clouding the prospects of the nominee from the native Bodo community. There have been cases elsewhere in the country of people being terrorized or even attacked for their voting preferences. But the link between the vote and the carnage in Assam is only a part of a larger story. The gruesome killing of innocent people, including women and children, was clearly aimed at striking terror among the people of a particular community and forcing them to leave their homes and land. The fear that the “alien” community may even snatch the parliamentary seat from the native Bodos seems to have been cynically used by the militants.

Sadly, politicians have used the tragedy’s link to the vote in order to try and score small partisan points. Any group of people that had been given the voting right could not be treated as “illegal migrants” and punished for voting the way they did. If there is an irony in “aliens” voting in India’s elections, that is what should worry politicians not only in Assam but also in New Delhi. Most political parties agree that illegal migration from Bangladesh into the Northeast and other parts of India is a serious issue. Any country would treat such migration as a major threat to its security as well as to its demographic patterns. But politicians in India have failed to give the issue the importance it deserves. It is time that New Delhi realized that it was a national issue that needed to be addressed in all seriousness. The tragedies may happen in Assam or some other part of the Northeast, but the issues they throw up should be of major concern to the whole country.

However, all this does not absolve the Assam government of its failure to prevent last week’s tragedy. The electoral campaign had left enough hints of potential trouble in the areas dominated by the Bodos. The government should have done much more to ensure the safety of smaller communities living in these areas. But a more important task perhaps awaits the new government in New Delhi. It has to take a holistic view of the issue of illegal migration into Assam and other states. It is one thing for the Bharatiya Janata Party to make the issue part of its election rhetoric. It is quite another to roll out a policy on this and act firmly on it.