Guwahati, June 23: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today said he had not compromised “national security” by divulging the BJP-led NDA government’s proposal to grant “visa-free” entry to Bangladesh nationals under the age of 18 years and over the age of 65 years.
In a press communiqué from the chief minister’s office, Gogoi said the Assam government strongly opposed the proposal on the ground that illegal migration from Bangladesh was a very sensitive issue for Assam and other northeastern states and that “visa-free” entry would have repercussions in terms of negative public reactions.
The proposal for “visa-free” entry was made during an inter-ministerial meeting of the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi on June 11, he said.
Delhi had recently attributed the communiqué on visa entry to a “blooper”.
Gogoi said he cannot maintain a stoic silence on such a sensitive issue and that he would be failing in his duty if he does not let the people of the state know about it.
“The people of the state have the right to know about such a sensitive issue. I would be failing in my duty if I do not place the matter before them,” he said, adding that a section of people is bent upon diluting the issue for vested interests.
The chief minister said he disclosed the issue not with a view to gain political mileage but to put matters straight before the people.
“Sarbananda Sonowal may label my disclosure a political gimmick. What I have disclosed is based on record. Why should such a sensitive issue concerning the people of Assam be put under a veil of secrecy? The BJP has taken a complete U-turn on the influx issue,” Gogoi said.
Sonowal is now a Union minister and the president of the Assam unit of the BJP.
The Assam unit of the BJP today challenged the chief minister to display the letter that he was claiming to have received from the Centre with the proposal of allowing minor and elder Bangladeshi nationals to enter the country without a visa.
Talking to reporters, BJP spokesperson Adip Kumar Phukan said Gogoi was lying to protect himself from mounting pressure from the Centre to update the National Register of Citizens.
Phukan said Gogoi’s comment came a day after the Centre held a crucial meeting on a speedy update of the NRC and had sent its decision to Dispur.
The Telegraph had, in its Sunday edition, reported that Dispur had indeed received the minutes of the inter-ministerial meeting held by the MEA on June 13.
Though foreign ministry officials had adopted a we-are-not-aware line on the communiqué, it was sent to Assam’s additional chief secretary H.S. Das on June 13.
Das had forwarded it to the state chief secretary and home department on June 17. Dispur received it on June 19.
Accessed by The Telegraph, the MEA communiqué — “Summary record of discussion on preparatory meeting to the external affairs minister’s visit to Bangladesh” not only talks about the proposal for “visa-free” entry to Bangladeshi nationals under-18 and above-65 but also said it’s a new proposal.
“The MHA conveyed that this is a new proposal and would require time for processing. We suggest that this could be initially considered for Bangladeshi citizens below 10 years and over 70 years. The government of Assam has strongly opposed the suggestion,” portions of the communiqué stated.
Phukan said the visa-free entry to Bangladeshi nationals was discussed by the UPA government with Bangladesh last year.
“The BJP has already clarified its stand that no foreign national will be allowed to enter the country without a visa. If chief minister Tarun Gogoi has a letter from the Centre in this regard we challenge him to make it public,” said Phukan.