Chief minister Tarun Gogoi in Guwahati on Saturday. Picture by UB Photos
Guwahati, June 28: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today hit out at the Narendra Modi-led NDA government for apparently putting the Bangladeshi influx issue on the backburner and relaxing visa norms for nationals from the neighbouring country.
Attacking the Modi government for the fifth time in 10 days on issues connected with Bangladesh, Gogoi wondered at a press meet why the Centre did not raise the issue of illegal migration during foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s three-day visit to Dhaka that concluded yesterday.
“From media reports we have come to know that the issue was not discussed during external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visit to Dhaka. What happened? Wasn’t it the BJP’s Number One issue during the elections? Why was it put on the backburner? It seems they (the Modi government) feel all illegal migrants from Bangladesh left after April 17. Maybe that is why they (the BJP) are not talking about it,” Gogoi told reporters here this afternoon.
On the India-Bangladesh land-swap deal, he said that from media reports it appears that the Modi regime was pursuing it despite criticising the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government over the deal.
“Now they are not talking about scrapping it. It seems they are in favour of the deal. Why this dual stand? You take one stand while in Opposition and then change it when in power. We support the deal because it will be beneficial to Assam and we stand by it,” he said.
Gogoi started off with the visa issue, saying his government was opposed to “visa-free” entry for Bangladeshi nationals and the easing of visa norms as proposed during Swaraj’s visit.
The external affairs ministry had announced on June 26 that Delhi had conveyed to Dhaka its decision that Bangladeshi nationals under the age of 13 and above 65 years will be given multiple-entry visas for five years instead of one year.
The ministry had said that there was no “visa-free” entry proposal but they were working on visa-on-arrival proposal. “We did not agree to multiple-entry visa. We had opposed it,” Gogoi said in an oblique reference to the June 11 inter-ministerial meeting convened by the ministry as part of preparations for Swaraj’s visit to Bangladesh.
At the meeting, Assam’s additional chief secretary H.S. Das had opposed the proposal for “visa-free” entry for Bangladeshi nationals under 18 and above 65 years.
“The ministry of home affairs conveyed that this is a new proposal and would require time for processing. We suggest that this could be initially considered for Bangladeshi citizens of ages below 10 years and over 70 years. The government of Assam has strongly opposed the suggestion,” minutes of the external affairs ministry’s communiqué, which has been accessed by The Telegraph, said.
Das had 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.
By flagging the visa, influx and land-swap deal today, Gogoi made it amply clear that he will keep alive the issues to get back at the Modi government.
Congress insiders said they would make the NDA government’s stand on issues connected to Bangladesh their main poll plank in the byelections.
“Modi had opposed everything the UPA did to improve ties with the neighbouring country but now he is singing a different tune. Our chief minister is going about in a calculated way by attacking the Modi government. We will call their (Modi government) bluff,” one of them said.
The influx issue, always a sensitive one with the state’s populace, especially in Upper and central Assam, has come at about the right time for Gogoi who is fighting dissidence within the CLP for his continuance in the hot seat.
The BJP responded to Gogoi’s tongue-in-cheek criticism with its national vice-president and Guwahati MP Bijoya Chakraborty saying the issue of “visa-free” visit by Bangladeshi nationals of certain age groups was a false propaganda of the Gogoi government.
She said the BJP-led NDA government would not do anything that might encourage illegal infiltration.