Guwahati, July 16: The Tarun Gogoi cabinet today decided to move the Centre to frame a policy for granting asylum to persons who fled religious persecution and discrimination and took refuge in India on humanitarian grounds. The move saw leading organisations of the state accuse Dispur of trying to abet influx from neighbouring Bangladesh for political gains.
The state cabinet met for over an hour at the secretariat here this afternoon. Barring Himanta Biswa Sarma, Ardhendu Dey and Gautam Roy, the remaining 11 cabinet ministers attended the meeting.
A government press release revealing the decision, issued after the meeting, also said that Gogoi had submitted a memorandum to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on April 20, 2012, pleading that Indian citizens who had to flee because of religious persecution and discrimination at the time of Partition not be treated as foreigners on humanitarian grounds.
Elaborating, cabinet minister Rakibul Hussain said today’s decisions included the following: those taking refuge should not be treated as foreigners; be accorded basic human rights like access to courts and education; should not face the threat of deportation and be granted citizenship in the same manner as in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Though Hussain did not specify it, the refugees in those two states were mainly from Pakistan.
Another senior minister said the Congress-led state government’s decision mainly concerned neighbouring Bangladesh. “Those fleeing Bangladesh because of religious persecution, atrocities and insecurity to life and property such as Bengali Hindus and Buddhists deserve human consideration. The 1985 AASU Accord already accepts those who had entered Assam before March 25, 1971. What we feel is that those who have entered even after the cut-off date because of religious persecution, be granted asylum,” he said.
The Congress had raked up the issue before the 2011 Assembly elections to neutralise the BJP which had been championing the cause of Bengali Hindus who had fled Bangladesh because of religious persecution. Though no figures are available, it is estimated that several lakh Hindus fled to Bengal, Assam and Tripura after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. The Congress move saw the party bag 13 of the 15 seats in the 2011 polls in Barak Valley which borders Bangladesh and is dominated by Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims.
Today’s decision, too, is being seen as a move by the Congress to counter the rise of the BJP in the state following the latter’s stupendous show in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress appears to be reaching out to the Bengali-speaking Hindus, most of whom are said to have migrated from Bangladesh and are branded as foreigners. Even the BJP, in the run-up to the recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections, had talked about human considerations for those fleeing religious persecution in Muslim-dominated Bangladesh.
The Congress move also comes ahead of the launch of the much-awaited National Register of Citizens (NRC) later this year. Revised modalities for updating the 1951 NRC submitted by the state government had been cleared by central agencies such as the Registrar General of India, Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju told the Lok Sabha yesterday.
According to modalities, names of persons figuring in the electoral rolls up to the March 24, 1971 and their descendants will be enlisted in the updated NRC. There is a fear that most Bengali-speaking people, mostly those who have illegally entered Assam, may be left out of the list.
Rijiju’s reply yesterday admitted that there were Bangladeshis who had entered India without valid travel documents and that even Bangladeshis who had entered India with valid travel documents were overstaying.
The Opposition AGP and leading organisations such as the AASU and the KMSS have flayed the government.
The AGP said it was nothing but vote bank politics of the ruling Congress. AASU president Shankar Ray dubbed Gogoi as “Emperor Nero” as the move goes against the AASU Accord.
The president of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Akhil Gogoi, said the chief minister is allegedly opening the doors of Assam to Bangladeshis to illegally enter Assam. Congress’s rivals also felt that the move was an attempt to divert the attention of the masses from the crisis gripping the party and the government because of the sustained move by a section of CLP members, led by Himanta Biswa Sarma, to unseat Gogoi.