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BJP clears stand on asylum

- Opposition questions Cong motive; demonstrations in Guwahati on Monday & Aug. 4

Guwahati, July 18: Assam BJP leader and Gauhati High Court lawyer Siddhartha Bhattacharya today said the state government’s move seeking asylum for Bangladeshis fleeing religious persecution and discrimination after 1971 was nothing new as the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950, already has such a provision.

Bhattacharya is the vice-president of the state unit of the BJP.

“The act gives power to the state government to order expulsion of immigrants whose stay is detrimental to the interests of the general public of India. But there is a provision in the act that clearly says that the act shall not be applicable to a person or persons who were displaced because of civil disturbances or the fear of such disturbances in any area now forming part of Pakistan and are subsequently residing in Assam. This proves that there is nothing new in Tarun Gogoi government’s recent move,” Bhattacharya told The Telegraph at the party’s state headquarters here today.

The BJP leader, who is in the race to become the party’s state unit president, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his Lok Sabha poll campaign, had made the party’s stand clear: that the “burden” of refugees should be shared by the country and not only Assam.

The state cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal to request the Centre to frame a policy for granting asylum to persons who had fled religious persecution and discrimination and had taken refuge in India, on humanitarian grounds.

But Bhattacharya said Dispur’s move was aimed at political gain ahead of byelections in Silchar and Lakhipur — two Assembly constituencies in Barak valley — and the 2016 Assembly election.

The two seats fell vacant following Sushmita Dev’s (Silchar) election to the Lok Sabha and the death of Dinesh Prasad Gowala (Lakhipur) in April respectively.

“Barak Valley has a high concentration of Bengali-Hindu voters and Gogoi wants to score political brownie points by playing this asylum card. The Congress government in the state is increasingly becoming insecure because of the BJP’s surge,” he said.

The BJP had registered its best performance in Assam by winning seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats while the Congress was reduced to three seats against its tally of seven in 2009.

Both political and non-political organisations, including the influential AASU, have stepped up protests against the Congress government’s move to give asylum to post-1971 Bangladeshis, who had fled religious persecution and discrimination and had taken shelter in the state.