Muslim migrants the problem: BJP

The Assam BJP, facing widespread protests from various quarters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, today said Muslim Bangladeshis, and not Hindu migrants, were creating trouble in the state.

By A Staff Reporter in Guwahati
  • Published 25.10.16
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AJYCP president Biraj Talukdar speaks in Guwahati on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Oct. 24: The Assam BJP, facing widespread protests from various quarters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, today said Muslim Bangladeshis, and not Hindu migrants, were creating trouble in the state.

The statement came just hours after the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Paridhad (AJYCP), an influential youth organisation, said it was ready to go to "any extent" to thwart the Centre's move to "make the Assamese a minority in their own state" and "destroy regional forces" through the bill.

In a news conference here today, BJP state spokespersons Rupam Goswami and Manuj Barua - a former AJYCP leader who was opposed to the bill until he joined the BJP just before the last Assembly elections - defended the bill. It was the first official statement of the party regarding the controversy surrounding the bill.

As "troublemakers", Goswami was alluding to the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) - the party that stood as the main challenge to the BJP in lower Assam and the Barak Valley. "It is the Muslim Bangladeshis who are creating trouble in Assam by launching a political party. Hindu Bangladeshis are not launching political parties here," he said.

"Our stand on Hindu Bangladeshis is clear. Since the formation of the party, we have been maintaining the stand. We clearly told the people of Assam about it before the Assembly elections and they voted us to power," Goswami said.

The AJYCP expressed concern regarding the decrease in the Assamese-speaking population of the state and increase in the Bengali-speaking population over the last few decades. Goswami, however, defended his party by saying that not a single Bengali-medium school had been set up in Assam since 1970.

"Not a single Bengali-medium school has been set up in Assam since 1970. Whereas, the number of madarsas is increasing," Goswami said. "Hindu population in the state has decreased by 7 per cent while Muslim population has increased by 10 per cent. This is a matter of concern."

AJYCP president Biraj Talukdar said: "According to the 1971 census report, the percentage of Assamese and Bengali-speaking population in Assam was 68.89 per cent and 19.88 per cent respectively. This changed to 48.08 per cent and 27.54 per cent respectively in 2001."

Goswami also targeted the Congress and the communists. "There are some sections of society, especially the communists and the Congress, who are turning Assamese people against Bengalis. As if it is a clash between Assamese and Bengalis. Why don't they talk about those Bodos, Koch-Rajbongshis and Chakmas who have come from Bangladesh and will be able to enjoy the benefits of the bill?" he asked.

But Goswami was in a quandary over the "contradictory" nature of the Assam Accord and the bill regarding the base year of accepting foreign nationals. "The Hindu Bangladeshi issue is being seen from the all-India point of view and the Assam accord is from Assam's point of view. We respect the Assam Accord. Its Clause 6 (A) demands safeguards for Assamese people. Our government is committed to it. But we are also committed to Hindus living in other countries," he said.

Besides constitutional safeguards for the Assamese people, the Assam Accord says the state will not accept any foreigners who have entered it after 1971. "But what will you do if the Hindu Bangladeshis take citizenship by showing that they entered through some other (Indian) state and came here to live as an Indian citizen?" Goswami argued.

The AJYCP also asked the BJP why it did not go for a population exchange policy if it was so concerned about Hindus in Bangladesh - a country that has the third largest number of Hindus in the world after India and Nepal. "Why India did not pressure Bangladesh to accept the Muslim Bangladeshis living in India while accepting Hindu Bangladeshis? In 1923, Greece and Turkey resolved their problem this way," said Talukdar.

Talukdar's predecessor and now BJP spokesperson Manuj Barua used chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal as a shield to avoid uncomfortable questions. "I came here to speak the party's view. I am a small party member. Our leader, Sonowalji, who fought for implementation of the Assam Accord, has shown his concern for the sentiments of the people. He has invited the Joint Parliamentary Committee to come to Assam and take the opinion of all sections of people," he said.

The AJYCP will organise a series of protests, beginning with a state-wide torch-lit procession on Friday, against the bill.

The Left-Democratic Manch, Assam - a forum of 11 groups - will organise a protest in Guwahati on Wednesday demanding that March 24, 1971, be chosen as the base year for detection and deportation of foreigners from Assam.