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Shah says illegal infiltrators 'eating' up rights and rations of the people of Bengal

The allegation came a day before Modi's Bangladesh visit — the neighbour that the saffron ecosystem usually targets over illegal immigration
BJP leader Amit Shah.

Arkamoy Datta Majumdar   |   Calcutta   |   Published 26.03.21, 03:49 AM

BJP leader Amit Shah on Thursday said that illegal infiltrators were “eating” up the rights and rations of the people of Bengal.

The allegation came a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi starts his tour of Bangladesh — the neighbour that the saffron ecosystem usually targets over illegal immigration.


Shah’s thrust had a ring of irony: he was citing alleged infiltration from Bangladesh — without naming the neighbour — to polarise voters in Bengal while Modi plans to use his Bangladesh trip to visit temples there and woo Bengal’s voters.

“The infiltrators are taking away your income; you don’t get to earn because of the infiltrators. You aren’t getting (your full quota of) rice because the infiltrators are eating it,” Shah told a rally in Purulia.

The Union home minister added: “I’m telling you, remove Didi’s government; the infiltrators will be identified and thrown out of Bengal by the BJP government.”

With Modi scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on Friday on a goodwill visit at a time Bangladesh is celebrating 50 years of its independence and the centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Shah’s comment raises questions about the BJP’s priority -- poll victory in Bengal at any cost or a friendly relationship with Bangladesh, the most trusted neighbour in the region. Shah had earlier called infiltrators “termites”.

On Thursday -- the last day of campaigning before Bengal votes in the first phase on March 27 -- Shah raised the question of infiltration at three other rallies in Jhargram, Mecheda and Bishnupur.

Since the days of L.K. Advani as deputy Prime Minister and home minister, infiltration from Bangladesh has been part of the BJP’s narrative in Bengal. Many political scientists believe that the repeated flagging of the issue has yielded political dividends for the BJP in most border districts of the state, which shares a 2,200km-plus border with Bangladesh.

Cross-border immigration in a region that has had to bear the pain of Partition twice --  in 1947 and 1971 -- is a historical fact. It is well documented that people from Bangladesh and the erstwhile East Pakistan crossed over to this side in turbulent times.

Tens of thousands, irrespective of religion, entered India in search of a better life in the early years of Bangladesh as the country was then known as a “basket case” because of abject poverty.

The situation, however, has changed with the size of the Bangladesh economy surpassing that of Southeast Asian tigers like Singapore and Malaysia. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that Bangladesh’s per capita income in dollars is likely to overtake that of India’s this year, which means Bangladeshis have no incentive to cross over any more.

If Dhaka’s stellar show on the economy is juxtaposed with the absence of any data on infiltration -- questions on the number of illegal immigrants in India have not elicited any response from the ruling party in Parliament – holes can be drilled into the narrative of infiltration spun by the BJP leadership.

In poll-bound Bengal, scores of BJP leaders -- from Shah to Rajnath Singh, Union defence minister -- are referring to infiltration, which makes it clear the party is keen on using the issue to polarise voters ahead of the Assembly polls.

“One cannot stop a party from spinning a poll narrative.… But if the senior-most leader of the party in power makes such comments without producing any proof, that too at a time the country’s Prime Minister is visiting the neighbouring country, it is clear that the Bengal polls are more important to the BJP than the country’s relationship with Bangladesh,” a strategic affairs expert said.

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