Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Illegal immigration from Bangladesh has turned Assam explosive

The vote-bank politics practiced by India’s politicians has transformed Assam into a simmering cauldron of communal violence between the indigenous Assamese Bodos and the Bangladeshi Muslims who have immigrated illegally. The violence in Assam has exposed the fault lines, and is capable of exposing and worsening the communal divide in the State. The volatile situation was summed up by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi as “living on a volcano”.

A brief history of the conflict

Assam shares an international border with Bangladesh and has been plagued with the problem of illegal immigration by Bangladeshi Muslims for the past four decades. The Governor of Assam, in a secret communique to the Central Government in 2005, revealed that “upto 6000 Bangladeshis enter Assam every day.” According to conservative estimates, India is host to around ten million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Assam itself is inhabited by around five million illegal immigrants.

Successive Governments in New Delhi have tried to brush aside the problem for the fear of offending and alienating minority interests and alienating the valuable votebank, much to the chagrin of the BJP and its partners like the AGP. Delhi has always adopted a myopic view of the problem, and Assam seems to be paying for Delhi’s mistakes.

In 1947, Pakistan was divided into a Bengali-speaking East Pakistan and an Urdu-speaking West Pakistan by the geographical presence of India. In 1971, it became clear that religion could not bind the two disparate entities into a single nation. The revolt against the linguistic hegemony of West Pakistanis resulted in genocide of the East Pakistanis.

Unable to withstand the brutality of the Pakistani army, millions of Bangladeshis crossed over into the safer climes of India. Indian States like Assam and West Bengal bore the brunt of this influx. Although India provided sanctuary to these refugees, it nonetheless referred to this influx as “bloodless aggression” which could irretrievably impair the “economic and political well being” of the country.

India’s military intervention against the Pakistani army’s genocide of the East Pakistanis led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

However, despite the creation of Bangladesh, India did not get any respite from the influx of Bangladeshi Muslims. The magnitude of this influx can only be assessed from the fact that the period between 1971 and 1991 witnessed the growth of Muslim population in Assam by 77.42 per cent as compared to a Hindu growth of 41.89 per cent. The population explosion has subsequently stabilised but even then, the decadal growth of 1991-2001 at 29.3 per cent for Muslims remained abnormally high as compared to a Hindu growth at 14.9 per cent.

Dhubri, which shares a long riverine border with Bangladesh, is an example of how illegal infiltration into the State continues unabated. As per provisional census details for the period 2001-2011, the decadal population growth for Dhubri at 24.4 per cent was distinctly higher when compared to the population growth of Assam at 16.9 percent for the same period. With the Brahmaputra River providing convenient entry points, the district is being virtually overrun by Bangladeshi infiltrators. Incidentally, Dhubri was one of the flash points during the violence in the State.

Ostrich head in sand approach

The Indian polity, with its penchant for encouraging illegal immigration for the sake of vote-bank politics, prefers the ‘ostrich head in sand’ approach to this issue. This has grievous national implications.

Porous and inadequately defended international borders, coupled with a lack of political will to counter the menace of illegal immigration, have ensured a massive and uncontrolled demographic upheaval in the State. Taking advantage of this demographic shift, illegal immigrants have staked their claims to the resources of the State. This, in turn, has raised the hackles of indigenous populations of the State — now poised to become a minority in their own homeland. While the latter are obviously disgruntled, neither side is in a mood to back down.

Lack of political will to confront illegal immigration manifested itself in the blatantly perverted Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act of 1983. The Act was introduced specifically for Assam, replacing the Foreigners Act of 1946 which remains in effect for the rest of India.

The provisions of the IMDT Act ranged from the bizarre (the State can only act against the illegal immigrants on the basis of a complaint and not suo motu); to the tragic (the onus of establishing the foreign origin of the accused lies on the complainant and not the accused).

Such  provisions made it virtually impossible to deport any illegal immigrant from Assam. It did not come as a surprise to many when only 1,481 illegal immigrants had been expelled upto April 30, 2000 based on over three hundred thousand enguiries.

The Supreme Court of India struck down the IMDT Act in 2005 as ultra vires to the Constitution of India. The Court referred to the Act as the “main impediment or barrier in the identification and deportation of illegal mmigrants.” The Court also compared illegal immigration with “external aggression,” which had made the life of the people of Assam “wholly insecure and the panic generated thereby had created fear psychosis.”

In a revealing observation, the Supreme Court called upon the Government of India to protect “Assam from such external aggression and internal disturbance.” Ironically, it was this very “bloodless aggression” which India had used as a pretext to go to war with Pakistan in 1971.

The Congress which has been the dominant political force, both at the Central level and in Assam post independence, has often been accused of tacitly encouraging this infiltration for political gains. So far, Gogoi and his friends seem to be in no hurry to dispel this accusation.

Illegal migrants are mobilised to vote en masse for Congress candidates as quid pro quo to unhindered access to every national resource. In catering to myopic political returns, the party and the Government have turned a blind eye to the destabilising impact of the socio-economic volatility arising out of this influx. In a statement which is telling  of the party’s abetment of illegal migration, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was quick to rescind his initial statement of Assam “living on a volcano,” with a “There are no Bangladeshis in the clash but Indian citizens.”

Evidently, the vote-bank cannot be disturbed and therefore national interests are being sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. It is disturbing to know that the political class (by their actions) believe that the two are mutually exclusive.

Encouraged by the pusillanimous approach of the Governments, fundamentalists have started manipulating illegal migrants for their own gains. Fundamentalist Muslim leaders in Assam have already issued calls for ‘jihad’ if the indigenous Bodos involved in retaliation during the violence were not arrested.

Even attempts by the Government of India to prepare a National Register of Citizens based on the 1971 rolls in the State for an authentic documentation of the population have failed to make any headway in the face of strong opposition from these Muslim groups.

Fundamentalist groups are apprehensive about political power slipping away from their hands, once the process of identification of the illegal migrants is initiated in earnest. That the effort to prepare the NRC is abandoned at the slightest resistance, exemplifies the connivance of the politicians with this illicit immigration.

What the future may hold

Political shortsightedness has resulted in a situation where most Indian cities are getting burdened with these illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. The immigrants who have started shifting to greener urban pastures, which offer greater economic opportunities. However, it is in Assam that the conflict between the Indians and illegal Bangladeshi Muslims is growing. Emotions have been running high ever since the migrants started obtaining squatters rights on the lands which they were initially employed to till.

With the demography being dramatically altered by their steady influx, illegal immigrants have started wielding enormous political power in Assam. Muslims have become the majority in 11 out 27 districts in the State and the dominant factor in determining electoral fortunes in 54 out of 126 constituencies in the local Assembly. A stage has been reached where no party can expect to attain political dominance without support from the Bangladeshi Muslims.

It is this conversion of the illegal migrants into a political force, that has made the indigenous population apprehensive of losing its identity and culture.

This unfettered illegal migration has ominous implications for national security and socio-economic stability. Intelligence inputs indicate that the Inter Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) of Pakistan is utilising these migrants as conduits to ferry in terrorists and arms into India. Counterfeit Indian currency with its origins in Bangladesh has flooded border areas, crippling the economy in these parts.

It is often said that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Kashmir is a case in point. Gogoi and his friends should brush up on their history.


Friday, October 26, 2012

The way of all flesh

There is nothing fine about dining on animals slaughtered to meet human desire. Indeed, it is a barbaric act

Over the past six months, volunteers of Gau Gyan Foundation, People for Animals and Rashtriya Gau Raksha Sena have been working together to apprehend cattle  traffickers and reporting the matter to the police. Some are journalists, some animal rights activists, and some grass-roots workers, keeping track of cattle movements across States. Despite the widespread ban on animal cruelty and cattle slaughter, thousands of livestock are trafficked every week in places such as Goa, Porbandar, Diu and Daman for butchering; and smuggled from the northern cow belt, Odisha, elsewhere, to Bangladesh via West Bengal. Kerala and West Bengal, in the grip of appeasement politics, patented by the Congress, its splinter Trinamool Congress, and Communists, anyway allow cattle slaughter, as do some Christian pockets in the North-East. But the open collusion between law-keepers and traffickers is a blatant offence.

Reports of trafficking are generally ignored by the police. And, even if they do file FIRs under pressure, lax court proceedings let the traders and cattle free. Yet, such offences are punishable under numerous laws: Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960; Delhi Agriculture Cattle Preservation Act, 1994; Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act; Transport of Animal Rules, 1978; Sec 5/7, Sec 295(A) Indian Penal Code and the like. The culprits get away by pleading that the cattle are being transported for farming purposes. Activists, who have been investigating such incidents, are certain that greasing palms eases their passage. It is a well-entrenched network of traders, intermediaries and official facilitators.

This gives a new meaning to the state functioning as a facilitator. When cheerleaders for free-market reforms eulogise the delights of fine dining, they overlook one simple fact: There is nothing fine about feasting on the flesh of living creatures. It is, rather, the nadir of human development. And when the same people choose to turn their attention to their other obsession, Mahatma Gandhi, the irony is accentuated. Indeed, the Congress's continued association with Gandhiji, his name being invoked to vest the party and its leaders with credibility, is absurd because it has completely repudiated whatever the Mahatma espoused: Promotion of a home-grown economy; the culture of non-violence; and ban on cattle slaughter.

The Congress-led UPA coalition's track record is utterly dismal in this regard, with domestic industries being forced to give way to giant transnational players; cottage industry reduced to a quaint ethnic enterprise; the politics of minorityism thwarting communal relations on an even keel; and cattle smuggling for the purpose of slaughter and beef exports magnifying alarmingly. Congress allies in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, with the Trinamool Congress only recently having severed ties as a populist stunt, are equally unworthy of invoking Gandhiji's legacy. For, despite their socialist pretensions, their support made it possible for the Congress to follow the economic course that threatens to reverse whatever India can claim as its own. Acknowledging that cattle was integral to rural wealth, Gandhian Acharya Vinobha Bhave launched a ceaseless satyagraha near Deonar, Mumbai, where thousands of cattle smuggled from other parts, are daily butchered, to meet the craving for fine Indian beef, free of the trigger of mad cow disease.

The grim paradox of the nation, and the Congress especially, paying homage to the Mahatma, one of the greatest proponents of ahimsa and cattle protection, on his birth anniversary is underlined by current data on India emerging as the biggest beef exporter in the world. It is the pink revolution that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been highlighting as one of the worst lapses of the Congress-led UPA regime. To achieve this dubious distinction, the Government gives subsidies for exports and has modernised slaughter houses. This is reprehensible, considering that the reforms initiative is pegged to cutting fuel and other subsidies, which hits the poor hardest. United States Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service forecast for 2012 avers that we will export about 1.5 million metric tonnes of beef, overtaking Australia. Worse, the export quantum has doubled in just three years.

And where does this beef, sourced reportedly from buffaloes, go? To the Middle East, North Africa and South-East Asia mainly. So even if the ruling coalition has failed to feed India's poor, several hundred millions of people can seek solace in the fact that our livestock is being depleted rapidly so that there is no dearth of cheep meat in other countries. Little matter that these animals could have been better deployed for farming and production of milk. Or that such slaughter is antithetical to the ethos of compassion, integral to our heritage. The UPA's brutalising influence and policies are the logical corollary of its rootlessness.

Business lobbies have been trying since a decade to coerce the Army into replacing canvas PT shoes with shoes or combat boots, made of cow leather. This will entail the The slaughter of millions of cattle. Devout jawans, most from villages, may then rise up, triggering another rebellion against alien rule.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hindu Fearlessness through the Ages

One hears it all too often: ‘Hindus are cowards, they only deserve what they are suffering.’Mahatma Gandhi said it clearly enough: ‘The Muslim is a bully, the Hindu a coward.’ But Hindus are by no means cowards. Hindus as such have their problems, but lack of bravery is not one of them.

Look at the Bangladesh war of 1971. The Pakistani Army was brave enough as long as its job consisted in raping Bengali women, but as soon as the Indian Army appeared on the  scene, all they could do was to flee and to surrender. The Majority Hindu Army liberated the oppressed Muslims and the persecuted Hindus of Bangladesh. Or look at the Kargil war of 1999.

Though the  politicians forbade the Indian soldiers from taking the war into enemy territory by crossing the Pak  border, the Indian Army besieged the Kargil mountain which the Pak invaders had taken, and  reconquered it.

Let us look at the historical record. First off, the Vedas and the Hindu epics, like most ancient writings, extolled bravery.

The Bhagavad-Gita also underpins its plea for bravery on the battlefield with a typically Hindu (at least very un-Christian and un-Islamic) philosophy, namely the belief in reincarnation.

Cicero and Caesar had noted the Gallic men’s battlefield bravery and its connection to  their belief in reincarnation. This was equally true of the Hindu warriors: they were not afraid of  death.

Then, Hindus stopped Alexander the Great. To be sure, this is old history, we have a paucity of reliable sources about what really happened, and the map shows that.

Alexander’s soldiers were uniquely far from home and understandably unwilling to go farther even if they could.

But fact is: the  great Alexander was satisfied with the Iranian provinces of India’s frontier and declined to enter India  proper.

That was no mean achievement of the Hindus.Then the Shakas, Kushanas and Hunas managed to gain a foothold in India’s Northwest. The Shakas were defeated, the Vikram calendar begins with this victory. These conquering foreigners  were not fully expelled, but at least they were absorbed. There is no distinct Shaka, Kushana or Huna  community today, much less do they demand minority privileges.

The Muslims entered Indian history with a naval attack north of present-day Mumbai in 636, only four years after Mohammed’s death. It was repelled. Then for half a century they sent a number  of expeditions from Mesopotamia to Sindh. Each expedition was defeated.

While conquering North Africa was a cakewalk, there was a Caliph who expressed his reluctance to send another army to Sindh, because those expeditions only cost the lives of so many good Muslims. But of course, if you keep trying, you will break through one day, so eventually, Mohammed bin Qasim occupied Sindh in 712. But even then, his successor was soon defeated.

Meanwhile, the Muslim armies conquered Central Asia and their next attack was through Afghanistan and the Khyber pass. Afghanistan was ruled by the Hindu Shahiya dynasty, which gave them a long-drawn-out fight. But towards the year 1000 the Muslims finally they won through, and the Shahiya king killed himself when he found himself unable to defend his subjects. From Afghanistan, Mahmud Ghaznavi entered India proper for what his court chroniclers described as raids.

In fact, he would have been happy enough to occupy India permanently, but the Hindus were still too strong for that.  But what the Hindus had in bravery, they lacked in alertness. They didn’t realize that Islam was a new type of enemy, much more difficult to digest than the earlier invaders. In the peripheral Kashmir region, the king acted “secular” and gave Muslims positions of power and confidence, which  gave them the opportunity to take steps towards the Islamization of the region. This would be repeated many times, down to the present.

Thus, the kings of the Vijayanagar empire showed off their broad-mindedness (now mistermed “secularism”) by hiring Muslim troops, only to find in the battle of Talikota that their Muslim armies defected to the Muslim opponent camp and inflicted defeat on their erstwhile Hindu overlord.

Meanwhile, Mahmud’s nephew Salar Mahmud Ghaznavi made a successful foray into the Ganga basin. The Hindu kings in the neighbourhood got together to stop him. Led by Sukhadeva and including the famous philosopher-king Raja Bhoja, they defeated Ghaznavi in the battle of Bahraich near Ayodhya in 1033. (It is a different matter that sentimental

Hindu sleepwalkers of later years joined their Muslim neighbours in worshipping at Salar Masud Ghaznavi’s grave, not appreciating the bravery and foresight of the Hindu kings and soldiers who defeated him; there are certain things very wrong with the Hindu mentality, but again, lack of bravery is not among them.) For more than a century and a half, the people of the Ganga basin considered Islamic invasion a thing of the past.

But then, the breakthrough came. It was not due to Hindu cowardice, but to Hindu magnanimity and overconfidence. A year after being defeated by Prithviraj Chauhan, who spared him, Mohammed Ghori did battle again and took his erstwhile victor captive. After blinding and executing Prithviraj, he and his generals conquered the entire Ganga plain, using newer battlefield strategies.

From there, they would extend their power southwards to cover almost the whole  subcontinent in due course. But for five centuries and a half, the Hindus had prevented this, while West Asia, North Africa and Spain had fallen within eighty years.

The age of Muslim expansion was again marked by endless Hindu resistance. Wise Muslim rulers opted for a compromise with this unbeatable foe (misinterpreted by secularists as “secularism”), but more zealous rulers depleted their forces in endless wars.

The age of Muslim expansion was again marked by endless Hindu resistance. Wise Muslim rulers opted for a compromise with this unbeatable foe (misinterpreted by secularists as “secularism”), but more zealous rulers depleted their forces in endless wars.

In this endeavour, they were helped by a stream of West-Asian adventurers and African slave-soldiers who came to India to increase the Delhi Sultanate’s large standing armies. The Muslim states were totally geared to warfare, something unseen in Hindu history. For this reason, we can say with the comfort of hindsight that the Muslims could finally have conquered all of the subcontinent had they remained united.

Even Hindu bravery could not have prevented it, any more than the brief acts of North-African bravery could stop the Islamization of North Africa.

But fortunately, Muslim states or Muslim ethnic lobbies within a state also fought each other, which gave Hindus a chance to regroup and to mount another attack.

Also, some Hindu kings did what they thought best under the circumstances, viz. they surrendered without war, paid tribute, and retained sufficient autonomy to house rebels from other areas or become rebellious themselves once circumstances allowed this.

It was important for a come-back to have these free territories (just like the reconquista of Spain was only possible because its Asturian region had managed to remain free since the beginning). Their collaboration was not cowardice but a ruse to gain time.All the same, this meant that Hindus enlisted in the armed force of sagacious Muslim rulers.

Akbar, who had consolidated his power by defeating the Hindu ruler Himu, was smart enough to keep enough of the Hindus on his side to overpower rival Muslim claimants and to fight Hindu  freedom fighters.

Famously, the rebellious Rana Pratap was countered by Man Singh, who wielded the sword of the Moghul empire. Hindu bravery was employed by Muslim rulers.

Finally, in the 17th century, a rebellious Shivaji, born in a family of collaborators, would arise and restore Hindu sovereignty. Where his Maratha army appeared, defeat of their enemies was a certainty. The Moghul empire became a mere shadow of its former self, while the military power rested with the Marathas.

In 1817, the Peshwas, who had taken over the Maratha confederacy, were terminally defeated by the British. But again this was not for Hindus’ lack of bravery.

They fought like lions, and on the other side, other Hindu divisions fought like lions for the British, who could conquer and rule India without doing too much fighting themselves.

If something can be held against the Marathas and their Peshwa successors, it is not a lack of bravery or military prowess, but lack of proper ideological motivation.

This is why they spilled their energies in predatory raids against other Hindu populations, it is why their leader prostrated before the powerless Moghul emperor in 1771, it is why some Peshwa descendents could be enticed into a Hindu-Muslim or Moghul-Maratha cooperation (which was really a case of mutual deception) in the Mutiny of 1857.They lapsed from Shivaji’s sense of mission as the liberator of the Hindus.

One constant for at least 8 centuries was that Hindus didn’t use their brains to update their
warfare. They didn’t learn from their enemies’ successes. Also, they were sentimental and too overly attached to the person of their leader.

They could bravely fight all they wanted, but if the leader was killed, there was no second person, much less a collective plan, to take his place. When you look at today’s Hindu politicians and internet warriors, you find exactly the same defects.

In a hostile sense too, Hindus are too focused on persons. They have wasted their energies attacking Sonia Gandhi and her family, and failed to dismantle the secularist dispensation established by her grandfather-in-law, Jawaharlal Nehru, and given a Marxist slant by her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi.

They haven’t emulated the techniques by which the secularists, like the British of yore, exercise power totally out of proportion to their numbers. They haven’t figured out how to stop the phenomenon of “Hindus wielding the sword of Islam”, in which Akbar exulted, but which has become so commonplace under the guise of secularism. For that, an analysis of all the factors in the field is necessary.

This is not too difficult, it only takes a normal degree of involvement and will. But so far, Hindus have not mustered the will to win.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

History hijacked by perverse politics of bogus secularism

What drove Muslim invaders to loot and destroy Hindu temples? Was it greed? Was it hatred of idol worship? Or was it contempt towards a conquered people? Ajmer offers possible answers

First, some trivia for history buffs. James Tod joined the Bengal Army as a cadet in 1799, presumably looking for a life of adventure in the heat and dust of India. He swiftly rose through the ranks and, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, the records of the times tell us, provided valuable service to the East India Company. His uncanny ability to gather information helped the early colonisers smash the Maratha Confederacy. Later, his assistance was sought during the Rajputana campaign.

Colonel Tod, as he was known, was a natural scholar with an eye for detail and a curious mind. He was fascinated by the history of Rajputana and its antiquities as much as by its palace intrigues and the shifting loyalties of its rulers and their factotums. That fascination led to his penning two books that are still considered mandatory reading for anybody interested in the history of the Rajputs, although latter-day scholars of the Marxist variety would disagree with both the contents and the style, neither leavened by ideological predilections. The first volume of Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan was published in 1829 and the second in 1832, nearly a decade after he returned to Britain.

And now to present times. Thousands of people, Indians and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims, visit Ajmer every day to offer a chaadar at Dargah Sharif of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, a shrine where all are welcome and every prayer is answered, or so the pious choose to believe. Many stay on to visit the other antiquities of Ajmer, among them a magnificent mosque complex which bears little or no resemblance to its name: Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra.

People gawk at the columns and the façade intricately carved with inscriptions from the Quran in Arabic. They pose for photographs or capture the mosque’s ‘beauty’ on video cameras and carry back memories of Islam’s munificence towards its followers. Don’t forget to visit Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra, they will later tell friends and relatives visiting Ajmer.

As for Indian Muslims who travel to Ajmer and see Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra, they would be tempted to wonder why similar mosques are no longer built, a wonderment that is only partially explained by the fact that sultans and badshahs no longer rule India. The crescent had begun to wane long before a derelict Bahadur Shah Zafar was propped up as Badshah of Hindoostan by the mutineers of 1857.

Such speculation as may flit through troubled minds need not detain us, nor is there any need to feel sorry for those who wallow in self-pity or are enraged by the realisation of permanent loss of power. A century and a half is long enough time to reconcile to the changed realities of today’s Hindustan.

So, let us return to Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra in Ajmer. Few who have seen and admired this mosque complex would be aware of Colonel Tod’s description of it in the first volume of Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan: “The entire façade of this noble entrance … is covered with Arabic inscriptions … but in a small frieze over the apex of the arch is contained an inscription in Sanskrit.” And that oddity tells the real story of Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra.

This is no place of worship built over weeks and months for the faithful to congregate five times a day, it is a monument to honour Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghauri who travelled through Ajmer after defeating, and killing, Prithviraj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain in 1192 AD. Stunned by the beauty of the temples of Ajmer and shocked by such idolatory, he ordered Qutbuddin Aibak to sack the city and build a mosque, a mission to be accomplished in two-and-a-half days, so that he could offer namaz on his way back.
Aibak fulfilled the task given to him: He used the structures of three temples to fashion what now stands as Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra. Mindful of sensitivities, his men used their swords to disfigure the faces of figures carved into the 70 pillars that still stand. It would seem India’s invaders had a particular distaste for Indian noses portrayed in stone and plaster.

The story of Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra is not unique. Hindustan’s landscape is dotted with mosques built on sites where temples stood, often crafted with material from the destroyed places of worship. Quwwat-ul Islam, the first mosque built in Delhi, bears testimony to the ruthless invader’s smash-and-grab policy, as do the mosques Aurangzeb built in Kashi and Mathura, or the mosque Mir Baqi built at Ayodhya on the site Hindus believe to be, and revere as, Ram Janmasthan.

The pillars and inner walls of Babri Masjid, as the disputed structure was known till it came crashing down on December 6, 1992, were those of a temple that once stood there, a fact proven beyond doubt. Somnath was fortunate: It was sacked repeatedly, but no mosque came to occupy the land where it stood — and still stands — in Gujarat, a coastal sentinel guarding faith, culture, civilisation. The Vishwanath temple at Kashi was less fortunate as was Krishna Janamsthan in Mathura.

Strange as it may seem, such destruction, barring the illegitimate occupation by Muslims of Temple Mount revered by Jews in Jerusalem, never happened in the land considered holiest of all by followers of the three Abrahamic faiths. The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem commemorates (and preserves) the manger where Jesus Christ was born. In the walled city of Jerusalem stands the centuries old Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the spot where Jesus was crucified and the sepulchre where he was buried and from where he rose. These and many other Christian sites have remained untouched. As have Jewish sites.

What then explains the extraordinary destructive trait displayed by Muslim invaders who raided India again and again? It couldn’t just have been the wealth of temples (as Marxist historians who grudgingly concede temples were indeed attacked would forcefully argue in justification of the destruction), there has to be something more. Was it polytheism that upset the early age Islamists? Was it idol worship that enraged them? Or was it simply hate and contempt towards the conquered that drove the destructive impulse of the conquering invader?

Ironically, to ask these questions would be considered as ‘intolerance’ today. Positing possible answers would be labelled as ‘hate speech’. And those asking the questions and positing possible answers would be described as ‘Islamophobes’. History has truly been hijacked by the perverse politics of our times.

 (This appeared as Coffee Break in The Pioneer on October 20, 2012)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gogoi releases white paper on foreigners

The foreigners issue is not the number one problem of Assam but unemployment is.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi made this assertion during the release of the much-awaited white paper on the foreigners issue in Assam, a 94-page booklet of "consolidated" statement of facts and figures, ostensibly aimed at neutralising the bid to revive the foreigners agitation in the wake of the BTAD riots since July.

"It is not the number one problem as some sections want the outside world to believe because facts and figures do not show it. Unemployment is," he said in response to a query on the foreigners issue.

Asked what his message to the protesters would be, he said, "It is not the only problem. Unemployment is much more serious than the foreigners issue today. The government is concerned about the issue (illegal migrants) and is working towards resolving it".

The white paper, the first of its kind, was released at the packed chief minister's conference hall in the presence of ministers Nazrul Islam, Prithibi Majhi, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Nilamani Sen Deka, DGP J.N. Choudhury, additional chief secretary P.P. Verma, commissioner to the chief minister, Jishnu Baruah, and principal secretary (home), Sailesh, among others.

Outside the hall, there was a huge cutout of a smiling Gogoi releasing the white paper, ostensibly aimed at making the occasion "momentous" even though few within and outside were convinced about the efficacy of the exercise which had seen both the chief minister's office and the home department working late into the day to complete the booklet.

In an attempt to give a historical perspective to the problem, which has been traced to the days of the British Raj, Gogoi said in his opening remarks, "The white paper will form the basis of future research on the issue. It spells out why so much migration took place. There are both economic and other reasons like the riots that followed Partition and creation of Bangladesh."

The white paper spells out in detail steps taken for the detection and deportation of foreigners, to check infiltration, for sealing the international border and a commitment to implement the 1985 Assam Accord.

It also mentions the road ahead, including update of the 1951 NRC within three years, completing the UAID project, fencing the border and strengthening the foreigners tribunals, among others.

The white paper appears to be the first salvo from the Congress-led government to check the growing propaganda against it for allegedly doing nothing to check the problem. Sources privy to the preparation of the paper said it was an "honest and objective" look at the problem and releasing a consolidated statement of facts and figures in the public domain.

It is a joint effort of the government and the party, which got unnerved with widespread protests that followed the BTAD riots. More so because of the ensuing panchayat elections which will be followed by the general elections.

"The white paper was a must to remove doubts and confusion in the minds of the public. Most don't know, for which all sorts of wild allegations are being directed against the government and the party. There was no agitation when the AGP is in power but the issue returned to centrestage when theCongress is in power. An attempt is being made to divert attention from the development agenda by playing on the emotions of the gullible public before the panchayat polls. This white paper aims to leave it to the public to take a call on who has done what," a veteran Congress MLA said.
This was even borne out by Gogoi's observation during the release. "Our government has done more to resolve the issue than the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led government or the BJP-led government at the Centre. They rake up the issue only when there is an election around the corner."

Notwithstanding Gogoi's assertion, the white paper is likely to be panned, sources said.

"We are yet to go through it but questions will be raised as to why it took Gogoi 12 years to come out with a white paper. Isn't it driven solely by electoral motives? Isn't the government trying to belittle the issue by saying that it is not the number one problem or a major problem after several hundred had died fighting for ouster of foreigners. More than history, Gogoi should have come out with a concrete timeframe to resolve the problem," an Opposition leader, not willing to be named just yet, said.
What is it all about

The white paper is a milestone in the history of the illegal migrants problem in Assam.

Sources associated with its preparation said its purpose was "to take an honest and objective look at the problem and release a consolidated statement of facts and figures in the public domain for the people to know and to take a call on what is what and who is doing what on the issue".

This is the first time that any government, Congress or otherwise, has tabled a white paper on the issue on the floor of the Assembly.

That the Congress government decided to table a white paper is remarkable since Congress chief ministers in the past have denied the very existence of illegal Bangladeshis in Assam.

The Downside

The government makes an attempt to whitewash certain historical aspects of the issue, including the fact that the arrival of illegal Bangladeshis in Assam started not just as a simple migration between Assam and erstwhile East Bengal in undivided India. No mention is made, for example, of the "Grow More" programme initiated by Assam's "premier" Sir Syed Mohammed Sadullah in 1937. The programme had involved relocation of people from Assam's Mymensingh district to Assam to grow more foodgrain. As one British officer said, it was not a programme to grow more grain but to grow more people of a certain community. Sadullah's programme was opposed by Maulana Md Tyebullah and Gopinath Bordoloi, both Congressmen. Equations, however, changed after Congress leaders began to come to power with votes from illegal migrants.

The white paper attempts to equate the migration of people from Mymemsingh to that of people from Rajasthan and other areas in India, which is not entirely true.

"It is positive to note some beneficial effects of migration of peasants from East Bengal," says the white paper. "Because of the agricultural practices of the hardworking immigrants and their contribution to the agricultural economy, rice production increased significantly. A number of vegetables and crops were also introduced by the migrants".

The Upside

The white paper puts in the public domain a list of aspects concerning the illegal migrants issue and its handling. It says:
(a) The definition of the terms "illegal migration" and "illegal immigrants" is "far from being complete".
(b) "The effectiveness of any drive against illegal migration in the early fifties was handicapped by the fact that passport and visa regulations between India and Pakistan came into operation only from October 1952".
(c) The Registrar General of Census in his report on the 1961 census assessed that 2,20,691 infiltrants had entered Assam.
(d) During 1961-66, 1,78,952 infiltrants were either deported or had voluntarily left the country but an estimated 40,000 did not leave India. "The issue of eviction of infiltrants was deliberated several times by the cabinet during 1964-66 and there was general consensus that any stoppage of deportation would seriously affect the internal situation in Assam".
(e) Representation made by several organisations about harassment to bonafide Indian citizens and adverse publicity in international media led to the creation of the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order in 1964 to introduce a "judicial element in the eviction of Pakistani infiltrators". By 1968, there were nine Foreigners Tribunals.
(f) In 1969, the government decided that only (a) Pakistani nationals who held Pakistani passports (b) Reinfiltrants who had been deported before and (c) Fresh infiltrants caught at the border should be deported. "Superintendents of police were further instructed that there should be no wholesale checking of villages and houses."
(g) In 1965, the government of India took up with the state government the issue of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and to issue identity cards which Indians citizens in Assam were to carry on a voluntary basis.
(h) Currently, lack of judicial supervision, long vacancies of members and inadequate staff has led to "large number of cases pending in some of the tribunals". There are 36 tribunals in Assam to deal with illegal migrants. There are still 65,000 unregistered cases.
(i) A total of 1,06,587 cases have been referred to the tribunals. Of them 70,152 have been disposed, 36,435 are pending. Of the people tried, 41,660 have been declared foreigners and 884 have been pushed back.
(j) Survey and surveillance is carried out generally in the areas of new settlements, construction sites, encroached land, government land, forest land and hitherto uninhabited land to identify and detect foreigners.
(k) Most foreigners are found to be working as daily wage earners and rickshaw pullers who live in rented houses.
() There is a difference between "push back" and "deportation". In the case of push back, there is no need for acceptance of the person concerned by the Bangladesh Border Guards (BGB). In case of deportation, there is a proper flag meeting between the BGB and the BSF and deportation takes place only when the BGB accepts the foreigner. If the BGB refuses to accept the person, "the BSF is left with no option and such persons become stateless in a way".
(m) "The matter of deportation of foreigners who have illegally entered into India needs to be taken up by the government of India with the government of Bangladesh so that a proper policy can be evolved and the process of deportation of such foreigners becomes easier and hassle free."
() As for D-Voters, 2,31,657 cases have been referred to the tribunals so far. Of them, 87,589 cases have been disposed. Of these, 6,400 have been declared foreigners, 43,465 have been declared Indians and in 37,724 cases "no opinion could be expressed".

How many foreigners are there?

The AGP-led government had stated in 1986 "there is no definite information". In 1996, it said the "exact number of foreigners and illegal migrants in Assam cannot be estimated as it is a fact of history and continuous process." Former chief minister Hiteswar Saikia had once put out a figure of 30 lakh, but withdrew it on the double.

(a) Decadal population growth higher than the rest of the country through major part of 20th century but fell below it between 1991 and 2011 (provisional).
(b) Muslim population rose from 12.4 per cent in 1901 to 30.92 in 2001, which is the highest in the country with West Bengal and Kerala following at 25.25 per cent and 24.7 per cent respectively.
Now what?
(a) Tribunals to dispose cases within 60 days
(b) Tribunals, Border Wing of Assam Police being strengthened
(c) More tribunals proposed
(d) Updating of NRC
(e) Unique Identification scheme to develop comprehensive database for the entire resident population of the country
(f) Activate local thana-level committees for detecting foreigners at the grassroots

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This puja pandal salutes the Hindu monk of India

The Vivekananda Rock memorial in Kanayakumari on the meeting point of Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea will come closer for citizens here as Darbhanga puja committee pandal this year has been modeled on its lines. The idea is backed by the coincidence that Prayag, as Allahabad is also known, too stands on the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers. The picturesque Vivekananda Rock Memorial has been replicated artfully at the pandal. 

The young Indian sage and youth icon of the country, Swami Vivekananda came to Kanyakumari on February 24, 1892 before his departure for Chicago to participate in the World Religious Conference in 1893. He sat in meditation on this rock for two days and went on to be a powerful spiritual leader and philosopher. Vivekananda Rock Memorial was built in 1970 and is a blend of various architectural styles of India. 

Talking to TOI, general secretary of Darbhanga colony puja committee Debobroto Basu said "It is the sesquicentennial year (150th year) of Swami Vivekananda's birth anniversary, so we decided to recreate the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at the puja pandal." The unique characteristic of the pandal is that it is located on a raised platform about 25 to 30 foot above the ground while the entire structure has been erected on a bamboo framework. The height of the pandal is about 60 feet from ground. The is exquisitely decorated interior of the pandal has specially designed idols of Ganesha etched on the walls, along with floral motifs. 

About 15 artists from Kolkata have been called who are toiling day and night to give shape to the pandal. Artist Vibhas Das, says "We are ardent devotees of Goddess Durga and it is our labour of love and devotion." 

To replicate the memorial, special effects using water would be created in front of the pandal to give it the semblance of sea surrounding it. The structure would be complete and ready for display on October 20. The Durga idol placed in the pandal has been prepared by artists from West Bengal. 

Durga and Symbolism 

Goddess Durga is believed to be the mother of the universe and the power behind all creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. Since time immemorial she has been worshipped as the supreme being and mentioned in Yajur Veda, Vajasaneyi Samhita and Taittareya Brahman. The word 'Durga' in Sanskrit means fort, or a place which is difficult to overrun. Another meaning is 'Durgatinashini', which translates into 'the one who eliminates sufferings'. 

Many Forms 

There are many incarnations of Durga: Kali, Bhagvati, Bhavani, Ambika, Lalita, Gauri, Kundalini, Java, Rajeswari, etc. Durga incarnated as the united power of all divine beings, who offered her the required physical attributes and weapons to kill the demon Mahishasur. Her nine appellations are Skondamata, Kusumanda, Shailaputri, Kaalratri, Brahmacharini, Maha Gauri, Katyayani, Chandraghanta and Siddhidatri. 

Many Arms 

Durga is depicted as having eight or ten hands. These represent eight quadrants or 10 directions in Hinduism and suggests she protects devotees from all directions. 

Her Vehicle, The Lion 

The lion represents power, will and determination. Mother Durga riding the lion symbolises mastery over all forces and suggests to the devotee that one has to possess all these qualities to get over the demon of ego. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

‘Stateless’ remedy to illegal problem

SK Sinha

The ethnic-cum-communal violence in Kokrajhar, resulting in 100 people brutally killed and four lakh rendered homeless, has been a great humanitarian tragedy. The root cause for this mayhem is the changing demographic profile of the region. Ethnic violence of greater dimension took place in Assam during the 1983 Nellie massacre when over 2,000 Bangladeshis were killed in one night, but far fewer rendered homeless.

Assam has been in the eye of East Bengal, now Bangladesh, for over a century. In 1905, the Muslim League demanded “Bange-Islam”, merging sparsely populated Assam with heavily populated Muslim majority East Bengal. Mass migration from East Bengal into Assam continued. In the 1931 Assam census report, the British Census Superintendent expressed grave concern over Assamese people getting engulfed by this influx. During the Second World War, Sir Mohammad Sadaulla, the chief minister of Assam, gave a big fillip to this influx. Lord Wavell in The Viceroy’s Journal wrote that in the name of “Grow More Food”, Sadaulla was “growing more Muslims”. The 1946 Cabinet plan placed Assam and Bengal in Group C. Had this been accepted, Assam would be part of Bangladesh today. During a visit to Guwahati in 1946, Jinnah confidently declared that he had Assam in his pocket.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in The Myth of Independence, asserts that the dispute between India and Pakistan is not only about Kashmir but also some districts of Assam adjacent to East Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in his book Eastern Pakistan: Its Population, Delimitation and Economics, wrote, “Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong.” Various intellectuals in Bangladesh have been advocating lebensraum (living space) for Bangladesh in Assam.

The Congress has been encouraging illegal migration from Bangladesh to build its votebank. Dev Kant Barua, of “Indira is India and India is Indira” fame, as Congress president declared that his party will always win elections in Assam with the help of Alis and coolies; the former standing for Bangladeshi migrants and the latter for tea garden labour.

B.K. Nehru, a respected member of the ruling family, was the governor of Assam in the Sixties. He writes in his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Second, that three politicians from Assam in Delhi guided the Congress’ policy on Assam. They were Dev Kant Barua, Moinul Haque Chowdhry former private secretary to Jinnah and then a Cabinet minister and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, another Cabinet minister who later became President. B.K. Nehru and B.P. Chaliha, the then chief minister of Assam, took up the issue of illegal migrants from Bangladesh but were restrained.

He laments, “Chaliha placed the national interests above the party but the party high command thought otherwise.” Lt. Gen. Jameel Mahmood, the Eastern Army Commander in the Nineties, advised Jyoti Basu and Hiteshwar Saikia, the then chief ministers of Bengal and Assam respectively, that if action was not taken against the Bangladeshi infiltrators, we would have to redraw the boundaries of India in the Northeast. He also wrote to the Army Headquarters that a Kashmir like situation would develop in Dhubri, abutting the narrow Siliguri corridor.

On April 10, 1992, Hiteshwar Saikia stated that there were three million Bangladeshi illegal migrants in Assam. Some MLAs threatened to withdraw support from his government. This would have resulted in his falling. Two days later he committed a volte face and issued a statement that there were no illegal migrants in Assam.

Indrajit Gupta, the home minister told Parliament on May 6, 1997, that there were 10 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in India, of which three million were reported in Assam. In 1998, as governor of Assam, I submitted a 42-page printed report to the President, pointing out that these illegal migrants were not only changing the demography of Assam but also posing a grave threat to our national security.

I made 15 recommendations, including effective border fencing, multi-purpose identity cards, updating national register of citizens and repeal of Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act. The latter applied only to Assam and facilitated illegal migration. I also recommended that as the Bangladesh government, including Sheikh Hasina, did not accept the fact about illegal migrants, it was not possible to deport them. They should be declared stateless citizens with no voting rights nor be allowed to acquire immovable property.

Twenty Congress MPs from the Northeast appealed to the President to recall me for dabbling in politics. No action was taken on my recommendations. Halfway through my tenure in Assam, Tarun Gogoi became the chief minister. He issued statements to the press about what he referred to as my constitutional impropriety in raking up Bangladeshi migrants’ issue. He asked the Centre to restrain me. He was unaware of any Bangladeshi illegal migrants in Assam. Today halfway through his third term as chief minister, he seems to have become wiser. He now admits that Assam is sitting on a volcano. He has even accepted that there are 39,000 illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam.

The Supreme Court struck down the IMDT Act in 2005, quoting extracts from my report to the President. The government brought back the IMDT Act through the backdoor by amending the Foreigners Act. This, too, has been struck down. The judiciary has referred to the Bangladeshi infiltration as “demographic aggression”. Gauhati high court, in a judgment delivered on July 23, 2008, has observed that Bangladeshi migrants have become kingmakers. Eleven out of 27 districts of Assam have migrant majority.

Two Muslims were killed possibly by Bodos on July 6. The migrant militants retaliated by shooting four Bodo leaders. This led to widespread violence. Both communities have suffered grievously. On July 20, the state government asked for military help which ministry of defence approved on July 24 and the Army got deployed on July 25. The blame game is being played between the Centre and the state. Apart from accusing the Centre of delay, Mr Gogoi has even blamed it for not providing intelligence. The latter, in such cases, is the responsibility of the state government.

Neiphun Riyu, the chief minister of Nagaland, has been reporting that Bangladeshi migrants are receiving arms training in the jungles bordering Assam and Nagaland. This was ignored. The recent ethnic clashes in Kokrajhar show new-found aggressive militancy among Bangladeshi migrants. The All-India United Democratic Front is the second largest party in the state Assembly. It is primarily a communal party of Bangladesh migrants functioning as rival of the Congress. It has been garnering support from minorities all over the country. The recent violence unleashed in Mumbai and Pune is also a result of this.

Apart from ensuring peace and rehabilitating the affected people of both communities, the government must declare illegal migrants stateless citizens. It has all the justification to do so. Over one lakh non-Muslim refugees of 1947 living in Jammu are still stateless citizens with no voting rights nor the right to acquire immovable property. Elsewhere in the country these 1947 refugees were immediately given full citizenship, with two becoming Prime Ministers and one deputy Prime Minister.

A pusillanimous and appeasement approach to the Assam problem is suicidal for national security.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir