Patna HC Order on Detention Centre, CAA-NRC and the Question of ‘Infiltrators’ in Bihar

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Patna High Court. (File Photo: IANS)

The BJP and media often raise the issue of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrations’ to keep the controversy alive

Soroor Ahmed | Team Clarion

THE recent order of the Patna High Court asking the Bihar government to construct a permanent detention centre and further directing it to undertake a campaign to sensitise people, more so along with the border areas, must be carried “vigorously” with the help of electronic and print media as “deportation of illegal migrants is of paramount importance and in national interest” has raised eyebrows in the legal circles.

The order was passed on August 18 by the Chief Justice of Patna High Court, Sanjay Karol, and Justice S Kumar. Several lawyers were surprised as to how the court entered the domain of policy-making and framing law.

The high court order came more than one-and-a-half years after the historic movement against the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. The Bharatiya Janata Party made this the main poll issue in the recently held West Bengal Assembly election, though the party downplayed it in Assam because of the stiff resistance by the All Assam Students’ Union, the students’ wing of Asom Gana Parishad, the main ally of the saffron party in the state.

The origin of the movement against the ‘illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators’ in Bihar can be traced back to early 1980s when the agitation was launched in Assam by the AASU against all the outsiders — not just Bangladeshis. The AASU exploited the general sentiment prevailing in Assam against the big business houses, traders, professionals, workers, etc. who have come over here and settled down from all over India even before the Partition and the creation of East Pakistan. The war for the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 increased the influx of infiltrators as lakhs of refugees took shelter in India.

As early as October 1981 the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students’ wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, launched an agitation against the ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’. The leading light of that stir was none else, but Sushil Kumar Modi, who had also worked in Assam. About 24 years later he became the deputy chief minister of Bihar under Nitish Kumar.

In October 1981, the ABVP had alleged that at least 3.5 lakh illegal infiltrators had been living in Bihar since 1971, most of them in the four bordering districts of Purnea, Katihar, Kishanganj and Araria.

Similarly, the BJP and its students’ wing had always alleged that lakhs of illegal infiltrators are living in Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur districts of West Bengal. However, the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985 between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and AASU leaders put a temporary brake to any such movement.

AASU leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, under the banner of AGP, became the chief minister of the state after winning the Assam election later the same year. The issue of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ has, on and off, been raised by the RSS, BJP and ABVP. It would be put on the back burner when politically it does not suit the saffron party.

In the mid-1980s the movement failed to generate much support because by then the BJP had grown quite weak all over the country. In the parliamentary election held after the then PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination on Oct 31, 1984, Congress won about 410 seats and the BJP only two in the House of 543.

As the BJP launched the Ram Janambhoomi movement just a few months before the 1989 Lok Sabha election, the issue of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ did not get much attention.

While AGP and AASU were against all the outsiders as they would claim that the cultural and economic existence of the Assamese people is under threat, the Sangh Parivar would try to make it a Hindu-Muslim issue. That is why the saffron camp would target the four Muslim-dominated districts of the Seemanchal belt of north- east Bihar and three districts of north Bengal.

When Nitish Kumar came to power in Bihar on November 24, 2005 in alliance with the BJP, he, after a couple of years started cultivating his own Muslim vote-bank. In 2007 the then Union human resources development minister, Arjun Singh, announced the plan to open five off-campus branches of Aligarh Muslim University.

As MAA Fatmi of the Rashtriya Janata Dal was the minister of state for HRD, he selected Katihar in Bihar as one of the places. Katihar is the largest town of Seemanchal and was then represented in Lok Sabha by Tariq Anwar of the Nationalist Congress Party. Katihar already has a medical college run by Muslims and is a divisional headquarters town of the railway.

However, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar took a different stand. He said his government would give land for the AMU campus in neighbouring Kishanganj, where the population of Muslims is more than in Katihar and is a relatively less developed town. Not only that the political significance of this place could not be ignored as in the past it had elected diplomat-turned-politician, Syed Shahabuddin, journalist M J Akbar and BJP leader Syed Shahnawaz Husain. The decision to open the AMU branch in the region provided ammunition to the Sangh Parivar affiliates which were always active in the Seemanchal during the previous Lalu Yadav-Rabri Devi era, too.

The ABVP launched a movement against the allotment of land to the AMU campus on the plea that it would further encourage the flow of infiltrators from across the border of Bangladesh. The process of land allotment got delayed. In March 2010 an ABVP protest demonstration was lathi-charged outside the Bihar Assembly. Their activists also tried to disrupt the people coming to attend a Jamiat-ul-Ulama conference organised on April 1 in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan.

The cane-charge of the ABVP workers angered many BJP leaders and they questioned the silence of the then deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi. Many of them alleged that even during the Lalu-Rabri era of 15 years their workers were not so brutally lathicharged in Patna as under the government in which they are a partner.

All this had happened before the cancellation of dinner hosted by Nitish Kumar for the BJP bigwigs on June 12, 2010. The BJP was holding its national executive meeting in Patna on June 12 and 13. The Nitish government took an excuse of a Gujarat government advertisement to call off this party in which the main attraction was the BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani and the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Not only that, the Rs 5 crore donated by the Gujarat government to the Kosi flood relief of August 2008 was also returned.

Though the Janata Dal-United and BJP alliance almost came to an end the top leaders of the saffron brigade swung into action and indulged in damage limitation exercises as the Assembly election was due in October-November the same year. The two parties swept the poll.

Anyway, the BJP and media often raise the issue of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrations’ to keep the controversy alive. The August 18 order of the Patna High Court is being seen by many in this background. The victory of the AIMIM in five of the 20-odd seats of the Seemanchal belt in last year’s Assembly election gave a new twist to the whole political scenario. A general perception among Muslims in Bihar, and even outside, is that the AIMIM was promoted by the BJP with the help of the media as its presence weakened the Grand Alliance of the RJD and Congress and thus deprived it from coming to power.

The AIMIM, on its part, would target the RJD and Congress more than the BJP which repeatedly raises the issue of infiltration. The saffron brigade wants to keep the infiltration pot boiling for its political end.

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