In defence of the General's statement
India must devise a stringent policy for national borders to tackle Bangladeshi influx
Army Generals in India normally do not make too many statements beyond their operational paradigm. But when they do, one has to take them seriously. General Bipin Rawat made the following statement recently, 'A planned immigration is taking place because of our western neighbour. They will always try and ensure that this area is taken over, playing the proxy dimension of warfare.' The statement was invariably about the apocalyptic level of infiltration that has been consistently taking place from Bangladesh into India's northeast and perhaps some of India's eastern states like West Bengal. The influx has been such that the demography of most of lower Assam has been irreparably altered with ethnic Assamese and others on the verge of being reduced to minorities in their own states in the times to come. The burgeoning migration resulted in altered political clout as was stated by General Rawat about the rise of parties like AIUDF standing on the edifice of migrant Bengali Muslim population of Assam.
To understand the deeper connection between Pakistan and Bangladesh-based demography altering illegal migration to India, one has to understand the internal dynamics of Bangladesh. Post 1971, in spite of disintegration of Pakistan and creation of the Bengali speaking state, after a horrendous war dotted with innumerable genocides, Bangladesh, beneath the semblance of homogeneity, has for long remained deeply divided internally. The crack runs deep between secular nationalist Bangladeshis and those who had deep sympathy for the state of Pakistan, resented the split and worked actively to help Pakistan Army during war. The Razakars and their supporters never stopped collaborating with Pakistan. The Gulf States, where Bangladeshis go en masse for work became rendezvous points for hatching plots. Funds from Saudi Arab and spread of Wahhabism fuelled it further. While Pakistan was simultaneously hatching plots for fomenting separatism in Punjab and Kashmir to avenge its dismemberment in 1971, the Razakars and their progenies were orchestrating a Trojan War on India, the impact of which is now being felt.
Illegal migration can to a certain extent be deliberated upon or justified if there are issues related to persecution. However, that was not the case with what was happening in eastern India. The migration was systematic, calibrated and completely aimed at altering religious demography. Most of those migrating en masse cannot claim to be victims of persecution in Bangladesh. As per reports, a former Governor of Assam Lt Gen (Retd) Ajay Singh had stated more than a decade back that the extent of infiltration is to the tune of 6000 Bangladeshis entering Assam every day. This has been further given impetus by alleged aspirations of a Greater Islamic Republic of Bangladesh that many in Bangladesh secretly nurture. That includes parts of West Bengal and a significant portion of Northeast.
Is there a Trojan invasion happening with a sinister motive?
While India continued with its massive defence spending to prepare for conventional wars, it remained horribly unaware and ignorant of the Trojan invasion with sinister objectives taking place in its seemingly peaceful eastern borders. This has been aided by certain political parties who found in this swarming mass of infiltrators a readymade vote bank. Can one deny how IMDT Act of 1983 enacted by Congress created severe impediments in deporting illegal immigrants? Can one deny that certain political parties go head over heels to provide such infiltrators with readymade ration cards and voter ID card in lieu of assured votes for their respective parties? Can one also deny that whenever the issue of demographic alteration is raised, it is given a communal colour by naysayers to obfuscate the core issue? In fact, the IMDT Act was so obnoxious that eventually it was struck down by Supreme Court in 2005 but by then much of that damage was done.
The cycle of crime and infiltration
However, the issue is not just related to illegal immigration alone. There have been innumerable instances of terror attacks in India having clear evidence of involvement of either ISI's Bangladesh-based sleeper cells or that of radical Islamist Bangladeshi entities themselves. While ISI's stranglehold and funding in Bangladesh to foment violent anti-India narrative is well known, over a period of time many of Bangladesh-based terror groups such as Harkat Ul Jihad al Islami Bangladesh (HUJI-B) and Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) have deeply entrenched themselves in many parts of east and northeast India. The enclaves with significant illegal Bangladeshi population now work as safe havens for them and often local vote-bank politics ensured that agencies turn a blind eye to all this.
This apart, ISI has been incredibly active in pushing in fake Indian currencies through the Bangladesh route. Malda in West Bengal is often termed the fake currency capital. Most of the illegal trade across the border happens with fake currencies. Goods go out of India without paying the requisite taxes while payments in fake currencies are pumped in. Overall as things stand, India's border regions with Bangladesh are akin to tinderbox or a dangerous cocktail of Molotov where the writ of the state is often abysmal if not entirely absent. Porous borders combined with illegal trades transacted with fake currencies aided by safe havens of Bangladeshis protected by local politicians in lieu of vote have created the perfect ecosystem for mushrooming of countless Madrasas poisoning a generation of minds with a deadly concoction of Wahhabism and anti-Indian hatred. All of this has been happening for decades, right under the nose of local administrations. But now with change of regime in Assam and also at the Centre, some may be feeling the heat. Given the alarming pace at which the demography is shifting in northeast, it is bound to trigger resistance from ethnic groups over there who are increasingly feeling insecure as a result of this persistent invasion and who may not wait inordinately for New Delhi to take decisive actions.
Let us realise: Eastern borders are not benign
For decades India's policymakers remained obsessed with its western borders with a false presumption that threats can never emanate from the east. It is only perhaps in the last two decades especially since the nuclear test of 1998 that India has been consciously waking up to the possibility of a two frontal war. The Modi Government has taken some significant steps to fortify India's preparedness along the China border. The same needs to be replicated along the Indo-Bangladesh border.
The need for a National Border Policy
Further, India lacks a coherent National Border Policy. India's schizophrenic approach and the self-defeating concept of putting everything under the garb of 'law & order' issue is also to be blamed for the mess. When a miscreant involved in cross-border nefarious activities is arrested by BSF, he is generally handed over to the state police since law & order is a state subject. From then on, his eventual release is a foregone conclusion. Stringent punishment preceded by strong prosecution is the last thing that happens with Bangladeshis caught in borders for illegal activities. The distinction between petty local crimes and cross-border crimes with national security ramifications rarely exists. This often emboldens the perpetrators. There have been several instances of BSF personnel being brutally beaten up and even been lynched by cattle smugglers who know too well about the restrictions put on BSF on use of firepower, thanks to an Indo-Bangladesh agreement signed in 2011 to restrict the use of lethal firepower on border. This has only given more impetus to smuggling of fake currencies, and infiltration.
The incident of court marshal proceedings against BSF Assistant Commandant Anubhav Atrey for killing a Bangladeshi smuggler to protect one of his own men is a vindication of India's confused border management policy torn apart between keeping the pro-India Bangladesh Government in good humour and securing its own borders. There is a sheer disconnect between ground realities and how New Delhi perceives issues. One wonders what Assistant Commandant Atrey should have done instead of firing to protect one of his own men, from the smugglers about to lynch a BSF jawan, if the Indian approach continues to be to treat such acts as murder. Sadly, the nation stood behind Major Leetul Gogoi because of a media furore but it seems that the BSF officer has been forgotten.
If India has to stop the problem of Bangladeshi influx, it has to come out with a stringent national border policy and treat all borders as equally sensitive. In this era of sub-conventional and Trojan wars, no border can be termed benign anymore. Rohingyas could not have reached all the way to Jammu and even settle near sensitive army bases had the eastern borders not been porous and prone to orchestrated infiltration. Given the murmurs of a possible Rohingya hand in the Sunjuwan Army base attack, it is time to realise that external dimensions of India's internal security issues do not always emanate from western borders but from elsewhere too.
Why General Rawat's statement is justified
The reason why General Rawat's statement deserves unequivocal support is because he has shown the conviction to tell the truth as it is. Those who are opposing it have been the same lot who for long had refused to acknowledge the problems of Kashmir until it went literally out of control and the armed forces had to move it to stem the rot and clear the mess through spillage of blood of their own men in uniform. Northeast and possibly even parts of eastern India are heading towards similar mess if infiltration is not stopped and the apocalyptic demographic shift is not reversed. Pakistan might have failed in Punjab and J&K in its misadventures but may have the last laugh if New Delhi fails to take cognisance of the Trojan invasion taking place in the east and northeast India. Hopefully, the Modi Government will contain it in time.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)