Finally, a Union home minister has spoken against the menace of illegal migration from Bangladesh, something that has destroyed the demographic unity of the north-eastern states.
In an interview to NDTV, P. Chidambaram showed some clarity on the issue. He said the issue was not that of Muslim vs non-Muslim migration but that of illegal migration by nationals of another country.
The minister, however, stopped well short of a solution. He argued that “some parts of history cannot be retraced”. He was alluding to the idea of deporting illegal migrants from states such as Assam.
It is true that a population of migrants who now constitute a demographic force cannot be uprooted except by strong, coercive measures. But equally, the minister needs to ensure that a sound mechanism to deport recent migrants is put in place.
Instead of laws such as the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act 1983, that ensured not a finger could be raised against such migrants, harsh laws that put the burden of proof on those accused of being illegal residents are a must now.
That, however, is not the path the minister has in mind. What is being planned is a centralized database of information, the National Population Register. This will be followed by the issuing of unique identity cards. This will go some way in identifying non-citizens and illegal migrants in India. There is, however, a catch. How will the government deport those who are found to be living illegally in India? Does any government, including that led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, have the courage to deport such persons?
At the moment, it’s not clear if anyone is thinking along those lines. Most leaders admit, in private, that this is a problem, but when it comes to taking meaningful action, they shy away.
Part of the problem is the muddled thinking on the issue. Mainstream debate equated the deportation of illegal migrants with being communal. But as Chidambaram said, it is nothing to do with being a Muslim or a Hindu. The identity in dispute is of nationality.
It will, however, be too much to expect a consensus on the issue. The fortunes of intellectuals, political parties and small-time politicians depend on using the idea for personal gain. It is another matter that such thinking is detrimental to India at large.
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