Media fueling the myth of Muslim infiltrators

Inciting communal fear and hatred in Assam

By Barun Das Gupta

Last month’s clashes between the Bodo tribals and the Bengali Muslims in Lower Assam have made some people’s imagination run riot. The spectre of a conspiracy to create a ‘Greater Bangladesh’ is being raised. People are being warned that Assam is soon going to be devoured by Bangladesh. Wild statistics are being concocted and bandied about on the incredible rise of the Bengali Muslim population in Assam without citing their sources. Sensational stories of a United Muslim National Army, formed in June, being behind the July riots are circulating freely.

The Bodo leaders are happy that they are being projected as helpless victims of a one-sided violence, which is a complete travesty of truth. Some of them are adding more spice of their own, like Bangladeshis having encroached upon thousands of bighas of land of the ‘Satras’ (Vaishnavite monasteries). The systematic and organized manner in which this Muslim/Bangladeshi infiltrator bogey is being raised and the Tarun Gogoi Government roundly accused by irresponsible media persons and commentators of having been voted to power in the two previous elections by Bangladeshi voters has more in it than meets the eye.

The Bengali Muslims and the tea garden labourers are the two solid support bases of the Congress in Assam. And it is taken for granted that a Muslim whose mother tongue is Bengali is, ipso facto, a Bangladeshi. No proof is required. The atmosphere of fear and suspicion that is being built up about them and the conspiracy stories of a Greater Bangladesh being just round the corner are being spread seem to be an exercise at vote bank politics, keeping the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in view.

The allegation is that Bangladeshi infiltrators are pouring into the state unchecked. They are raising the Muslim population, especially in the border districts. The insinuation is that the influx is being aided and abetted by the Congress-led State Government because its very survival in power depends on the infiltrators’ votes. A look at the Census figures will bust the myth. The 2001 census recorded that the decadal population growth in Assam was 18.92 per cent against India’s 21.54 per cent. The change in growth percentage was (-)5.32 in Assam and (-)2.32 in India. Which means the population growth was less in Assam than the national average.

Again, turning to the 2011 census figures, it is found that the decadal growth was 16.93 per cent in Assam against 17.64 per cent for the whole of India. The change in percentage terms was (-)2.03 in Assam against the national average of (-)3.86. This means that Assam’s population grew at a slower rate than the rest of India’s. Then why this conspiracy theory and the bogey of the state being overrun by infiltrators, outnumbering the indigenous people?

The conspiracy theory, however, is nothing new. About a decade and a half ago, a Governor of Assam, who was long associated with India’s defence establishment, submitted a ‘highly confidential’ report to the President of India. In this report, he named several districts where Muslim population had risen alarmingly and expressed the fear that it was a matter of time before these districts were lost from Assam and became part of Bangladesh. The confidential report was leaked to the press in no time and a Guwahati newspaper started serializing the lengthy report in daily instalments. It created a sensation in Assam as it was intended to do. Needless to say, all these districts are in Assam till this day and will continue to do so in future.

The question that nobody asked was why a person occupying such a high constitutional office – and a former Lieutenant-General at that – should have raised this bogey at all. What the people expected of him was a clear and emphatic assurance that no power can grab a square centimetre of our land. The Indian State and India’s defence forces would never let it happen. That hope was belied.

Now the same bogey is being raised. The communal propaganda is being fuelled by political ambitions. Already, more reports of clashes and deaths are coming, the strong presence of security forces notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has asked the CBI to probe whether ‘external forces’ were behind the clashes and ‘get to the bottom of the case.’ He has also asked the State police to find out whether a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) was involved. The NDFB has already issued a stern warning to the non-Bodos, asking them never again to return to the Bodo Territorial Council areas.

So the victims of the violence cannot go back to their villages. They have perforce to stay in the over-crowded relief camps where living conditions are unbearable. The death of 15 inmates, including seven children, has been officially admitted. The number of the sick is increasing. If they cannot go back to their homes, how long can the State afford to run the camps and feed them?

The CBI may be able to confirm or deny the involvement of ‘external forces’ and the State police in the role of the NDFB. But they cannot dispel the atmosphere of doubt, mistrust, hatred and animosity prevailing in the affected areas. Vested interests would try to perpetuate this atmosphere – some to create an artificial majority for themselves where they are in a minority and some to achieve their political ends and settle political scores with the powers that be. Restoring an enduring peace does not find a place on their agenda. (IPA Service)