Time to Play That Bangladesh Card Again

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Assam burning

Assam is burning all over again with nearly hundred people killed or missing and thousands homeless. The whole region sits on a powder-keg thanks to the sweetness and light spread by men promising ‘Development and Good Governance’. But of course all ‘Bangladeshis’ must be thrown out before good times roll in!    

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ation state and democracy are perhaps the greatest gifts of Western civilization to the world. The 20th century saw the crumbling of the colonial order across the globe although it reinvented itself to come back in some form or the other. Out of the ashes of the two great Wars and all the death and destruction that they wrought on the world was born the idea that every one – every nation and every group who could be rallied under a flag – has the right to self-determination and live as it wishes. Democracy became the rallying cry and mantra of the masses.

In HL Mencken’s words, it was agreed that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. Today, everyone swears by democracy and people power apparently rules the world.

Even those that still believe in good ol’ monarchy and those stuck with totalitarian one-party rule like China or one-man tyranny like socialist Arab republics or North Korea ostensibly believe in people power.

But even as democracy and the concept of nation state seem to triumph and people are relatively freer and more politically empowered, a new and alarming kind of intolerance and xenophobia is on the march towards those that find themselves lacking in numbers or are in minority politically, ideologically or by some other denomination.

Even as our world becomes more connected and distances and borders become practically irrelevant, our hearts and minds seem to become smaller and our tolerance levels shorter.  Those who occupied foreign lands driving their original inhabitants out today cannot tolerate a boatload of desperate people on their shores.

All said and done, democracy is a game of numbers. As Iqbal would put it, jamhuriat ek tarze hukumat hai ke jis mein, bandon ko gina karte hain tola nahin kartey

Democracy is an order in which men are merely counted; not valued

You are nothing if you do not have numbers on your side or find yourself in a place where you do not have the assuring presence of your own kind. And, above all, you must belong and fit in the pigeonholes of identities—of nation states, man man-made borders and flags. Else you are condemned forever, as Muslims in India’s Northeast and Myanmar and people elsewhere are increasingly discovering.

Having lived and existed in the land of their ancestors from time immemorial, they suddenly discover that they never belonged here. That they are on the wrong side of the border. That these tracts of land that they have cultivated for centuries and homes they have lived in since as long as they can remember were never theirs in the first place.

Those ancient hills, verdant valleys, mighty rives and forever singing springs mustn’t be claimed as theirs. They are strangers and seen as infiltrators in the land that they have freely traveled forever without realizing they were violating any borders or breaking any laws.

Narendra Modi vows to throw all of them out as soon as he rides to power in Delhi. For someone being hailed to the skies for his all-embracing Development-and-good governance mantra and not raising the specter of Hindutva, the only ‘strong and decisive leader’ India has produced so far returned to familiar themes during his campaigning in the Northeast.

Speaking in West Bengal’s Serampore town on April 27, he thundered: “I want to warn from here, brothers and sisters write down, that after May 16, I will send these Bangladeshis beyond the border with their bags and baggage”.

A couple of days later speaking in Assam, he declared all Muslims in Assam who form about 35 per cent of the state’s population ‘Bangladeshis’ urging sons of the soil to drive them all out.

Days earlier, speaking in Assam again, he had urged India to welcome “Hindu Bangladeshis” saying everyone who spoke Bengali and celebrated Durgashtami are the “sons and daughters of Mother India” and should be welcomed with open arms.  Some weeks ago, he had accused the Congress government of killing the state’s famous rhinos to make way for Bangladeshis!

Is it any wonder then that chief minister Omar Abdullah of Jammu and Kashmir blames the latest carnage in Assam which claimed nearly 50 lives on the BJP leader’s incitement.

Indeed, Modi has been unstoppable even after the killings ranting again and again against ‘Bangladeshis’ in public meetings across the Hindi heartland.

“You (government) are concerned about infiltrators and not your own people … they must go back, they are robbing the youths of India of their livelihood,” Modi told a rally in West Bengal, which borders Assam.

What’s the difference between this constant vilification and witch-hunt of Muslims and the Nazi demonization of Jews? And this is the man that this great, complex nation of a billion people is pining to see it as its leader?

In the final lap of the race, the man, who is supposed to have totally reformed and is being compared to Mahatma Gandhi himself by the growing flock of new faithful, is back to showing his true colors, spitting venom at every possible opportunity.

He was at his wiliest best once again during his interview with his old admirer Arnab Goswami of Times Now Thursday night.  Modi doesn’t have qualms in inviting Indians who migrated to distant lands like Fiji, Africa and the Caribbean more than 150 years ago to “come home” but his blood boils when he sees “infiltrators” who have been living in Assam and elsewhere for centuries.

ON THE MOVE AGAIN...Bengali-speaking Muslims flee their homes after the latest bout of violence in this AP file photo.
ON THE MOVE AGAIN…Impoverished Bengali-speaking Muslims flee their homes after the latest bout of violence in this AP file photo.

Of course, he’s generous enough to explain that this has nothing to do with the fact that those being welcomed are Hindus or those being driven out happen to be Muslims.  “We consider them all Hindus. Hinduism is not a religion. It’s a way of life,” he explained like an Ivy League professor with a straight face which was most promptly accepted by his deferential interviewer. And this is the messiah being defended by worthies like my old hero MJ Akbar and that old chameleon Shahid Siddiqui!

Of course, no one dare point out to the fact that Assam has always had a large Muslim population and most of those being terrorized today as “infiltrators and outsiders” have been there since long before the Partition.
Given the porous and indistinct nature of the India-Bangladesh border, it is possible that Bangladeshis that includes both Muslims and Hindus might have now and then crossed over.

Today, there has been a similar movement of migrants from the Indian side as well. Believe it or not, with the Bangladeshi economy doing well in recent years, people have been moving to work in Bangladesh.

Indeed, India welcomed tens of thousands of Bangladeshis with open arms after Indira Gandhi sent Indian army into the then East Pakistan at the request of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh and the father of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.  Indians were welcomed as heroes after what the Bangladeshis had to go through at the hands of their own co-religionists from the West.

Those are the facts of recent history. But then who cares for history? Some of us when we do not like it we script our own history,  fixing inconvenient facts and truths as our Hindutva friends have often been doing.

Indeed, both the Hindu Right and the Congress, which has ruled Assam all these years, have played this dangerous game over and over again over this bogey of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ invariably victimizing innocent Muslims.

Who can forget the carnage of Nellie of 1983 under Congress? It remains the worst massacre of Muslims in independent India’s history. More than 5,000 Muslims were massacred within 6 hours.

Indeed, successive Congress governments have used Muslims as little more than a vote bank without recognizing their rights. Indeed, the Bodo militants who are responsible for the latest massacre owe allegiance to a party that is part of the current Congress government in Assam.
If the Congress had been serious about resolving this issue, it would have taken steps to cool down this simmering volcano that erupts from time to time.

There’s no peace where there’s no justice. No one needs any special treatment. They just need what is their due. Recognize everyone’s rights and give their due. That’s the only way to lasting peace. Borders and flags are inviolable and sacrosanct. But humanity and human blood are holier than everything else.

All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan

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