Assam Elections – “I Am a Muslim and I Am Not a Bangladeshi”
BJP clarified that it’s against illegal migrants and not against the Muslims of Assam.
Muslim voters across Assam have been repeating these lines for years now. And in this election season, the voices have got louder.
Nizam Ali, a 66-year-old from Belakoba village in Kokrajhar district said:
I was born here in India, our forefathers have fought for India’s Independence and now we are being called Bangladeshis just because we are Bengali Muslims.
Almost 34 percent of Assam’s population constitutes Muslims – this means one in three people in Assam today is a Muslim. It has the second highest number of Muslims after Jammu and Kashmir. In nine out of thirty-four districts, Muslims are in the majority. And in almost 35 assembly seats the Muslim vote will decide the winner.
Large-Scale Illegal Migration
Parties like AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) and BJP are using these statistics to target the Bengali speaking Muslims of Assam, alleging that most of them have illegally entered Assam from Bangladeshis.
There seems to be some truth in this. In 1998, the Governor of Assam, Lt Gen (Retd) SK Sinha submitted a report which stated that the Muslim population in Assam grew at 77 percent as against the national average of 55 percent for 1971-91.
The report of the Governor of Assam in 1998, taken note of by the Supreme Court in its judgement in the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) or IMDT Act case, shows the growth of the Muslim population in Assam at 77 percent as against the national average of 55 percent for 1971-91, suggestive of large-scale illegal migration.
BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal while asserting that the BJP said:
As per the expectation of the people of Assam, we’ll have to make this state illegal migrant free.
Congress and the AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) said that they are also against illegal migrants, but genuine Indian citizens shouldn’t be harassed because of their religion.
With eighteen seats in the assembly and three seats in the 2014 general elections, AIUDF is clearly the most popular party amongst the minority community. But voters like Ajibur Ali of Belakoba said that AIUDF only uses them as vote banks.
We voted for AIUDF. Our MLA and MP are from the party. During elections they say you are from the minority community so vote for AIUDF, we’ll protect you. But in 2012, after the Bodos attacked our village, not a single AIUDF leader came here.Ajibur Ali, Resident, Belakoba
Doubtful or D-Voter is another issue that’s haunting the minorities in Assam. In 1997 the Election Commission blacklisted almost 1 lakh 36 thousand voters from the electoral rolls who could not submit credible proof of their Indian citizenship. Now these D-voters, like 45 year old Asgar Ali lives in constant fear.
I have documents which show my grandfather voted in the 1951 elections, I was born in India. My father, my wife they all can cast their vote. In spite of having all the valid documents, I have been marked a D-voter. I am being labelled a Bangladeshi and the police can pick me up anytime.Asgar Ali, Resident, Kokrajhar
Violence and Displacement
The first phase of elections in Upper Assam and Barak valley saw a record turnout of 82.2 percent; it may not be good news for the 15-year-old Congress government.
So the second phase beginning on 11 April is critical for the Congress and AIUDF. These are the Bengali Muslim dominated constituencies in central and lower Assam. In 2012, this region witnessed major communal violence between the Bodos and the Muslims – 400 villages were affected, displacing over 70,000 people.
It was a rainy night in 2012 when the Bodo extremists attacked our village. We hid in the marsh lands and covered the mouths of our children to prevent them from crying. Our homes were burned down and for months we lived in camps.Hasina Bibi, Resident, Belakoba village
BJP’s ally, the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) is a party representing the interests of the Bodos. It has significant presence in these areas of Lower Assam. To stop the BPF, there are rumours of a secret pact between the Congress and the AIUDF to ensure that these Muslim votes don’t split.
Though the BJP has clarified that it’s against illegal migrants and not against the Muslims of Assam, it may be too little too late. The minority community is being cautious. There are clear signals they will vote for a party which will ensure they are secure in Assam and are not labelled as illegal Bangladeshis and deported from India.
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