The architect of Bhartiya Janta Party’s rise in north-east and Assam’s state finance and PWD minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, in an interview with Indian Express, has said that BJP’s fight in the state is not against indigenous Muslims, but Muslims coming from Bangladesh.
“We should not have any grievances against Muslims who are part of India, who have equal rights as me or any other Indian citizen. I have a secular mindset. Though I understand secularism in my own way, I have full respect for Muslims in general.” Sarma said in the interview. He added that the fight with Bangladeshi Muslims is based on ethnic lines and not religious.
Sarma also defended his previous remark that without Citizenship Amendment Bill, many assembly seats in Assam will go to Muslims, and in future Hindus will lose their right to appoint their own CM.
“I strongly believe that if this bill is not passed, Assamese Hindus will become the minority in just next five years. That will be advantageous for those elements who want Assam to be another Kashmir” He had earlier said.
Sarma said in the interview that it is a hard fact even acknowledged by the Supreme Court, who had called influx of Bangladeshi Muslims post-1971 ‘external aggression’, and emphasised on the need of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state.
Sarma said that party is travelling across the Northeast and talking about the Bill and assuring people that it is no way a threat to local culture.
“The opinion on the Bill may be divided, but when it comes to the Northeast and the development that has taken place under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There has been no ‘for’ and ‘against’. People feel they have been given a fair deal.” Sarma said.
On the question of dilution of Assamese culture by non-muslim Bangladeshis through Citizenship Amendment Bill, Sarma said that Assamese identity is part of Indian culture, and Hindus, Sikhs, Jains cannot be a threat to its identity. But, he added, Muslim migrants do not share Assamese identity and are a great threat to its existence.
On the comment of Home Minister Rajnath Singh that he gave in Dhaka, Bangladesh that no person from India will be deported back to Bangladesh, Sarma said that indeed government will not deport anyone it considers its citizens. He added that it is our duty that Bangladeshi Muslims do not encroach upon the local culture, but it is also our responsibility to provide them with health and education.
“India has a long tradition of respecting human rights and you cannot deal with anybody, Hindu or Muslim, inhumanely. But, at the same time, you cannot allow them to encroach upon your society. So, until Bangladesh accepts them as their citizens, one should not push them inhumanely across the border. You cannot put them in a train and send them away.” Sarma remarked. He added that the idea of detaining illegal migrants in detention camps is not theirs but it is an order of High Court, and both court and government are trying to humanize conditions.
On the issue of clause 6 of Assam Accords, Sarma said that it was Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that had forced Assam leaders during Assam agitation, to put the cut-off date for entry of legal migrants in the state to 1971, while in other states it was 1951.
He added that this put an additional burden of 30 lakh people in the state, who posed a threat to indigenous culture. According to Sarma, this was the reason that PM Rajiv had to incorporate clause 6 in the Assam accords, which seeks to “protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. Although present in the Assam Accord signed in 1985, clause 6 was never implemented. The Modi government has started the process of implementing the same recently. Government jobs, as well as assembly seats, will be reserved for indigenous people under this clause, which will ensure that illegal immigrants can’t occupy power in the state.
“Now we are trying to implement that, which is a protection against people who have been regularised between 1951-71. It’s an acceptable clause.” Sarma added.