In the second week of August, addressing a campaign rally in Kolkata, the BJP national president Amit Shah yelled into a mic: “Are the Bangladeshi infiltrators a security threat to this country or not?” A crowd of BJP supporters roared that they were. “The bomb explosions that occur in Bengal are carried out by the Bangladeshi infiltrators or not? Should they be thrown out or not?” he went on with his noxious rhetoric.
Shah’s comments echo those made by several BJP leaders on the immigration issue in Assam. Using the terms “infiltrators” for Muslim Bangladeshis and “refugees” for Hindu ones, the BJP is appropriating a long-standing anti-foreigner sentiment in Assam to demand curbs on immigration into the state from Bangladesh. With the promise of acche din seeming like a crude joke, the party seems to be resorting to communal polarisation as its primary strategy for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The preparation of the National Register of Citizens—a list of Assam’s Indian citizens—has given the party a divisive agenda that has a wider appeal for its Hindutva constituency.
The villain of this piece is the Muslim Bangladeshi “infiltrator,” the opposition parties her patron and the BJP the uncompromising saviour of the nation and its borders. This script, which feeds the myth of the persecuted Hindu, came into play on 31 July, when the final draft of the NRC excluded four million residents of Assam. While the process is not yet complete, Shah and his ilk are calling the Muslims among them “ghuspethiye,” or infiltrators, deliberately ignoring nuances on a complex issue that goes back almost two hundred years.