The Spectre

Politicians play on the fear of immigrants in Assam

01 April 2016
The All Assam Students’ Union has been at the forefront of chauvinistic protests against allegedly illegal immigrants since the 1970s.

ON THE AFTERNOON OF 22 FEBRUARY 2014, Gujarat’s then chief minister, Narendra Modi, strode up to a lectern at a political rally in Silchar, in southern Assam, around 40 kilometres east of the Bangladesh border. Dressed in a peach kurta, a patterned beige stole and a white, gold-bordered turban, Modi resembled an elderly groom more than a prime-ministerial candidate. As he spoke, the crowd of tens of thousands regularly erupted in chants of his name.

“Brothers-sisters,” Modi said, in Hindi. “The kind of governments elected here, all of Assam is troubled because of Bangladeshis.” He continued: “And because of me, all of Pakistan is troubled”—referring to speculation that the neighbouring country was wary of him. “Now you have to make the choice whether you want to tolerate the problems of these Bangladeshis or decide the future of Assam,” Modi said.

He then drew a distinction between two kinds of Bangladeshis in Assam. “The first kind come as part of a political conspiracy,” he said. “And the other kind are those whose lives have been made difficult in Bangladesh.” The reference to Muslims and Hindus was unmistakable. The Hindu in Bangladesh was being persecuted, he went on to say. “Where will that Hindu go?” “India!” the audience roared. But the other “ghuspethiye,” or intruders, Modi continued, who had come as part of a “conspiracy,” needed to be sent back. These intruders, he said, were taking away the livelihoods of young people in Assam. If he was elected, he said, he would ensure justice for the state.

Krishn Kaushik  was formerly a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: politics elections Bangladesh immigrants Assam