The Startling Similarities Between Spain’s Catalan And India’s Rohingya Crises

Sreejit Datta

Oct 26, 2017, 12:24 PM | Updated 12:24 PM IST

Women hold Spanish and Catalan flags during a demonstration against Catalonia’s independence. (PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images) / Indian demonstrators shout slogans as they protest against the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Women hold Spanish and Catalan flags during a demonstration against Catalonia’s independence. (PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images) / Indian demonstrators shout slogans as they protest against the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
  • The secessionist Catalan leadership and the ambitious, left-leaning political parties are motivated by a short-term drive for political power, and the population they exploited to win electoral battles, have become assertive, non-conformist, politically ambitious, and supremacist.
  • The political manipulators have let the genie out of the bottle, and which has now started eroding the civilisational ethos.
  • What connections might the Catalan crisis brewing in Spain possibly have with the Rohingya issue in India? A cursory look at both the Spanish and Indian situations may make the two appear unconnected and separate, but a deeper probe into each reveals several threads of connection and parallels.

    The way the former has manifested itself and taken root in Spain’s domestic politics as well as in the political circles of the European Union, is indicative of some of the most dangerous implications of facilitating uncontrolled migration – legally or illegally – in order to score political goals in the case of the latter development, i.e., the Rohingya situation in Indian politics.

    Keeping in view the ever-growing demand for accommodating the illegal Rohingya Muslim immigrants in various parts of India (especially in Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal), one feels inclined to analyse the two crises in a comparative light instead of treating them as isolated phenomena.

    In light of some newly revealed data and reportage on the patterns of immigration in Spain’s Catalonia region and the effects thereof, the political demand for the rehabilitation of Rohingya Muslims fleeing the conflict zone of Myanmar’s Arakan region calls for a fresh perspective on the patterns of immigration of the Muslim populace from Bangladesh and Myanmar into India.

    The available data from this source attest that over the last three decades, the Catalonia region in Spain has turned into a stronghold of Salafist Islam – a puritanical movement of hardliners from within the extremely conservative sections of the Muslim ummah.

    The same report by Thomas Eppinger asserts that this is a direct result of the efforts by the Catalan separatists to allow as many Muslim immigrants from countries like Morocco and Pakistan to move in, as would be necessary to counterbalance the increasing rate of integration of Catalonian culture into that of Castile, the seat of the Spanish monarchy.

    Such integration into the dominant culture, Eppinger explains, has been facilitated by two major factors:

    One, the sharp fall in the birth rate of indigenous Catalans;

    Two, the bright career prospects of the Hispano-Americans in the wake of the economy flourishing in the nineties. The latter do not speak Catalan; instead they speak Castilian – the standard Spanish language which originated from the monarch’s province.

    What’s more, the Catalans could not counter the increasing influence of the Castilian culture even by bringing in non-Castilians from other Spanish provinces nearby, such as Andalusia and Murcia. The fear of cultural assimilation and the apprehension of an ultimate dissolution into the Castilian culture made the separatist Catalan leaders take up the strategy of encouraging immigration of cheap labour from next-door North African countries like Morocco, and from an economically debilitated country called Pakistan.

    Initially, the Catalan leadership had hoped that once they successfully outnumber the Castilian-speaking Hispanics by settling the population from these Muslim-majority countries in the region, subsequently they would force their local language and culture on the Arabic- and Urdu-speaking immigrants.

    Banking on the immigrants’ vulnerability due to poor linguistic skills and dependence on social security, the Catalan leadership had hoped to fan the fire of separatism and propel their political agenda by building a vote bank for the Catalonian separatist parties like CiU (Convergence and Union), CDC (Democratic Convergence of Catalonia) and UDC (The Democratic Union of Catalonia). Commenting on the strategy of the Catalan separatist leaders in Mena Watch, Eppinger writes:

    Once arrived, Catalanism would surely turn the Muslims into Catalan nationalists. It’s alright as long as they just sing the Els Segadors, the Catalan national anthem, and wave the Estelada, the Catalan flag. And of course cheer for the FC Barcelona. Then, Integration would just naturally occur by itself.
    Thomas Eppinger

    This sort of politically motivated and systematically engineered demographic shift has not only depleted the voter base for the pro-Spain parties in Catalonia, it has completely backfired to produce a counterproductive result for the champions of Catalan culture itself – that of the rise of a hardliner Salafist Islamism in Catalonia.

    The consequences of this artificial and forced transformation of the demographic map of the Eastern Spanish province have been absolutely detrimental to the genuine multiculturalism that Europe and North America saw flourish in the 1960s – which was a movement of shifting world views from the West to the East, from idealism to the sensory experience, from the void created by a rejection of the dogmatism of Abrahamic religions to the first-hand spiritual experiences talked about in the Indic religions, like in Hinduism, through music, meditation, yoga, and in extreme scenarios, psychedelic drugs.

    It will hardly be an overstatement to suggest that the situation in Catalonia presents the perversion of multiculturalism in its worst form. It facilitated a totalitarian, hardliner Islamist cult to make inroads into the economically fertile regions of post-EU continental Europe in a complete and farcical reversal of Spanish history. Several Catalan towns, like Mollet and Ripoll, have earned infamy for turning into hotbeds of jihadi terrorism.

    The result has been devastating for a liberal South European society like the one in Spain.

    To put things into perspective, the reader should also be informed of the fact that each of the provinces in Spain enjoys autonomy within the framework of parliamentary constitutional monarchy, while some of them – like Catalonia, Galicia and Andalusia – have been granted self-government.

    In view of such an administrative setup and political situation in Spain, the Catalonian “struggle for independence” – which has recently turned violent and gotten compounded with coinciding jihadi attacks resulting in the death of 16 persons and grave injury to 120 persons so far in Barcelona (which happens to be the capital of the Catalan province) and Cambrils – emerges as a classic case of anti-nationalism manifested as an anti-Spain mentality of the separatist Catalan leadership and their blind followers.

    In the wake of the deadly attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, which are together being regarded as the worst terrorist atrocity in the last 13 years in Spain, the Catalonian town of Ripoll has renewed suspicion of the Spanish police force. According to Michael Stothard’s report in the Financial Times, several perpetrators of the jihadi attack in Barcelona hailed from this nondescript hill station in the Pyrenees.

    The same report quotes sources such as IHS Jane’s, which is a security and defence consultancy based in the UK, to inform us that “there has been a surge of jihadist activity in Spain linked to ISIS this year, with more than half of the 20 ISIS-linked terror arrests conducted made in Catalonia.”

    It must also be mentioned here that the key leaders associated with the separatist movement (which identifies itself as a revolutionary, leftist political movement) in Catalonia have been accused of money laundering and corruption on multiple occasions in the last few decades, according to the report by Eppinger.

    The crisis in Catalonia presents itself as a case study of the alliance between neo-Marxists and leftists on one hand and the Islamic state ideologues on the other. An article published by the Gatestone Institute even confirms that an independent Catalonia, if actualised, will give birth to a country with the third largest Muslim population in Western Europe and the largest concentration of radical Islamists in Europe.

    Now, let us compare the situation in Spain with how things have unfolded in India, especially along her borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar. Among the Indian states which are adjacent to these countries, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura together share the bulk of the border areas with Bangladesh, while Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland share a border with Myanmar extensively.

    A vast number of immigrants from these two neighbouring countries use these states as entry points while illegally crossing over into Indian territory. In many cases, they settle down in states like West Bengal and Assam and acquire identity proofs, such as voter ID cards and Aadhaar numbers, which only legal citizens of India are entitled to, using political connections and other conduits of certain vested interests.

    As a result the states bordering these two countries have, over the years, had to harbour a major concentration of illegal immigrants. Such has been the state of affairs ever since India’s Partition and Independence in 1947, and the rate of influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has increased manifolds especially since 1970, the year preceding the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan.

    The dynamics, as well as the adverse results, of such a huge influx of illegal immigrants and refugees on the economies of states like West Bengal and Assam have been recorded by several think tanks, individual historians and economists. One such report penned by a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, Sanjeev Tripathi, and published by Carnegie India, traces the decades-long outpouring of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh into West Bengal and Assam and the implications of the phenomenon (S Tripathi 2016).

    It recognises the paucity of – and challenges in – the surveillance of a long international border between Bangladesh and India; and expresses positivity over a shift in the hitherto demonstrated attitude, marked by a lack in political will in the state regimes in Assam, towards the demographic as well as law and order problems arising out of the huge influx of illegal immigrants.

    Studies such as the one just mentioned, and indeed numerous others by various agencies – government and non-government agencies alike – point towards what turns out to be the most immediate and far-reaching of all major concerns posed by illegal immigration: a rapid and irreversible change in demography. This pressing issue plays out as the source of all other concomitant problems: economic, social and law and order.

    Especially in the context of the present discussion, the problem poses itself as: how the demography of certain Indian states has either irreversibly changed (case in point: West Bengal and Assam) or is still in the process of changing in some cases (case in point: Jammu and Kashmir) for reasons which are not organic.

    In fact, the changes occurring in the demographic pattern in these states are caused by artificial forces with an ulterior motive, as is obliquely suggested by the mention of change in attitude towards the manifest problem as a result of regime change in Tripathi’s study.

    In recent times, the Indian Express has reported about a communication, in the form of a letter written by a Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to various state governments and union territories, wherein serious concern has be raised about how the demography of the Jammu region is being artificially altered by settling the Rohingya Muslims in the Jammu district of Jammu and Kashmir, the only district in the state where Hindus are in the majority. According to that report, anonymous sources in the ministry have confirmed that many of these illegal immigrants from Myanmar have been enrolled in the Aadhaar database, which is a key document for proving one’s identity as an Indian resident and which is recognised by almost all government bodies in India.

    Needless to say, the estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims in India, most of who are located in Jammu and Kashmir, would eventually become undistinguishable from legal Indian citizens, if this dodgy process continues unchecked. The same report also indicates that the communication by the MHA is highly apprehensive of the fact that illegal immigrants are especially vulnerable to be recruited by jihadi organisations, which prey on their resentment and extreme fundamentalist religious outlook. (R Tripathi 2017)

    Hard experience has shown us that anti-India sentiments, jihadi terrorism and secessionist activities have proliferated particularly in those states and areas in the country which are adjacent to the borders along hostile neighbours or along countries that harbour vicious anti-India elements within their territories. Thus we have seen prolonged, bloody secessionist movements in Jammu and Kashmir (which, like Catalonia and unlike any other Indian state, enjoys considerable autonomy of governance within the Indian set-up) as well as in Nagaland; and repeated incidents of communal violence in the bordering districts of West Bengal (e.g. in Malda, Nadia, and North 24 Parganas) in the recent years – where certain minority communities have frequently turned violent at the slightest excuse and wreaked havoc on life and property of Hindus.

    Even a cursory look at the national census data available on the patterns of concentration and the rate of increase of the Muslim populace in the bordering districts of West Bengal and Assam will reveal how drastic the changes in demography in these areas have been.

    The surprisingly high growth of the Muslim population in border areas is less due to people’s religious choices and more due to the influx of refugees and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar, most of who happen to follow Islam. In light of the various reports, studies and official communications cited above, this influx seems to have been facilitated by the complicity of various political parties contending for power in the states, as they have found it far more easier to secure power in the electoral exercises by letting illegal immigrants from the neighbouring countries pour into Indian territory, helping them settle down, find employment in the economically better off Indian market (compared to either Bangladesh or Myanmar) and to get their hands on valid identity documents; thereby winning their support, uniting the minority communities through the venting of their real and imaginary grievances as a collective/identity group (which is very peculiar of Marxist and postmodernist strategists to consolidate support and power among vulnerable communities), and by pitting them against the perceived fear of the majority’s power to oppress the minorities.

    This project has been steadfastly carried out by the communists during their prolonged regime in West Bengal, in Tripura; and by other socialist parties like the Congress in Assam. In doing this, the Indian context has remained distinct from the Catalan project in its motive for such artificially engineered demographic change; although the dimension of artificiality in bringing about this shift in the latter case continues to find parallels in the former.

    The ultimate motive being different, viz. the preservation of the Catalan identity in Catalonian secessionist movement and a mere contest for obtaining office in Indian state elections, the short-term drive for political power has remained the same in both cases – and both these agencies conspicuously identify themselves as ‘revolutionary’, Leftist or Left-leaning political entities. Both the contexts have exemplified the compromise of their respective national interests in the favour of narrow, parochial, local political ambitions and visions; both are marked by a fierce political contest between centrality of power and its decentralisation; both have banked on hardliner ideologues of Islamism, an ideology that has asserted itself as a supremacist doctrine in its vehement rejection of assimilation into the local (and national) culture of the area where they have been accommodated.

    But perhaps the most conspicuous similarity between the two contexts under consideration is how a population, contrived to be useful only in winning electoral battles and assumed to be benign and conformist enough to be put aside by the political manipulators after that battle has been won, has turned out to be the exact opposite: assertive, non-conformist, politically ambitious, and supremacist.

    Both the secessionist Catalan leadership and the ambitious, left-leaning political parties with a local support-base and a local sphere of influence in the Indian states have failed to contain the genie that they had used as bait. In their respective political gambles, both have clearly bet too much than they could afford – and as a result, they are finding themselves being driven by the same horse that they had intended to ride for their march towards the throne of power.

    Inconsequential as it is to care for the short/long term losses incurred by one or more political parties in their various innovative risk-taking stunts for gaining power, we mourn (and highlight by the act of mourning) the irreparable losses suffered by the civilisational ethos of each of the Spanish and the Indian scenarios in this madness.

    Sreejit Datta is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Centre for Civilisational Studies at the Rashtram School of Public Leadership in Sonipat, Haryana. Variously trained in comparative literature, Hindustani music and statistics, Sreejit happens to be an author as well as an acclaimed vocalist who has been regularly writing and performing across multiple genres. He can be reached at

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