The NDA government’s commitment to detect and deport all foreigners staying illegally in India is unexceptionable when we talk about the theoretical intent behind it. Every state has the right to deport illegal immigrants.
Similarly, the decision to create an updated National Population Register (NPR) by carrying out a survey of residents between April and September 2020, using Aadhaar authentication, is also a step in the right direction. If a state does not know who its legitimate citizens are, and who are entitled to the benefits provided by it, it cannot be an effective state.
But when Home Minister Amit Shah assures parliament that all illegal immigrants will be deported, and the government asks reluctant state governments to create detention centres with basic living facilities for those who are identified as illegal immigrants, the question that arises is starker: what after that?
Any policy to check the flow and monitoring of illegal migrants has to have an end-goal in sight but this is not clear at all. In the case of the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC), under which some four million illegals were identified last year, and the process of verification, inclusion and exclusion continues till the end of 31 August 2019, it is unlikely that so many illegals can ever be deported.
Even assuming that the government is able to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which will fast-track citizenship for roughly two-thirds of the NRC exclusions, who constitute persecuted communities (defined as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians), there will still be over a million illegals stuck in detention camps. It is highly improbable that Bangladesh will take most of them back.
The only logical end-game is one where there is a deal with Bangladesh to the effect that these identified migrants can stay in India without citizenship or voting rights, but with the right to retain what jobs and livelihoods they already have. In return for not deporting them, Bangladesh must accept that they are its citizens, and thus must allow them to periodically return there to vote and hold properties.
It should be an acceptable compromise since the burden of taking them back is not borne by that poor country. For India, the gain is that subversive and destabilising intrusions into the Indian electoral processes are minimised. The only illegal migrants who can be absorbed into full Indian citizenship should be those persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
With the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan, non-Muslims in both Pakistan and Afghanistan will seek to emigrate, and many will land up in India. But the big numbers will come from Bangladesh, where, by one reckoning, 632 Hindus are leaving that country every day.
By 2050, there will probably be no Hindu left in Bangladesh, and most of them will be in India, needing citizenship or permanent residency and work rights to survive. These estimates have been made by a Dhaka University professor, Abul Barkat, in a book on the political economy of agriculture.
Hindus are leaving Bangladesh for two reasons: political and economic persecution. The political persecution is easy to understand in a Muslim-majority country, but the economic persecution is rather less understood: when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan, 60 per cent of the Hindus were made landless when the state took over their properties as enemy property.
According to Barkat, some 11.3 million Hindus left Bangladesh between 1964 and 2013 due to discrimination and religious persecution, and if the daily rate of exodus continued, no Hindu will be left in Bangladesh in 30 years.
These are the Hindus deserving special rights of citizenship, as the Citizenship Amendment Bill envisages. But our country’s mindless secularists believe that this discriminates against Muslims.
The Bill can be rescued by the simple device of not naming the communities deemed minorities in specific terms (which can then get indicated in the rules given to local administrations that have to implement the law), while leaving in place an additional provision to grant asylum to individuals persecuted by the state on a case-by-case basis.
This would allow a Taslima Nasreen or a threatened Muslim blogger to stay in India permanently but not the millions who come here merely to benefit from India’s economic potential and subsidy benefits.
To simplify: first, identify and disenfranchise all illegals, but let them retain their right to work here with a proviso for periodic return to their homes in Bangladesh so that no permanent citizenship rights develop; next, fast-track citizenship for those persecuted and discriminated against in Bangladesh, not to speak of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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