The restive Darjeeling Hills in north Bengal, from where demands for a separate state of Gorkhaland have been emanating intermittently over the past few decades, is now getting worked up over the alleged migration of Rohingyas to the sensitive region, which has borders with China, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Gorkhas of Darjeeling suspect that the Rohingyas are being deliberately pushed in to the region by the Mamata Banerjee government in order to dilute the population of the Gorkhas there and build a loyal vote bank.
Many organisations, including the powerful Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GHM), have alleged that the Bengal government has provided documents like voter IDs and ration cards to the Rohingyas. GJM chief Bimal Gurung wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi late last month about the threat posed by the surreptitious and silent migration of Rohingyas to the sensitive region. Gurung has requested the Prime Minister to take action on this emerging ‘national security threat’.
Member of Parliament from Darjeeling, S S Ahluwalia, who is also the Union Minister of State for Drinking Water and Sanitation, wrote to the Prime Minister last week on this issue. In his letter, Ahluwalia said that he had received reports of Rohingya settlements coming up in various parts of Darjeeling Hills, including some very sensitive locations where the country’s strategic assets are located. Ahluwalia, in his letter, pointed out that the Darjeeling Hills and the foothills (called the chicken's neck) are very sensitive areas and the presence of Rohingyas there could pose a grave security threat.
The reported entry of Rohingyas into the region became an issue when a video clip of a group of young men in skull caps alighting from a bus in Kalimpong went viral on social media late last month. Though the local administration and Muslim community leaders in Kalimpong immediately clarified that the young men were not Rohingyas, the issue refused to die down. Disturbing reports of a growing presence of Muslims, many of them of doubtful nationality and many suspected to be Rohingyas, started coming in from many pockets in the region.
The Gorkhaland Rajya Nirman Morcha (GRNM), an influential body of Indian Gorkhas, has alleged that the Bengal government has facilitated the settlement of more than 50 families in Delo, more than 140 families in Lava (both in Kalimpong district) and about 130 families in Melli (on the way to Sikkim). “The new settlers have valid documents, but speak an indecipherable dialect of Bengali which we suspect is the Rohingya dialect,” said Morcha leader Santosh Pokhrel.
“The Bengal government is deliberately settling Rohingyas in the (Darjeeling) Hills and in the chicken’s neck corridor in order to dilute the population of Gorkhas and other communities like the adivasis and Rajbongshis in all these areas. These Rohingyas are being provided with Indian citizenship documents in a fraudulent manner. This serves two purposes for Mamata Banerjee – the dilution of the population of the Gorkhas and Rajbongshis weakens the demand from our communities for separate states, and also builds a loyal vote bank for the Trinamool Congress,” said GJM leader Roshan Giri.
The Rohingyas have been declared to be a national security threat by the Union government in an affidavit before the Supreme Court last year. The Rohingyas, according to the Intelligence Bureau (IB), are highly radicalised and many among them have close links with Islamic terror outfits. The Darjeeling Hills and the chicken’s neck corridor have many Indian military bases and assets and the infiltration of Rohingyas into this sensitive region could pose a grave threat. Security experts point to the threat posed by the presence of Rohingyas around the Sunjuwan army Camp in Jammu (also read this and this articles on threat posed by Rohingyas in Jammu), and say the reported settlement of Rohingyas in north Bengal could also pose a very similar and grave threat.
Bengal already has some Rohingya settlements which, alleges the opposition BJP, enjoy the patronage of the state government. According to some reports (watch this and this), a huge number of Rohingyas have been entering Bengal illegally by breaching the fences along the Indo-Bangla border. “The Mamata Banerjee government is providing protection to these illegal entrants and providing them citizenship documents for its petty political gains. The presence of Rohingyas in Bengal will become a huge national security problem soon,” warned state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh.
A Trinamool spokesperson, however, rubbished the reports and said that no Rohingyas have been settled in north Bengal. “All these reports are false and spread deliberately to foment trouble,” he said. But the Gorkhas are not buying this denial. “It is a fact that Muslims of doubtful nationality – they all speak a dialect of Bengali not spoken in Bengal – are coming into this region as beggars, petty hawkers, rag pickers and daily labourers. Many of them have managed to procure citizenship documents. They are growing in numbers at an alarming rate and they have already started posing a demographic threat,” said GJM’s Giri. He added that this change in the region’s demography would trigger serious racial and religious tensions. “This is a highly sensitive region and should be kept free of any unrest,” he added.
The Darjeeling Hills, where an uneasy calm prevails after the last bout of agitation for Gorkhaland ended last October after a long 103-day shutdown, is once again simmering with anger over the reported presence of Rohingyas. This anger could trigger unrest in the hills once again.
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