“We will seal Assam’s border with Bangladesh”: Sonowal

New Delhi , May 23: Sarbanda Sonowal, Union Minister and Assam’s likely chief minister, has said that when the BJP led coalition assumes administrative charge in the state next week, it will take the decision to seal the border with Bangladesh to prevent infiltration of illegal immigrants.

In an interview given to a news channel, ahead of his swearing-in as Assam’s next chief minister in the coming week, Sonowal, said, “The BJP-led government will seal Assam’s borders with Bangladesh, as we are concerned about ongoing erosion of Assamese traditions, culture and way of life. Inspite of India having a border agreement with Bangladesh, we keep receiving reports of illegal entries from that country. We see it as a major problem, and it will be my government’s endeavour to find a short as well as a long-term solution to it. I am confident we can achieve this goal.”

The agitation against immigrants started as early as 1979 in Assam. Led by All Assam Students Union (AASU), the movement called for putting a stop on the influx of immigrants and deportation of those who have already settled.

It gradually took violent form and ethnic violence started between Assamese and Bengalis, mostly Muslim.

It eventually led to the infamous Nellie massacre in 1983 due to a controversy over the 1983 election. In 1985, the Indian Government signed the Assam accord with the leaders of the agitation to stop the issue. As per the accord, India started building a fence along the Assam-Bangladesh border which is now almost complete.

However, Assam also has a large number of genuine Indian Muslim Bengalis, and at times, it is difficult to distinguish between illegal Bangladeshis and local Bengali speakers.

Allegations of discrimination being practiced by nationalist parties have been doing the rounds. There are also reports of Bangladeshis being able to secure Indian rations and voter identity cards. With demographic patterns undergoing a change after 1991, the problem of illegal entries from Bangladesh became more acute, creating both anxiety and tension in India throughout the nineties.

The first BJP-led NDA government at the Centre (1998-2004) subsequently ordered the fencing of the Indo-Bangladesh barrier to stop migrants and illegal trade along the border. It was then planned to expand the existing border barricades to include Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Mizoram. It is estimated that on an average around 91000 Bangladeshis illegal crossed over to India every year between 1981 and1991.

The immigrant population in the state is said to range anywhere between two and twenty million.