In an attempt to deter infiltration, Yogi government has launched a drive to weed out illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
After Assam, the drive against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh seems to be gathering steam in Uttar Pradesh which happens to be the most populous state in the country with 20.42 crore people. The Yogi Adityanath government's initiative against illegal Bangladeshis isn't officially called the NRC but it has been kicked-off with purpose of strengthening “internal security”.
Amid division among political parties and civil society over benefits of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, there are some social scientists who describe attempts to weed out outsiders as a forward-looking initiative to deter infiltration and document genuine residents.
The Yogi government's push against illegal Bangladeshis in Uttar Pradesh is part of its attempt to deliver on the ruling BJP's long-standing commitment to act against illegal immigrants – read Muslims from Bangladesh - and prevent them from enjoying benefits of welfare schemes meant for genuine Indian residents. Indicating the purpose behind the exercise, Adityanath said that NRC in UP is important for national security and would put an end to the sufferings of the poor due to illegal immigration.
UP police chief O P Singh has directed all district police chiefs to identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and other countries and collect their fingerprints for building a computerised database to monitor their movement and work permissions. Apart from a police-driven campaign, state government agencies are also directing traders, businessmen, industry owners and construction agency managers to gather and maintain identity proof of all their workers. The DGP has also directed his juniors to take prompt action for cancellation of documents obtained by illegal immigrants and book people who helped them procure official documents including ration card, voter card, driving licence, arms licence, passport and Aadhaar card. The UP police chief has also asked district police chiefs to identify places like railway stations, bus stations, new colonies and roadside locations where Bangladeshis and other foreign nationals seek shelter.
At the root of the anti-Bangladeshi exercise in UP is the BJP government's desire to address concerns of its core Hindu voters who blame illegal immigrants for cornering odd-jobs, mostly in the unorganised secotr, that could have been offered to them. The underlying feeling among BJP voters is that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are so desperate to stay in the country that they end up taking up jobs at rock bottom rates, thus, disturbing the labour market rates.
Traditionally, infiltration from Bangladesh has been a cause of socio-ethnic tensions in border states like Assam as locals there fear being marginalised in their own state. For a state like Uttar Pradesh, that does not share a border with Bangladesh, to undertake a virtual NRC exercise is seen with suspicion by the ruling BJP's rivals.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has already opened a front against the Yogi government's proposal to identify Bangladeshis, saying, "If NRC is implemented in UP, then he (Yogi Adityanath) would have to return as he himself is a resident of Uttarakhand."
Hinting at BJP's intention to scare Bangladeshis who have “acquired voting rights” into backing it in elections, Akhilesh Yadav said, "NRC is only a medium to indulge in politics of instilling fear. Earlier, it was divide and rule, now it is the politics of fear."
It is a known fact that most illegal Bangaldeshis manage to join the social stream in north India or the Hindi heartland by identifying themselves as residents of Bihar or Bengal. Their employers don't really have the wherewithal to check their backgrounds and are happy to employ cheap labourers.
Once the UP police go after illegals, there is a possibility that the Bangladeshis, who are capable of speaking Bengali, might look for safe havens in West Bengal or areas on Bihar-West Bengal border areas inhabited by Bengali-speaking people. The illegal immigrants' Bengali tongue may help them camouflage their foreign origin. Thus, the immediate strain of UP's drive against Bangladeshis may be felt by West Bengal or Bihar in the form of an inflow of illegal immigrants from the Hindi heartland.
Presuming that the UP police launch a high intensity drive against Bangladeshis, political and social analysts foresee a situation in which illegal Bangladeshis would be left with just two options – convert to Hinduism to benefit from the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill or continue to physically remain in the country on proposed work permits sans political or voting rights.
Those Bangladeshis who manage to evade detection, may try to shift to some other state – preferably ruled by a non-BJP party which is not gunning for illegal Bangladeshis. If this shift of Bangladeshis takes place from UP, it might have an indirect impact of improvement in quality of services and resources for UP's other residents, especially in urban and semi-urban areas that house illegal Bangladeshis in shanties and offer them odd-jobs as manual labourers, rickshaw-pullers, auto-drivers and domestic help to survive in foreign land, albeit, under disguise.
In UP, it will be interesting to observe if the virutal NRC ends up pitting Indian Muslims against “outsider” Muslims from Bangladesh. It would be a big victory for the Yogi government if it manages to convince genuine state residents that they would personally gain if Bangladeshis illegaly enjoying benefits of welfare schemes are weeded out. Also, the removal of unauthorised names from list of beneficiaries for welfare schemes – like shelter, cooking gas and medical care and insurance – would ultimately lead to improvement in quality of service for the genuine Indian residents.
Adityanath and BJP president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have repeatedly highlighted that illegal immigration poses a threat to the country because the issue has not been adequately securitised. The threat of sections of these illegal immigrants taking part in terror activities has now given the BJP-ruled Central government the foundation to firm up its action against Bangladeshis, despite opposition from certain quarters.
The fact that the Yogi government has finally started identifying illegal Bangladeshis reflects the growing confidence of Shah in the ability of the state's official machinery to deal with repercussions of such an exercise in the Hindi belt. It also sends a message that the Union Home Ministry has successfully resolved the teething problems caused by the NRC in Assam or figured out ways to deal with Bangladeshis or stateless people who get identified in the exercise.
Irrespective of the number of Bangladeshis that get identified in UP, BJP leaders are going to blame the previous Congress governments' lenient and permissive attitude towards illegal Bangladeshi immigrants for the current crisis. The detection of illegal Bangladeshis may also offer the saffron party a chance to point towards the alleged greed of Congress leaders to use illegal immigrants as alleged votebanks over the decades.
Social analysts say offering work permits, sans political rights, to the identified stateless people appears to be the most sensible way out of the vexed situation as physically pushing back illegal immigrants into Bangladesh could pose a diplomatic crisis. Work permits are a tested technique used by most other countries that are forced to address the issue of illegal immigrants.
The success or gain from the anti-Bangaladeshi drive in UP are likely to have national ramifications. It may inspire other states to go after the illegal immigrants who strain resources and services in urban and semi-urban areas. A hurriedly executed drive in UP may infuriate rights activists who may try to run down the government by imputing rightwing motive to the exercise. In this context, Yogi Adityanath would do well to ensure a fool-proof and professional exercise that sets an example for other states on how to identify, segregate and detain illegal Bangladeshis in a humane manner and ultimately rehabilitate these foreigners with work permits and biometric documentation.