`Politicisation of migration in Assam a problem`

More than 50 people lost their lives and almost four lakh were left homeless when ethnic violence gripped Lower Assam recently. The incident further left the ones, who are living in around 250 relief camps, even more traumatised when one such government-run relief camp was attacked, leaving a woman dead.

The eight days of ethnic clashes between Bodos and Bengali-speaking settlers not only shook the north-eastern state of Assam, but the whole country. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who announced Rs 300 crore relief for the state, even acknowledged that the recent violence in Assam is a blot on the face of the nation. Notably, the PM is also a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam.

More upsetting was Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s inept handling of the situation. It took him one full week to visit Kokrajhar, the epicentre of the violence, after the clashes started. And when he finally did visit, he left everyone fuming by saying, "Assam is not burning."

In fact, Gogoi even tried to deflect responsibility for the violence by accusing the Centre. He not only blamed the Centre for sending inadequate forces, he questioned why the government failed to dispatch forces earlier when it had intelligence inputs about the imminent violence in Assam. He further denied receiving any such credible inputs from the Centre.

In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Namrata Goswami, an expert on northeast politics, discusses Assam violence, the reasons behind it, and the ways to avoid such conflicts in the future.

Namrata Goswami is Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Kamna: What is the cause of conflict in Assam that has led to so many deaths?

Namrata: The cause of the conflict is mostly related to issues of land and illegal migration. Given that there has been a surge in illegal Bangladeshi migration to the Bodo territorial council areas, there has been illegal capture of land. This has led to insecurity amongst the Bodos. The absence of land records further complicates the situation. Given that land is a precious possession on which people depend for their livelihood, loss of land results in high levels of anxiety.

Kamna: How do you rate Tarun Gogoi’s performance in handling the sensitive situation in Assam? Do you think the violence could have been avoided?

Namrata: There was evidence after the 2008 violence in Darrang district over similar issues that this area is sensitive and could get violent again. There was an urgent need to have better policing to deter any such future violence. It could have been avoided.

Kamna: A sort of blame game has begun among the state government, the Centre and the Indian Army. Who do you think should be held responsible for not being able to control the violence in Assam?

Namrata: Law and order is a state subject. Hence, the state government is the first response mechanism. Also, the Bodo territorial council is a functioning body. It should have alerted the Army and police of an impending calamity.

Kamna: Should there be a CBI inquiry into the violence in Assam districts?

Namrata: There should be a government inquiry as to why there was no effective security mechanism to deter such violence.

Kamna: Do you think the Assam government will be able to tackle the serious humanitarian crisis?

Namrata: I believe it has the resources to handle the crisis, and with the help of the Centre now should be able to avert a humanitarian crisis. It will require intense police presence supported by the paramilitary and the Army.

Kamna: Do you think the Union as well as Assam governments lack political will to check infiltration of migrants into India, especially to Assam? How should India deal with the issue of illegal migrants?

Namrata: I believe there is a lack of political will to check illegal migration. The viable way to handle illegal migration is through a proper identification of migrants and issuance of work permits. The fact of the matter in Assam is that there is a market for unskilled labour that comes from Bangladesh. It is not migration by itself that is the problem but the politicisation of it in Assam. The border has to be made secure, and a data set on the number of illegal migration activated. Unless we have data, the problem of illegal migration from Bangladesh into Assam cannot be resolved.