Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi. Pic: AP.

Decades-long illegal migrants in danger of being tossed out

Newly installed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being anxiously watched over the treatment of millions of non-Hindu refugees and asylum seekers who have made their homes in the country for decades.

It isn’t certain. It is very difficult at this stage to forecast what Modi will do in any area – first because he is turning himself into a responsible statesman so doesn’t want to do anything extreme, second because there are forces in the Bharitiya Janata Party that will try to make him more hardline, and third because he may himself want to take hard lines but may not want to show this till later in this five-year government or till the next one. He has also expressed a public wish for good relations with neighboring Bangladesh.

But while campaigning for the 16th Lok Sabha election held in April and May, Modi publicly assured voters in eastern India that illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh must leave the country, at the same time pointing out that Hindu migrants from Bangladesh would be welcomed as refugees on Indian soil. Unconfirmed reports suggest that no less than 20 million Bangladeshi nationals are in India without valid documents.

“I want to warn from here, brothers and sisters write it down, that after May 16, we will send these Bangladeshis beyond the border with their bags and baggages,” Modi told a rally in West Bengal.

The BJP from which Modi springs is widely regarded as the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organization whose aims include the protection of India’s Hindu cultural identity, and what it perceived to be the appeasement of Muslims and Pakistan. Although the party has moderated its early radicalism as it grew in size and power, its Hindu nationalism aims remain.

Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, was a part of India before 1947. During its freedom movement, or Muktijuddha in 1971, when Pakistan split in half to create Bangladesh, millions of Bangladeshi people entered Indian territory to escape Pakistani forces attempting to reunify the country. Most didn’t return home.

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