Bangladesh Migrants: A Threat to India; P K Mishra; Gyan Publishing House; PP 304; Price Rs 910

A Diligent Field Report on Illegal Migration and its Impact on India’s Unity and Integrity

Bangladesh Migrants: A Threat to india by Mr. Pavas Kumar Mishra , retired Additional Director-General of the Border Security Force, is a rare book that provides deep insights into border management across the 4097 Km Indo-Bangladesh border and then goes on to discuss the grave concomitant problems like illegal immigration and cross-border terrorism and their implications for India’s unity and integrity.

The book is a veritable mine of information and analysis as the author dwells on the history of partition and illegal immigration prior to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation in 1971, the social, geographic, meteorological and demographic reasons behind this festering problem; the lack of political and administrative will to drive out the infiltrators in the post-1971 phase; the disempowerment of the brave soldiers manning the border; the pusillanimity of India’s political leadership, which remains trapped in the pseudo-secular jargon of Left opinion-makers whose influence on national policy is grossly disproportionate to that ideology’s electoral strength; and finally, the most dreadful of them all: Vote-bank politics – and the complete capitulation of the Congress Party and some other parties before the managers of the illegal Muslim immigrant vote-bank and their readiness to dump national security for a few seats in the legislature. This list is endless and it is a depressing list of gross irresponsibility which could prove to be perilous to India’s future. The book, therefore, details with one of the biggest issues confronting the country which has grave implications for national security, internal security, India’s demographics and the national economy.

Tragically, despite the enormity of the problem, the non-assertiveness of the country’s political leadership, specially over the last five decades, has resulted in demographic change along the border districts that has resulted in mounting social tensions, disturbing changes in the political landscape of some large states like Assam, West Bengal and Bihar and the entire North-eastern region and the emergence of forces which are clearly inimical to India.

The significance of this book is that it is written by a person who has had hands-on experience for many decades in manning India’s sensitive borders both in the west and the east and who has often come face to face with illegal infiltration, cross-border terrorism and at times, the human problems associated with illegal migration by hordes of Bangladeshis who desperately seek safety, better jobs and a better life in India. As Mr.Mishra explains in the preface to the book, India’s longest land border is with Bangladesh (4097 kms) and along this border, which has a complex topography, Mr.Mishra has had to deal with migrants who come in hordes through land and riverine routes. He speaks of the large scale influx of agents belonging to Pakistan’s ISI, the worrying delay in fencing and lighting the border along the Tripura, Mizoram and Khasi belt of Meghalaya; and the indifferent attitude of the people along the border towards the paramilitary forces like the Border Security Force (BSF) which is doing the thankless job of manning a porous and dangerous border.

This book is one of its kind because it is written by a senior police officer with a wealth of experience in border management and a deep and abiding commitment to India’s national interests. That is why Mr.Mishra has the ability to traverse a vast ground – from the minutiae of the state of a particular stretch of the border fence to the macro issues of national unity and integrity that the unstoppable migration of Bangladeshis impinges upon. For example, the author says there are 86 vulnerable border posts whose areas are prone to crossing and there are 115 gaps in the Indo-Bangladesh border fence! He then goes on to talk about the demographic changes that this infiltration has brought about in Assam and West Bengal, which is a warning bell for the entire country. Also, the rise of Muslim- fundamentalist groups in the north-east, particularly in Assam, Manipur and West Bengal, which will warrant higher allocations for border security and the mushrooming of mosques and madarsas in the border districts of North 24 Parganas, Nadia, Mushirabad, Malda, West Dinajpur, Dhubri, Cachar and Karimganj, which will need security-vetting.

Mr.Mishra’s border-management responsibilities took him all across the border and he gave himself the rare task of chronicling the situation in different regions. For example, he says he analysed the situation prevailing in Kokrajhar, Manipur, Mizoram, Silchar, Tura, Khasi, Jaintia, Agartala border, Sundarbans, Islampur, Karimpur, etc. He travelled to many char islands in the Brahmaputra by boat and even had a tete-a-tete with the Bangladesh Police. He interviewed village headmen, doctors, tribals chiefs, advocates, social workers, Christian missionaries, land-owners in adverse possession cases and residents of Bangladesh enclaves in India. His work and his desire to collect data took him also to all customs and excise posts and police stations along the border and border outposts of the BSF along the Indo-Bangladesh border, the Indo-Myanmar border and all through the North-Eastern states. Mr.Mishra also had the responsibility of border fencing and floodlighting work along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram and even in some permanent char islands in the Brahmaputra.

After all this effort, Mr.Mishra has made a series of recommendations to arrest the influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. He says all illegal migrants must be pushed back into Bangladesh at all cost; a new and imaginative plan to fence the border with Bangladesh is needed because of the impact of heavy rainfall on the fence and on floodlighting; strict measures must be taken to end the criminal-political nexus along the border; the gross misuse of the Public Distribution System along the border must end ; the ambiguity in regard to jurisdiction among forces guarding the border must be sorted out; firm measures must be taken to end corruption and illegal migrants must be disenfranchised. What has made the situation even more problematic is the fact that a number of Bangladeshi nationals who have come into India with valid passports have dissolved into the great Indian population. Therefore, the problem is not confined only to illegal migrants. It extends to valid passport holders who come into India from Bangladesh ostensibly for valid reasons like tourism, business etc and then do the disappearing act. .

In short Mr.P.K.Mishra has been a one-man commission on a silent investigation all though his career along the border and conscientiously collected facts. His grasp of the border problem is extraordinary as anyone who interacts with him will realize. Clearly an unparalleled feat for a police officer. That is why this book is unique and of value to India’s policy makers, security experts and democracy and demography specialists.

In the book, Mr.Mishra cites the opinion given in 1931 by Mr.C.S.Mullan, the Census Commissioner. Mr.Mullan had said: “The whole structure of Assamese culture and civilization has been threatened by the invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry Bengali immigrants – mostly Muslims from the district of Eastern Bengal , and in particular from Mymensingh….it is sad but non-violence in Kokrajar seems improbable….in another thirty years, Sibsagar district will be the only part of Assam in which the Assamese will find himself at home”. Census Commissioners can indeed be prophetic!

More recently, the country’s apex court has also warned the government of the direct consequences of illegal immigration into India. As Mr.Prakash Singh, the former Director-General of BSF, points out in his Foreword to this book, the Supreme Court said in this landmark judgement while repealing the IMDT Act that “there can be no doubt that the state of Assam is facing external aggression and internal disturbance on account of large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals. It directed the Union Government “to take all measures for protection of the state of Assam from such external aggression and internal disturbance as enjoined in Article 355 of the Constitution”. This was in July, 2005. Nine years have gone by, but there is little evidence on the ground to show that the Union Government has understood the apex court’s disturbing diagnosis. Needless to say, there is no evidence either to show that firm measures are in place to protect Assam from within and without. This is the disturbing conclusion that Mr.Mishra arrives at, too after diligent field work. One only hopes that the recent regime change in New Delhi will end the policy paralysis that has gripped the Union Government in areas of national security and that a new, robust policy will emerge to protect India’s national borders with the firmness and authority that national interest demands.