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Before election, Mamata playing illegal Bangladeshi immigrants card


By Amitava Mukherjee

New Delhi: A dangerous situation may arise in the country if Mamata Banerjee’s demand for granting citizenship to Bangladeshi immigrants living in India for more than five years is conceded.

The West Bengal chief minister has called for restoration of the district magistrates’ former rights to grant citizenship which, in effect, may facilitate further immigration from Bangladesh.

The situation in West Bengal is so grim that as early as in the 1980s T V Rajeswar, a former IB director and former governor of the state, was forced to write in a mass circulation daily cautioning against heavy infiltration from Bangladesh.

His article averred that in the 1981 census, the total population growth rate for West Bengal was 23.2 percent while that of the minority community was 29.6 percent. In the same census, the overall yearly population growth of the state was 2.3 percent. But in the districts bordering Bangladesh the figures were higher: 2.7 percent in 24 Parganas, 3.3 percent in Nadia, 2.55 percent in Murshidabad, and 2.66 percent in both Malda and Jalpaiguri.

The same pattern continued in the 1991 census. The average population growth rate of West Bengal was 24.73 percent – quite an abnormally high figure. But the districts bordering Bangladesh showed even higher figures: North Dinajpore (34 percent), North 24 Parganas (31.69 percent), South 24 Parganas (30.24 percent), Murshidabad (28.20 percent) and Nadia (29.95 percent). This proved that illegal immigration from Bangladesh was continuing. It is continuing unchecked even today.

The issue is sensitive and must be handled with statesmanship. Banerjee is playing this card a bit rashly with an eye on the coming election as she has reasons to be somewhat worried about a probable Left Front-Congress electoral understanding. But she has picked up the right point from this complicated maze of population movement.

Although Rajeswar had mentioned the abnormal rise of the minority population in the 1981 census, he had missed one vital point: exodus of the Hindus from Bangladesh since the birth of that nation. The hard truth is that both Hindus and Muslims are emigrating from Bangladesh to India and there is no point in giving it a communal character.

The only logical reason behind Banerjee’s demand for granting citizenship to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants may be her fright that a significant quantum of votes which the BJP could garner in the last parliamentary election may be transferred this time to either the Left or the Congress.

In the last municipality elections, the BJP’s share of votes had dwindled by about 50 percent and this portion had found its way to the Left kitty. As most of these municipalities are situated in the Indo-Bangladesh border areas, playing the “citizenship for the immigrants” card may have temptations.

It is likely that the BJP, too, will lap up this issue. During the last parliamentary poll campaign, Narendra Modi held out promises in this regard. Some time back Rajnath Singh, the union home minister, had lamented about the centre’s inability on the issue as the BJP does not enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

The issue has now become a double-edged weapon. On one hand, voting patterns in large numbers of constituencies in 24 Parganas (North) , 24 Parganas (South), Kolkata, Nadia and several districts of north Bengal may be affected by majoritarian sentiments arising out of the issue. On the other hand, the minority community can also influence results in 60-odd constituencies.

West Bengal is now sitting on a powder keg and no one should try to disturb the fragile equilibrium that is still holding the social fabric together. There is no point in crying over Muslim immigration from Bangladesh. Hindus are also coming. In 1951, East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, had 22 percent Hindus. Now the number has come down to a mere seven percent. Where are they going ? The natural answer is India.

Moreover, Bangladesh being a Muslim-majority country, it is but natural that there will be a considerable number of Muslims among the emigrants. Trying to give a communal colour to it will be unjust.

In 1951, West Bengal’s population had 79.40 percent Hindus and 18.63 percent Muslims. In 1981 the number of Hindus decreased to 77.10 percent while that of the Muslims increased up to 21.55 percent. In 2001, the share of the Hindus in the total population further came down to 72.90 percent, but the Muslims’ share jumped up to 25.37 percent.

As per the 2011 census, Hindus now constitute 72.5 percent of the population of the state. No doubt it shows a decline. This declining trend is noticeable in the minority community’s share of the total population also at 25.2 percent. But the rate of decrease is slower.

Many experts have however expressed reservations about the sharp decrease in the population growth rate in West Bengal during 2001-2011. According to the 2011 census, the growth rate was 17.84 percent in 2001 but nosedived to 13.84 percent in 2011.

Any attempt to give citizenship to Bangladeshi illegal immigrants may seriously jeopardize the political, social and economic life of the country as well as its security scenario too. West Bengal or the north eastern Indian states can no longer accommodate the Bangladeshis. So neither Mamata Banerjee nor any other political party should tinker with such an explosive situation. (IANS)

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Concrete Efforts Needed For Restoration of Democracy in Cambodia

“One drawback was the lack of courage to participate from other political parties, commentators, and civil society organizations who may have feared for their safety,” he said.

South Korea
Delegates take part in the Cambodian Democrats Congress in Gwangju, South Korea, April 21, 2019. RFA

Cambodian opposition leaders and supporters wrapped up a weekend gathering in South Korea with a call for a concerted effort to “restore” democracy to Cambodia and an appeal for support from signatories of the Paris Peace Agreement, which reestablished elections there after years of conflict.

Seventy Cambodian politicians, analysts, rights campaigners, and former prisoners of conscience traveled from around the globe to Gwangju for an April 19-21 Cambodian Democrats Congress organized by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), where they exchanged ideas on reinstating democratic freedoms in Cambodia amidst a crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The CNRP was banned by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017, months after its president, Kem Sokha, was arrested for an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

The dissolution of the CNRP was part of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media, which paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election. The CNRP has since regrouped and remains active outside the country.

At the conclusion of the weekend’s Cambodian Democrats Congress, delegates concluded that the crackdown had forced Cambodia down the “wrong track” politically, and required that democrats from the Cambodian diaspora unite to realign the democratic process with that originally envisioned by Cambodia’s constitution and the spirit of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement.

The congress called on all political parties, the armed forces, civil servants, NGOs, Buddhist clergy, academics, laborers and farmers, both inside and outside of the country, to “actively participate in the restoration of Cambodian democracy” in accordance with the charter and the accord in a nonviolent manner.

The congress and demonstration took place despite earlier threats from Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan that Hun Sen could “take legal action against demonstrators overseas,” without providing details.

Participants also urged all democratic countries—and particularly those who signed the Paris Peace Accord—as well as the U.N. and other international organizations, to “continue to render their assistance and support to Cambodian citizens and those struggling for democracy in Cambodia.”

The Paris Peace Agreements ended war between Vietnam and Cambodia on Oct. 23, 1991 and led to the United Nation’s administration of Cambodia’s government while the country transitioned to a system of democratic elections.

The congress demanded that Cambodian authorities also negotiate with the European Commission to seek political solutions and divert any possible economic sanctions leveled in response to rollbacks on democracy and Hun Sen’s crackdown.

The European Union decided in February to launch a six-month monitoring period to determine whether Cambodian exports should continue to enjoy tax-free entry into the European market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.

Cambodian Democrats Congress also called over the weekend for greater freedoms for NGOs and the media operating in Cambodia, as well as an electoral system that encourages fair competition from all political parties in a neutral political climate, where civil servants and security personnel remain unbiased.

The congress recommended that legislation be drafted to limit the mandate of all leaders to 10 years in office, and also called for a bill that limits the position of prime minister to two mandates, not exceeding 10 years.

The weekend’s gathering was accompanied by a candlelight demonstration on Saturday led by acting CNRP President Sam Rainsy to “liberate Cambodia’s democracy from dictator Hun Sen,” which were organized by local CNRP youth leadership and attended by some 8,000 Cambodian workers in South Korea and opposition activists from around the world.

The congress and demonstration took place despite earlier threats from Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan that Hun Sen could “take legal action against demonstrators overseas,” without providing details.

Reactions to events

Political commentator Kim Sok, who traveled from Finland to attend the events in Gwangju, told RFA’s Khmer Service that he considered the weekend a success, but said he believes some would-be participants chose not to come because they feared reprisals from Cambodia’s government.

“One drawback was the lack of courage to participate from other political parties, commentators, and civil society organizations who may have feared for their safety,” he said.

“But I believe that the congress was conducted well, both in discussion and through the resolutions it produced.”

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, told RFA that he is concerned he could be targeted after returning to Cambodia from the congress, but said he had attended in the interest of the Khmer people.

“I came here to meet with democrats who are Khmers, like me—I can’t avoid meeting with those who are struggling for democracy,” he said.

“I’m working with all crucial political parties, including the ruling party … Fear makes people become biased, so by daring to work with both the ruling party and the opposition parties, I maintain my independence and neutrality.”

The European Union decided in February to launch a six-month monitoring period to determine whether Cambodian exports should continue to enjoy tax-free entry into the European market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme. Pixabay

A Cambodian worker living in South Korea named Ros Saroeun told RFA that her mother back home had threatened to disown her when she attended the demonstrations in Gwangju.

“I’m not a politician, but I have a strong love for my country,” she said.

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“I am working in [South Korea] and I see that their laws, living conditions, and their people are good. When I compare it to Cambodia, I don’t know how we can experience that change. We have to strive hard together for our country and our future generations … If we don’t, our country will be destroyed.”

While Cambodia’s government did not issue a statement in response to the conclusions offered by the Cambodian Democrats Congress, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan took to social media on Sunday to dismiss the candlelight demonstration as “dry and flavorless,” with “merely hundreds” in attendance. (RFA)