The comments from Indian opposition lawmaker Saugata Roy, a member of the regional outfit Trinamool Congress, come as Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off his visit to Bangladesh. Several leaders from India’s ruling BJP have been critical of “illegal” migrants from Bangladesh trickling into India and altering voter demography in West Bengal.
Professor Saugata Roy, a former federal minister and an opposition lawmaker representing the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) in the Indian parliament, has blasted the nation’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for repeatedly raking up the issue of “infiltration” of migrants from Bangladesh into the Indian state of West Bengal, which he terms as a “non-issue”.
“Only the BJP believes that there has been a huge influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants into India in recent years. There is no such problem on the ground. They are doing it to communalise the polity in the state on Hindu-Muslim lines”, Roy tells Sputnik.
“Even if there has been a problem of illegal Bangladeshi migrants crossing into India through West Bengal, then who is responsible for it?”, the lawmaker from India’s West Bengal asks.
“It is the Centre [BJP-led federal government] that controls the Border Security Force [BSF, the paramilitary unit which mans the India-Bangladesh border]. Why have they been allowing this infiltration to occur all these years?”, he queries.
The BJP accuses the Trinamool Congress state government of continuously allowing “illegal” Bangladeshi migrants to settle in the state to alter voter demography and win political favour with Muslims.
During a public meeting this month, the BJP’s second-most powerful figure, federal Home Minister Amit Shah reiterated his party’s election pledge to end illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
“You vote the BJP to power in [West] Bengal. Leave alone illegal immigrants, not even a bird from across the border will be allowed to enter the state”, said Shah, who in 2018 also described illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as “termites”.
The comments had sparked a diplomatic row between New Delhi and Dhaka, with Bangladesh Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu telling India’s NDTV at the time that “no Bangladeshis” were staying in India illegally.
The comments by Roy come ahead of state elections in West Bengal, an opposition-governed, Bengali-speaking state where the BJP has been trying to make political inroads. The elections for the 294-member assembly in West Bengal will be spread over eight phases and are scheduled to begin on Saturday (27 March). Voting in the final phase of the state election will take place on 29 April.
While Amit Shah has predicted that his outfit will finally form a government in the state by clinching a majority in the 294-member state assembly, opinion polls released this month reckon that AITC head Mamata Banerjee, a bitter rival of PM Modi and the country’s only female state chief, will return for a third-consecutive term.
Many critics of the BJP, including Roy, accuse the BJP of trying to “polarise” the election in the border state, where Muslims comprise over 27 percent of the population.
“It is not our fault that the Muslims in Bengal don’t like the BJP. Maybe they should look within rather than try to vitiate the political atmosphere”, says Roy.
India’s Election Commission ‘Biased’
Roy further accused the Election Commission, a federal body tasked with conducting free and fair elections, of being biased against the opposition parties and “blatantly” favouring the BJP.
Roy has been part of two parliamentary delegations that approached the Election Commission on 12 and 19 March. The AITC delegation on 12 March asked the Election Commission for a probe into an incident on 10 March, when Banerjee fell off her car during a road show in West Bengal’s Nandigram. The Trinamool Congress delegation alleged that Banerjee’s accident was a “deep-rooted conspiracy” and that she had been pushed off by unidentified men.
In its findings released days later, the Election Commission ruled that the incident was an “accident” and not an “attack”, as alleged by Trinamool Congress.
“We will keep pressing the EC to investigate the attack on our leader. We have maintained that the attack on Mamata was a conspiracy. We haven’t named the BJP or any other outfit for that matter yet”, says Roy.
Roy was also part of another delegation that approached India’s federal poll organisation on 19 March to demand, among other things, the revocation of an order that bars state police personnel from being present within a 100-metre radius of a polling booth at the time of voting, mandating that only federal forces man the voter booths.
“This order clearly puts us Trinamool Congress at a disadvantage”, alleges Roy. “The Election Commission has shown that it is acting only at the behest of the BJP”, he complains.
For its part, the Election Commission has repeatedly denied the accusations of favouring India’s governing party.