Assam is in the grip of a massive "anti-foreigners" drive, with the authorities stepping up efforts to arrest illegal migrants and pushing them back to Bangladesh while student groups catch hold of suspected aliens and hand them over to the police.
In the past week, seven illegal migrants were arrested from eastern Assam's Nagaon district after the Gauhati High Court declared them foreigners. All of them have since been pushed back to Bangladesh through the border point of Mahisasan in southern Assam. Six of them were pushed back late on Thursday.
"There is no formal agreement between India and Bangladesh and hence the only way out is to expel such illegal migrants from the country by simply pushing them back across the border," a senior Assam police official said, requesting that he should not be named.
Even as the authorities were enforcing the court judgment in which 61 people were found to be illegal migrants, groups like the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chattra Parishad (AJYCP) were also engaged in hounding suspected aliens from the state.
During the past week, AASU and AJYCP activists rounded up about 50 suspected Bangladeshis from various parts of the state and handed them over to the police. The infiltration issue is on the boil, with the opposition political parties joining the protests.
"Very soon several Assam districts would be swamped by Bangladeshi Muslims and the time is not far when the state would be ruled by a Bangladeshi chief minister," fumed Bijoya Chakravorty, a former central minister and a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.
The sudden surge in the anti-foreigners campaign has led to a sense of fear among Bengali-speaking Muslims, with AASU and AJYCP activists going after daily wage earners who are not Assamese.
"The victims who are being picked up by student volunteers were mostly Bengali speaking Muslims, and this trend is dangerous to say the least," warned Hafiz Rashid Choudhury, leader of the Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF), a minority based political party in Assam.
"We want that all illegal migrants who entered Assam after March 25, 1971, to be expelled. But caution needs to be taken to ensure that genuine Indians are not harassed."
The state government too had asked the opposition not to communalise the issue.
"It is unfortunate that parties like BJP and AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) are trying to dub all Muslims as foreigners. If that is the case, then even genuine Muslims in Assam would oppose the anti-foreigners drive," Assam government spokesperson and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told IANS.
"We must defeat the design of the BJP in particular to dub all Muslims as foreigners. A foreigner is a foreigner, be it a Hindu or a Muslim."
The AUDF maintains that action cannot be initiated against religious minorities just on the assumption that they could be illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
"We are against providing shelter to any illegal migrant from Bangladesh. But any action such as pushing back or deportation must be carried out within the existing legal framework," AUDF president Badruddin Ajmal said.
The AUDF chief said that the government must immediately upgrade the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and issue identity cards to all citizens. "This will help genuine citizens avoid unnecessary harassment."
The AASU led a campaign against illegal Bangladeshi migrants between 1979 and 1985. The uprising ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 that fixed March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date for detection and expulsion of illegal aliens.