It is no secret that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have been flocking to India in droves. But what was once a purely economic compulsion to migrate, now has the added aspect of possible terrorist movement across the largely porous border. It is this that has moved the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs to suggest measures to check migration and deport illegal immigrants. So far, all eyes have been so firmly fixed on the contentious border with Pakistan, that little notice has been taken of the substantial border with Bangladesh. For years, political parties have been accusing each other of encouraging illegal immigration and using these Stateless people as captive vote-banks. It would appear that no party is above doing this and this explains why many of the illegal immigrants have been able to live in this country for decades. It is clear that successive governments have not been serious about tackling this issue in as humane a manner as possible despite as many as 32 Foreign Tribunals in existence. Now measures like border fencing, floodlighting and effective patrolling using modern gadgetry have been proposed.
But the idea of detecting and deporting illegal immigrants who have spread out across vast swathes of territory is going to be exceedingly difficult. In addition, ethnic and linguistic similarities make it difficult to spot the illegal immigrant. Over the years, it was often proposed that the government establish proper monitoring mechanisms on the borders, especially with Bangladesh, which could ascertain the antecedents of those entering India. Of course, nothing was done thanks to partisan politics and human rights issues.
There is no doubt that Bangladeshi insurgent groups have been involved in terror incidents in India. But this matter can be resolved more by engaging the Bangladeshi authorities as was done in the case of Bhutan. Guarding the borders with only a strengthened Border Security Force may not work too well. This, again, has to be done in cooperation with Bangladesh. Human intelligence inputs too are vital to keep a check on the borders though our approach seems to that this can be dealt with by militarising the border. Attempts to deport immigrants have always been a tempting weapon whenever elections are round the corner. If India is serious about tackling this problem, it has to begin at the border. So let’s hope that this multi-party approach will be a more holistic way of dealing with the problem if it is to have greater success than earlier proposals.