Narendra Modi’s warning that Bangladeshis living in West Bengal should get ready to be packed off after May 16 — the day of declaring the Lok Sabha election results — has triggered debates along the India-Bangladesh border.
A trip by HT to Bongaon and Basirhat — the most porous stretches on West Bengal’s 2,217 km border with Bangladesh — reveals the uneasiness among both Muslims and Hindus who crossed over not long ago.
“Most infiltrators from Bangladesh in recent times are Hindus,” said Gobinda Biswas, a resident of Ghojadanga in North 24 Parganas district. The unfenced border at Ghojadanga makes it a major infiltration point.
Modi, said Panitor village resident Gafur Ali, was crazy. “No one knows if he is planning to set 1971 as the cut-off year for deporting Muslims originally from Bangladesh,” he said.
According to Siddiqullah Choudhury, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind leader and an independent contesting the Basirhat seat, Hindus would be the worst sufferers if all Bangladeshis are asked to pack off.
Though infiltration is regular, many Bangladeshis — mostly persecuted Hindus — reportedly crossed over to India after the political turmoil there in February 2013. In March last year, HT reported how land prices in the border areas of West Bengal shot up as affluent people were buying plots to settle down if Bangladesh became too hostile to live in.
Large stretches without fencing make these areas easy to cross over. “I am from Haradda (Bangladesh half of Panitor village). Boundary pillars cannot prevent the 16 families from our village and 20 in the Indian half from meeting often,” said Bablu Mohammad Pahar, who cycled across the border.
Locals sniff an agenda behind BJP’s idea of treating Hindus from Bangladesh as refugees and Muslims as infiltrators.
The party argues India is the only refuge for Hindus, a bullied religious minority in Bangladesh, while Muslims come with a dangerous demographic motive.
Rehabilitation of refugees tops the agenda of the BJP candidates from Basirhat and Bongaon constituencies as well as Ranaghat and Krishnanagar LS seats in adjoining Nadia district.