NEW DELHI, Aug 4 - The embattled Assam Congress has landed in a tight spot with US documents in WikiLeaks cables revealing that the then Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, was planning to bring in an alternative law in place of the IM(DT) Act, which was scrapped by the Supreme Court. But the UPA Cabinet settled for creating a Group of Ministers to review the repeal and �come up with an appropriate response�.
The latest tranche of WikiLeaks documents may prove to be very embarrassing for the Assam Congress unit as US Embassy officials, quoting Congress leaders, pointed towards the party�s soft corner for Muslim immigrants. Despite the public pressure on the Congress to fight against the repeal (of the IMDT) and introduce a further legislation ahead of the State elections in 2006, then Congress MP Kirip Chaliha had told the political officer at the US Embassy that the party would privately not oppose the decision.
Another significant disclosure has been that though TMC leader Mamata Banerjee is now opposed to the NRC, she was silent when West Bengal deported 489,046 people under the Foreigners� Act from 1983 to 1998.
After the IM(DT) Act was passed in 1983, deportations in Assam reportedly declined considerably compared to neighbouring States. The Economic Times reported that 3,00,000 people were deported from Assam between 1962 and 1984. During the first 20 years of the IM(DT) Act, only about 1,500 illegal migrants were deported from Assam. A Times of India story stated that the Muslim population of Assam witnessed a 77 per cent growth between 1971 and 1991, while the Hindu growth was 41 per cent, the US political officer reported.
Although the Congress publicly supported the IM(DT) Act, Kirip Chaliha told the political officer that the repeal had been met with a �majority sense of relief�. Acknowledging that the Act �put the Government and all of its apparatus in favour of the migrants�, he said the repeal was important to the people of Assam as a �signal that the Government will not legitimise the presence of Bangladeshi migrants�. Although the Congress must publicly oppose the repeal, Chaliha agreed privately that the Act was a detriment to security and that the Government �cannot be blind on infiltration�.
The repeal of the IM(DT) Act simplified the process of removing illegal migrants, but the lack of political will in Congress-led Assam and obstacles to the implementation would likely prevent any big rise in the number of deportations. Chaliha had emphasised that Muslims would not really suffer from the repeal as long as the Congress was in power because there was no political will under the ruling Government to mobilise the police, courts and politicians to find and deport illegal migrants.
A perception among Muslims that the Congress failed to protect them might hurt the party�s electoral chances and give a boost to the Opposition BJP and AGP in Assam. Political counsellor for the Bangladesh High Commission Mashfee Binte Shams was worried that an apparent split in the AGP and a weak BJP base would cause the Opposition parties to intensify the agitation against suspected migrants, most of whom are Muslims.
The US political officer reported that the Congress Government used the IM(DT) Act to pay lip service to expulsions for electoral gains, while allowing illegal immigration to continue unabated. Opposition parties like the AGP and the BJP deemed the law �migrant-friendly� and accused the Congress of shoring up its vote base by giving Muslim Bangladeshis the right to vote. As the AGP, AASU and BJP began to agitate against the Act, the Congress defended it on the ground that it helped prevent genuine citizens from being harassed.
The total lack of political will on the part of the Congress-led Government as well as logistical obstacles to implementation would likely blunt any surge in deportations, but the repeal would nonetheless intensify communal politics in Assam and hurt the Congress party�s electoral prospects ahead of the 2006 elections. The then Foreign Minister Natwar Singh�s trip to Dhaka August 6, 2005 would provide an opportunity to discuss migration issues and temper any negative effects of the repeal on Indo-Bangla relations.