The migration problem unpacked

Without a pragmatic approach to migration, instability will only increase.

The surge in communal clashes in parts of Assam—between Bodos and Muslim migrants—earlier this month was serious enough to require the army to be called out to subdue the violence. Such violence is a clear indicator of failure of governance at various levels. Good intelligence, sensitive local governance and astute political tactics should have kicked in long before violence escalated to riot levels. This didn’t happen. It is important to ask why it didn’t happen and hold the state government to account.

That shouldn’t blind us to the big underlying problem—an inability to evolve a workable policy towards migrations into India’s north-eastern region from the regions around it. This problem is more than a century old. The British couldn’t deal with it satisfactorily and ended up sowing the seeds of discord that exist to this day. The Indian republic’s record is no better. As Sanjoy Hazarika points out in his Strangers of the Mist (or Sudeep Chakravarti in a recent Mint article), while the issue of migration (of which illegal immigration from Bangladesh is an important subset) has been exploited politically, there has been no serious attempt to evolve a national policy response.

Yes, it requires a national policy response, for two reasons. First, while border fencing and patrolling can work to some extent, migration can be managed by reducing people’s incentive to migrate. People move in search of greener pastures. Second, the heart of the problem is not the flow of migrants, but their concentration in some areas. 10,000 Bengali-speaking Muslim people from Bangladesh arriving in India is not as much a problem as the same people settling in one village in Assam. [See this editorial in the Assam Sentinel]

Therefore it’s important for Bangladeshi economy to grow at a rate that will reduce incentives for Bangladeshis to want to migrate to India. It is in India’s interests to ease demographic pressure by supporting Bangladesh’s development. Proximity geopolitics is not easy. One of two mainstream Bangladeshi political parties is plainly hostile towards India. Even so, it is meaningless to think India can address the problems of illegal immigration if Bangladesh fails to keep pace with India’s own development.

More importantly, as this blogger has argued elsewhere, the focus of India’s national approach to migration must be to manage the flows in a manner that does not undermine the already weak social capital across the country, and especially in ‘remote’ regions. A work permit system that allows Bangladeshis and others to legally work in India and travel back to their homeland is necessary. This might not be a popular idea—but it is a better alternative to both pretending that there are no illegal immigrants and to hyperventilating that there are too many of them. Issuing work permits and allowing state and local governments to assign limits on the number of work permit holders in their communities will be an improvement on the status quo.

What about the politics, you ask? There is something in the idea for either side of the political spectrum. The Congress party’s fortunes in Assam will brighten once the illegal migration issue is settled. It can claim to have protected the rights of Bengali-speaking Indian Muslims who no longer face the risk of harassment. The BJP, for its part, can credibly call for the repatriation of all illegal immigrants.

Work permits for Bangladeshis offers absolute gains for most political parties. Their own calculations, however, are on the basis of relative gains — “does it benefit our party more than the other party.” Both great leaders and good politicians would smell a political opportunity here. We do have some of the latter.[How to fix illegal Bangladeshi immigration]

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7 Responses to The migration problem unpacked

  1. Manoj Agarwal 27th July 2012 at 10:21 #

    And on what ground will India rationalize the work permits given that it has a substantial population of its own living well below the poverty line. Lets stop pretending that this is a US-Maxico border problem.

    The first and foremost step is to fence the border completely. If there are any disputed areas, where Bangladesh objects, giving away a little bit of land is fine (already, Bangladeshis occupy a substantial part of India) but fence the border completely. And enforce the policy on no- illegal migration strictly.

    Regarding sending them back, India should establish a proper mechanism, in consultation with Bangladesh government, and see if they are willing to co-operate. Number of carrots must be dependent on their willingness to co-operate on this account.

  2. Pankaj 27th July 2012 at 20:31 #

    We have to organize our own Indian labor force with labor guilds and with proper laws of wages and housing.

    A permit system for foriegn workers is only feasible in a labor deficit economy. If we allow this permit system for foreign workers in a labor surplus nation like India with millions still living in starvation condition than it would amount to a state sponsored deprivation. And the entire concept of citizenship also becomes redundant if islamists are allowed to take away both land and jobs from Indians by this advocacy of permit systems.

  3. Pankaj 27th July 2012 at 21:22 #

    Also allowing in Bangladeshis who are islamists would make the already sinking demographic situation in many Indian states even worse. These bangladeshis are not going to go back but will be given voting and citizen rights by ‘secular’ parties who survive on political votes. Then you will have what is going on in Assam today replicated all over India.

    Past history is also very important when we look into this recurring violence. This population inundation program of the islamists into Assam or islamic lebensaraum was actually started by the congress party regime under Indira G. Acts like the IMDT were enacted to actually facilitate this process of islamization and change Assam demography for power. This power politics has now transformed into an agenda of islamic lebensraum.

  4. Pankaj 27th July 2012 at 21:41 #

    The most important question from the national security perspective is this – If the borderlands fall can the mainlands ever remain secure and peaceful.

    These islamists have grown strong in demographic strength not only dominate the border regions now but are also able to complete stop rail and road networks that is a key connection of the Indian mainland to the North East. The INI group should cover this aspect extensively in its posts and publications because it is a truly grave situation and is not highlighted by our corrupt and secularized mainstream media.

    If the state does not support its own citizens and is far too concerned with islamic votes for power than other options must be opened up. Bodo tribals and all Hindus of the region will suffer an ethnic cleansing if not armed and organized to retaliate. It is an islamic infested region now and the Bodos and Hindus will do the right thing if they go to war and reclaim their lands back from the islamists.

  5. Malavika 28th July 2012 at 09:22 #

    According to Acorn, great national interest is served by allowing large scale lebensraum from Bangladesh.

    Which planet are these folks from? Why do we need extra people when we(Indians) have high unemployment except to cause riots and ethnic cleansing like in Assam now and Kashmir before.

  6. Nam 22nd August 2012 at 18:25 #

    Are you serious when you say Bangladeshi illegals should be legalized with a system of work permits? Does India need additional illiterate/unskilled/radicalized and often Jihadi manpower? The answer is No, No and a resounding No. To even think this is absurd. The borders must be sealed, and weather the Bangladesh govt likes it or not, the illegals/Bangladeshis must be sent back, just like Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and many others have done before us. Let us not pretend that these folks are in any way useful to India other than to service the Congress’ vote bank. Get the spine to call a space a spade Acorn. Your readership is declining because of your PC-ness.

  7. Shekhar 10th September 2012 at 11:35 #

    And I thought Acorn was quite practical and tuned to the realities…


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