The man likely to become India’s next prime minister, has asked Bangladeshi migrants to pack up and leave, raising the spectre of forced deportations that could complicate bilateral relations.
“After May 16, people of Bangladesh will have to leave with bag and baggage,” BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi told an election rally in West Bengal’s Hooghly district on Sunday.
The alleged presence of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India has been a contentious issue between the two countries and has caused upheavals in states like Assam.
Estimates of such migrants range from 3.5 million to 20 million.
Modi accused the incumbent Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal of playing vote-bank politics and claimed Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee supported illegal Bangladeshi migrants for garnering their votes.
“You have no love for people from outside the state who have settled in Bengal, but your face glows when people come from Bangladesh,” Modi said in his strongest ever attack on Mamata.
This is not the first time Modi, widely accused of pandering to Hindu hardliners during the 2002 Gujarat riots, has spoken out against migration from Bangladesh.
Earlier this month, he told a rally in Assam that local people increasingly faced unemployment as people migrating from Bangladesh were taking up jobs there.
He, however, believes that India has a responsibility to accommodate Hindu migrants from Bangladesh because they are victims of persecution .
Many however feel Modi is playing to the gallery in eastern and northeastern states where illegal migration from Bangladesh is an issue.
“This is a card he has to play to win a few seats in Assam, may be in some border districts of West Bengal . But elsewhere in the country, he has played down the Hindutva card, distancing himself from hardliners like Praveen Togadia and Giriraj Singh,” says analyst Ashis Biswas.
But Biswas recounts that it was during the BJP’s tenure in power that a legal process to scrap the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act was started in Assam.
The IMDT act, seen as helpful for possible migrants, was finally struck down by the Supreme Courtand after the heat on so-called migrants was initiated.