27 May 2014

Bangladeshi Migrants Issue : India Needs a Reasonable & Effective Solution !

North–Eastern region has been facing the consequences of violence for long. Though earlier ethnic violence was dominating, in recent past the conflict between indigenous people and Bangladeshi migrants has picked up. This issue related to Bangladeshi migrants was given communal colour and utilized as a plank in electioneering in North-Eastern region by few major political parties to gain few extra seats in the region where it had not tasted the success ever. If we go by such fantasy put up by politicians to gain success in short term, there may be negative consequences. Country may lose much more than it can gain. This issue is not much different from issue of Hindi speaking migrants in Maharashtra or Indian migrants to United States, Saudi Arabia etc. if we just leave the question of legality.

Brief History: 

Just after partition, Muslims migrated in huge numbers to Pakistan (then West Pakistan) and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) from India. There were significant differences of language, culture and life-style between the two parts of the same nation: Pakistan. Urdu speaking population was promoted, given jobs and other benefits while Bengali speaking population was victimized. The dissent grew slowly and Bengali speaking people revolted against the Pakistani govt. and demanded a separate nation. Massive reverse migration towards India started before and during India-Pakistan war of 1971 on Bangladeshi land, due to systematic torture by Pakistani Govt. machinery and non-state actors of Jamaat-e-Islami. It changed the demography and created huge pressure on Indian Govt. to feed and provide shelter to those people in distress. India was itself facing the challenges posed by poverty and food insecurity at that time. Even then with the help of tactfully diplomacy, plan and its execution, India helped Bangladeshis enjoy and live in a free nation. Though major population left India again, but significant population chose to stay.  

Importance of Bangladesh in interest of India

Chicken's Neck
North East is most secluded region of India. There is just a narrow passage called Chicken’s neck between rest of India and North Eastern (NE) region of India. Since this passage is sandwiched between Nepal and Bangladesh, there is lot of security checks which creates blockages in the traffic. Quite often, this narrow access is blocked by regional organizations due ethnic conflicts too. These make economic activity difficult. Accessibility is one of the most important reasons why NE region could not be benefited by India’s growth story.

There is proposal from India to provide alternative transit route through Bangladesh. This can potentially make NE region an economic hub and thus push India’s Look East Policy which is mired by conflicts. In last 4-5 years Bangladesh has done lot many things in India’s interest but India could not emulate and thus failed to follow its own Gujral Doctrine. So, Bangladesh is apprehensive about providing transit route to India even though it is clear that this transit route will benefit Bangladesh immensely.

Present political Situation in Bangladesh:

Major Parties
Awami League
Bangladesh National Party
Sheikh Hasina
Khaleda Zia
Present Status
Prime minister
Her party did not take part in recent election over difference with incumbent govt. for interim arrangement to conduct free and fair election.
Relation with Jamaat-e Islami(a hardliner’s association)
Against them. Had made amendments in laws to enable International Crime Tribunal to investigate and punish them for instigating genocide during Bangladesh’s freedom movement. In last two years, she has felicitated those Indians who had contributed in Bangladesh’s freedom.
Supports them and has formed coalition govt. with them earlier. She was against the judgment of tribunal and had fuelled the crisis after Shahbag protest.

Attitude towards India
Supports causes of India. Started a massive operation to destroy the terrorist training centers along the border.
Is not supportive of India’s causes. Recently she has been holding several rallies to alienate people for whatever support Sheikh Hasina has given to India.

Situation of Migrants

Migration can happen due to war, environmental disaster or possibilities of better economic opportunities elsewhere. In 1970s, Bangladeshis migrated to India because of repression by Pakistani govt., but later migrants have been seeing better economic opportunities in India. Migration is not India specific, it is a natural global phenomena. Many people from war torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq etc are taking risky journey to have a better life elsewhere. Migrants from Syria have changed the demography of Jordan. Many other countries like Australia, Saudi Arabia etc are facing similar problems.

Globalization is also driving the migrants from less developed countries to relatively developed ones. The United States is facing the problems due to Mexicans and Asians. Whatever may be the reason, the illegal migrants have become stateless people. They are deprived of even basic facilities. So, this problem needs to be tackled with humane approach.

Possibilities and Solutions:

India’s aspiration of becoming regional power cannot be fruitful unless it strengthens its economic clout in the region and export its soft power. India’s trade figures are highly skewed just because its economy is not integrated well with its immediate neighbors. China’s string of pearls strategy, expansionist policy and economic prowess are presenting challenges which needs to be tackled with tactful diplomacy.

Since present govt. of India has clear majority and is appearing to be decisive, it should push for prosperity of NE region by increasing various economic activities. In last few years, India could not move on many issues like Land Boundary agreement, Teesta river water sharing issues etc. due to indecisive central govt. might be due to coalition govt., biased politics of several regional and opposition parties.

India should reverse the trend of migration in Bangladesh by creating economic opportunities in Bangladesh rather than forcing vulnerable and stateless people to pack their bag. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi should follow the principle of “वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् which India’s culture boast about. Recent step taken by him, of calling heads of all neighboring countries in his swearing-In ceremony, is surely a very nice welcome step. India should take advantage of supportive Bangladeshi government and make NE region, an economic hub. It will also help resolve the problems of ethnic conflicts in the region. Reactionary elements should stop giving communal colour to the issue; otherwise India will become vulnerable to communal riots and terrorist activities.

I think present government will tackle this problem of Bangladeshi migrants with effective and reasonable methods different from its predecessors and apart from the ill-thinking of several reactionary elements. What is your view regarding this issue?

How Indian gov. should handle this major issue?

How India and Bangladesh can increase the mutual ties and contribute for each other’s as well for the regional growth?

(Written by Sujit Bharti, an alumnus of IIT Bhubaneshwar)



  1. For mutual growth , teesta river treaty should be finalised and a joint venture of indian and bangladeshi power companies can be finalised . It can make up for the power shortages in the nearby west bengal and northeast region. Also it will economically benefit bangladesh by selling power to india.


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