Q: The state of Assam now has this big problem of a lot of people being disenfranchised; what is your position on it and what do you think will happen to them? Would you see it as the BJP playing electoral politics?
A: Well, foreigners coming to Assam has been major issue since the 1971 Bangladesh war. So many people entered the country then. During the Congress regime a process of identifying foreigners was started and now it has finally concluded. Four million people are now out of the new list, which means they are not Indian citizens. Well, going by newspaper reports it appears nobody is sure what to do with these people. But views coming from government circles is that they would be kept back in India, but without voting power. In the Northeast, before 1947 when Bangladesh was part of India, people used to move from one place to another. The local indigenous people want that immigrants should not hold land here. Allowing illegal migrants to work and live but without the right to vote would address the main concerns of the indigenous people. They don’t want to part with the little land they have. Besides, basically Bangladeshis are mostly dalit converts into Islam and so are very different from the Assamese, in appearance, in ethnicity, and also in religion. This is I believe already an international issue; the United Nations has taken note of it. There is really a human issue involved here. These migrants are illiterate people, very simple and humble people, rickshaw pullers and manual labourers, and they deserve sympathy.
Bp Thomas Pulloppillil