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India mute on Jeevan Kumar's slaughter

By Kanchan Gupta
April 19, 2005 09:56 IST
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Late in the evening on Saturday, April 16, an assistant commandant and a constable of the Border Security Force, on duty at Lankamura outpost on the India-Bangladesh border a mere 8 km from Tripura's capital, Agartala, were dragged into Bangladeshi territory.

By the time the BSF got them back, Assistant Commandant Jeevan Kumar was dead. He had been shot at point blank range. Injuries on his body indicate he was brutally knifed before being killed. Constable K K Surendran, seriously injured, is battling for his life.

Bangladesh Rifles lacks discipline: BSF

Reports suggest that the two were rushed by a group of Bangladeshis in civilian clothes, dragged across the border and then set upon by Bangladesh Rifles personnel. All the while, the BDR kept firing on the Lankamura outpost. The firing stopped around midnight, followed by a hastily arranged flag meeting during which Kumar's lifeless body and a barely alive Surendran were handed over to the BSF.

The incident revives memories of the slaughter of 16 jawans of the BSF by the BDR on April 18, 2001. On that occasion, Bangladeshi civilians had trapped the BSF jawans into crossing the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya. BDR personnel then killed the jawans in cold blood.

The UPA government is yet to take note of Saturday's incident; even if cursory note, apart from the routine protest lodged by the Indian high commission in Dhaka, has been taken by the ministry of external affairs, it has been drowned by the sound and din of General Pervez Musharraf's visit. In 2001, the NDA government had let the slaughter pass because it did not want to 'upset a friendly government' -- then headed by Sheikh Hasina Wajed.

Truce along the India-Bangladeshi border is extremely uneasy at the best of times, with the BDR often resorting to unprovoked firing with the purpose of either stalling work on border fencing or distracting BSF personnel so that illegal immigrants, at times scores of families, can sneak across.

The Bangladeshi intrusion

In the past couple of months, the BDR has resorted to heavy firing on five occasions along the 856-km stretch in Tripura of India's 4,095 km border with Bangladesh. Tripura is one of the major entry points of Bangladeshi immigrants.

Ironically, Saturday's incident occurred while BSF Director General R S Mooshahary was in Dhaka, attending a high-level meeting with BDR chief Major General Jehangir Alam Chowdhury to work out the modalities of better border management and coordinated patrolling.

Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refused to attend the 13th SAARC summit in Dhaka, scheduled for early February, citing Bangladesh's deteriorating law and order problem as one of the reasons, the UPA government has been extremely lethargic in confronting the problems India faces from its increasingly belligerent eastern neighbour: illegal immigration, sanctuary for separatists and export of Islamists.

This despite the Supreme Court repeatedly issuing notices to the Union government on steps being taken to tackle the burgeoning problem of illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Last week, seven non-BJP chief ministers, including those from North-Eastern states, Marxist-ruled West Bengal and Congress-ruled Maharashtra, voiced concern over illegal immigration at the chief ministers' conference on internal security.

The chief ministers made three points: first, the inflow of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is fast reaching an alarming level; second, Bangladeshis in India are a security threat because many of them have links with ISI and jihadi groups; and, third, serious demographic imbalances are emerging all over the country.

Look at the galloping Muslim population in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and even Sikkim, and you will realise the mind-boggling magnitude of the onslaught of illegal immigration. Visit the border districts of West Bengal, Bihar and Assam where Bangladeshis have pushed Muslim population growth rate to anything between 19 to 25 per cent, reducing Hindus to minority status, and you will come face-to-face with the monster of illegal immigration.

And how does the Government of India, never mind its political tag, which has such overweening pretensions of being a regional power and emerging global player, react to the situation? By looking the other way, by sanctioning ration cards, by enlisting illegal immigrants as bona fide voters, by allowing Bangladeshis to undercut jobs in the unorganised sector, by giving foreigners sanction to squat on prime public property, by telling the police not to act against those who have no business to be on India's soil.

The Delhi high court, on the basis of a public interest litigation filed by concerned citizens, had asked the Government of India for details of what action is being taken to deport illegal immigrants. On March 16, the court was aghast when the government demanded that the hearing of the petition should be stopped as the matter was being taken up at the diplomatic level.

Not impressed by the government's skulduggery, the court observed that Delhi police had been 'very slow in identifying illegal Bangladeshi settlers' and asked the Union and Delhi governments as well as the police to file affidavits on the steps taken to identify illegal immigrants, withdraw legal documents like ration cards issued to them and cancel land allotments.

The case comes up for hearing again on May 18. Between now and then, it is unlikely that a government that is not moved by the slaying of a BSF officer by Bangladesh Rifles personnel will come up with proposals on how to evict illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Like its NDA predecessor that frittered away six years in power trying to prove its secular credentials by indulging in rank communal politics centred around minority appeasement, the UPA government, too, shall pander to absurdities that have no place in a secular State, that too one with delusions of power.

Recently, a senior UPA worthy told me, "Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, many more are arriving every day." So why don't you do something? "We can't, you see, because that would lead to a law and order situation." And thereby hangs a tale of wilful, criminal non-action.

Meanwhile, with all attention focused on Pakistan, the silence on Bangladesh maintained by successive Union governments has only emboldened Dhaka. Begum Khaleda Zia's Islamist regime knows that India will not protest, not even with a rap on her knuckles. Therefore, BDR can kill BSF personnel with impunity, and in the most gruesome manner, secure in the knowledge that there shall be no punishment for their crime.

The widow and three-year-old daughter of Assistant Commandant Jeevan Kumar in distant Ranchi can shed bitter tears. But they are of little concern to imperial Delhi whose masnad (the round pillows which politicians use) is as moth-eaten as that on which Bahadur Shah Zafar sat, pretending to rule India.

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Kanchan Gupta