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Modi, Mamata and Migration

Kiran Batni kiranbatni

Updated: May 6, 2014, 6:05 PM IST
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At the peak of his campaign in West Bengal, Narendra Modi, in a series of attacks on Mamata Banerjee, tweeted: "People from Bihar, Odisha & Marwaris are not welcome for Mamata Didi but those from Bangladesh are. Time to stop such votebank politics."

The first point to note here is Modi's own statement is not supremely above vote bank politics: Biharis, Odiyas and Marwaris migrating to West Bengal form a vote bank, in a sense, that is much more likely to vote for the BJP than the Bengalis stationed in that state; so why not put the first three into the pocket, by appearing like their champion, when there's not much that can be done to prevent the Bengali vote from slipping away? And yes, why not put "the Hindu vote", if any, into the pocket by appearing like the most formidable enemy of the Muslims across the border?

Leaving these superficial considerations aside, we must note that the border between India and Bangladesh is not part of Nature; it was drawn by fallible human beings in the very recent past. You don't uphold a law of Nature when you respect that border. In fact, you throw into the gutter that law of Nature which unites humans who speak the same language. If international borders in our part of the world were indeed drawn respecting this law of Nature, India would be dozens of nations, not one.

But of course, we don't want such a situation because it doesn't appear to be a peaceful solution to the problem of human coexistence in the subcontinent. However, this does not mean that the united Indian nation must encourage reckless migration across linguistic borders. The Bengalis resist the Biharis, Odiyas and Marwaris because there is a Natural divide - one of language - that separates them from the other three. Due precisely to the absence of this Natural divide, the Bengalis on both sides of the Indo-Bangladesh border have a natural affinity for each other which cannot be written away by law, except violently.

The first lesson for India's statesmen, if any, and politicians, to take away from all this is that India is full of foreigners on its own soil. The Biharis, the Odiyas, and the Marwaris (to name only the three peoples mentioned by Modi; but, of course, everyone else must be included) are foreigners in India except in the states of their domicile. This is the hard fact. All the patriotism that one may invoke to make Bihari, Odiya, or Marwari migration into West Bengal seem godly, and Bangladeshi immigration seem evil, has not a tinge of morality to it. If there is anything bordering on moral to be done in Indian politics, it is to prevent the very type of migration that Modi thinks of as having divine sanction. The second lesson is that it's time to stop pretending that it's moral to prevent Bangladeshi immigrants from entering West Bengal. Stop them, because today's meaningless international border requires it, but don't spread the feeling that doing so is something moral and better than stopping internal migrants from other linguistic areas.
First Published: May 6, 2014, 6:05 PM IST

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