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Cross-Border Human Traffic in South Asia
Demographic Invasion, Anxiety and Anger in
Indias Northeast
Wasbir Hussain*

 

 

A region of rugged beauty and constant turmoil. This is how the seven States or provinces in Northeast India have come to be regarded and referred to, both within the country and outside. Encompassing an area of 255,000 square kilometres, [1] wedged between Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China, the region has continued to be among South Asia’s many trouble spots. History, geography, politics and economics have all contributed in making this region India’s turbulent frontier. Home to 31.82 million people, [2] north eastern India has a 4,500 km-long international border, but is connected to the Indian mainland by a tenuous 22 kilometre land corridor through Siliguri in the State of West Bengal - a link popularly and evocatively known as the 'Chicken’s Neck'. The seven States of the region came to be bracketed as the 'Northeast' after India attained Independence. To those who do not reside there, they are best known for separatist insurrections, sub-national assertiveness and ethnic strife.

Much of the turmoil in India's Northeast has been caused by continuous trans-border migration, which has altered, or is threatening to alter, the demographic profile of some of these States, particularly and immediately, Assam and Tripura. The influx of Bengalis from the plains of erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, has reduced Tripura’s tribal population to a minority. According to the 1991 Census, the indigenous tribes people of Tripura constituted only 28 per cent of the State’s population of 2.76 million. Three decades earlier, the tribals comprised two-thirds of Tripura’s population. [3]

Movements of people from East Bengal, later East Pakistan and then Bangladesh, into Assam and Tripura, and onward to other States in the region, have transformed vast tracts from land-abundant to land-scarce areas. In a region known for lack of industrial activity, the large-scale influx of people from across porous international borders has led to a conflict between the migrants and the indigenous people over natural resources, as well as employment, both in the government and private sectors. Such clashes of interest have directly led to the growth of violent tribal insurgencies, as in Tripura, with guerrilla groups targeting the migrant settlers from the plains, who are seen as land grabbers. The anger of these insurgent groups is also directed against the Indian state, which has come to be accused by these outfits as an ‘exploiter’, working against tribal interests.

In Assam, similarly, the issue of migration has led to the growth of Assamese sub-nationalism, at times bordering on xenophobia, mainly because of a fear among the indigenous communities of being overwhelmed by migrants from Bangladesh. The anti-foreigner (read anti-illegal migrants or anti-Bangladeshi) uprising in Assam, from 1979 to 1985, led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) — by far the most influential organisation representing the Assamese — was perhaps among independent India’s largest mass uprisings. [4] According to a conservative estimate, the number of people killed during the agitation stood at more than 7000 with another two million losing their homes. [5] The issue is as alive today as it was in 1985, when the agitation formally ended with the signing of an agreement on August 15, 1985, in New Delhi, between the AASU and the Central Government, then led by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The issue of migration and citizenship has, in fact, become the pivot around which Assam’s entire politics has come to revolve — an issue on which elections to the State Legislative Assembly can be won or lost.

 

The British & Migration

 

Assam came under British rule in 1826 with the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo that ended the Anglo-Burmese war. For 600 years beginning 1228 AD, and until the Yandaboo Treaty was signed, Assam was ruled by the mighty Ahom kings. To British travellers like Major John Butler of the 55th Regiment, Bengal Native Infantry, who had travelled widely in Assam between 1837 and 1851, [6] from the middle of the 19th century, the State presented itself as a land ‘with vast expanses of uninhabited land.’ In fact, the depopulated state of Assam’s society found reflection in the arguments of Ananda Ram Dhekial Phukan, one of the first well-known modern Assamese personalities. Phukan pleaded in the early fifties of the 19th century that, in order to improve the precarious condition of agriculture in Assam, European technology and implements should be introduced, and that the government should also import a sufficient number of men from Europe and Upper India to Assam. [7]

It was in the middle of the 19th century, again, that it was confirmed that there could be a large-scale production of tea in Assam on a commercial basis. This 'discovery' led to an unimaginable excitement in the London Stock Exchange: “a madness comparable in intensity with that of the South Sea Bubble seized men’s minds, and normally level-headed financiers and speculators began to scramble wildly for tea shares and tea lands in Assam.” [8] Traces of oil, too, were then discovered. This economic transformation was enough reason for the British colonialists to encourage migration into Assam, a trend that continued through much of the 20th century.

Two distinct categories of migrants came in large numbers — workers for Assam’s tea plantations, who came from present-day Bihar and Orissa, and oppressed peasants from East Bengal. The massive migration of tribals from the Jharkhand region (in Bihar and Orissa) significantly transformed the demographic structure in Assam. Such massive migration made the State, demographically, the fastest growing province in Colonial India. [9] The population of tea garden employees in 1921 was 1.3 million or one-sixth of Assam’s total population of the time. [10]

The British, to fill the coffers of the Crown, imposed heavy taxes on the peasantry, leading to a peasant revolt in Assam in 1861 and 1891. Unable to enhance the rate of taxation any further, the colonialists tried to bring in larger tracts of land under agriculture to boost revenue generation. This amounted to encouraging the migration of peasants to Assam’s wetlands from the thickly populated parts of East Bengal, mainly from the districts of Mymensingh, Rongpur and Pabna (in present-day Bangladesh). [11] At that time, of course, this was an internal migration of a deprived community in search of greener pastures.

Nevertheless, fears about the adverse impact of migration could already be felt. In 1920, the British tried to impose certain restrictions on migration and introduced what was called the Line System. This regulation prevented migrant peasants from purchasing land within specified areas and forced a large number of them to the riverine areas (Chars in the local language), segregating them from the indigenous people. Being a loose regulation it failed to stop or check the influx into Assam. In fact, two Assamese and a Bodo tribal member from among the nine-member Line System Committee informed the British authorities that “they did not anticipate that the new rulers (the British) would invite foreigners to come in such large numbers so as to swamp the indigenous population.” The note that these three members wrote said that it was the government’s “sacred duty” to protect the Assamese from this wave of East Bengali immigration. [12]

 

Our Land, their living space: Assam’s key fear

Demographers have observed that Assam’s rate of population growth during 1901-1951 was the second highest (137.80 per cent) in the world, exceeded only by Brazil (204.00 per cent). [13] This trend of a high rate of population growth continued in Assam in the years that followed India’s independence. Sociologist Monirul Hussain observes:

It is a historical fact that the rate of growth of population in Assam has been much higher than that of India’s average since the colonial period. Significantly in 1921, when the population growth rate was negative for India, Assam had shown a tremendously higher growth rate, that is 20.47 per cent. And the gap of growth between India and Assam was as high as 20.77 per cent. In 1901, Assam’s population constituted only 1.38 per cent of India’s total population. However, by 1971, Assam’s share nearly doubled at 2.67 per cent. [14]

By this time, population watchers in Assam were getting restive. Slogans like ‘our land, their living space’ were spreading fast amongst the indigenous Assamese, making them uneasy to say the least. The gravity of the situation was brought home by none other than the then Election Commissioner, S.L.Shakdher. He declared at a conference of the Chief Electoral Officers of States, in 1978, that reports from the North East regarding foreigners being included in the voters’ list were, indeed, alarming. Shakdher went on to add:

In one case [Assam], the population in 1971 census recorded an increase as high as 34.98 per cent over 1961 census figures and this figure was attributed to the influx of very large number of persons from foreign countries. The influx has become a regular feature. I think it may not be a wrong assessment to make that on the basis of increase of 34.98 per cent between the two census, the increase would likely to be recorded in the 1991 census would be more than 100 per cent over the 1961 census. In other words, a stage would be reached when that State may have to reckon with the foreign nationals who may be in all probability constitute a sizeable percentage if not the majority of population in the State. [15]

A by-election called for in 1979 following the death of a Member of Parliament (MP) was to trigger-off the first organised anti-foreigner movement in Assam, and this, in fact, went on to become the immense mass uprising known as the Assam Agitation. The circumstances of the by-election provide interesting insights. The MP who passed away was Hiralal Patowari, representing the Mongoldoi parliamentary constituency in northern Assam. The Election Commission therefore ordered a fresh poll to fill the vacancy. Soon, officials started the exercise of revising the voters’ rolls for the Mongoldoi constituency.

The exercise was reaching an end when the local electoral officer started receiving complaints that the names of many Bangladeshis had been included in the voters’ list.

In several weeks, as many as 70,000 complaints were registered against illegal immigrants. A tribunal was set up by the state government to investigate the complaints. It upheld 45,000 complaints or sixty-four per cent of the cases out of a total electorate of 6,00,000. [16]

There were other voices, too, although there has been no group or organisation in Assam openly backing illegal migration from Bangladesh. Religious and linguistic minority [17] leaders and organisations began to accuse the authorities of deleting the names of bona fide Indian minorities from the voters’ lists on the grounds that they were Bangladeshis.

This was the beginning of a whole new ‘politics of citizenship’ in Assam, and is an issue that dominates the State’s murky politics to this date. “The organizations behind the Assam movement estimated the number of ‘foreigners’ in Assam to be as high as 4.5 to 5 million, or 31 to 34 per cent of the total population of the state in 1971.” [18] The AASU galvanised the masses in Assam, successfully mobilising them to come out onto the streets, and enforced general strikes and a boycott of elections. No correct voters’ list (free from the names of illegal aliens), no elections — this was the slogan the AASU had put forward. The AASU-led anti-foreigner movement in Assam sought to halt the illegal influx of foreign nationals from Bangladesh as well as from Nepal, preventing these categories of people from taking part in the electoral process, and eventually detecting and deporting them. This was intended to protect the State, its people and culture against what it called the 'silent invasion from Bangladesh'.

After protracted negotiations, the Assam movement formally ended on August 15, 1985. The AASU and the Union government signed what came to be called the Assam Accord. This Accord fixed a cut-off date to determine who the illegal migrants in Assam were. This date was March 25, 1971, the day Bangladesh was born. The Assam Accord states that all those migrants who have come and settled in the State on or before this date shall be regarded as citizens. And those illegal migrants who are found to have arrived in the State after this date are to be detected and expelled in accordance with the law. [19]

The government announced fresh elections in Assam for December 1985. The student leaders who were at the forefront of the anti-foreigner stir transformed themselves into political leaders by creating a new political party called the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) or the Assam People’s Party. The results of the polls that followed were on expected lines — the AGP rode to power with an absolute majority on the euphoria generated by the Assam Accord and on just one plank, ridding Assam of ‘illegal aliens’.

The December 1985-elections also saw the emergence of the United Minorities Front (UMF), another product of the Assam Accord and the anti-foreigners agitation. The UMF bagged 17 of the State’s 126 Legislative Assembly seats and projected itself as a party dedicated to fight attempts by the 'chauvinistic Assamese' to harass bona fide citizens belonging to the religious and linguistic minority groups by branding them 'Bangladeshis'. The UMF won these 17 seats mainly with the support of minorities and settlers who were gripped by a sense of fear of being subjected to possible harassment once the AASU leaders-turned politicians came to rule Assam.

The Assam Accord may have ended the movement but politics since then has been revolving around the same highly emotive issues. It has created a divide between communities and has also led to a mistrust among the people. A superficial view would suggest that Muslims in Assam are encouraging Muslim migrants from Bangladesh to come and settle in the State, thus increasing the population of this religious group. This is far from the truth.

Dhaka, though, is often accused of pursuing a hidden agenda —of Islamist expansionism — in engineering a migration of its people into Assam. Bangladesh’s 'hidden agenda' theory is frequently supported by reiterating recorded statements by some prominent Pakistani politicians in the past. Former Pakistan Premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s book, Myth of Independence, is often cited by commentators in Assam to highlight the fact that Pakistan was keen on including Assam in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during partition. Bhutto wrote:

It would be wrong to think that Kashmir is the only dispute that divides India and Pakistan, though undoubtedly it is the most significant, One at least is nearly as important as the Kashmir dispute, that of Assam and some districts of India adjacent to East Pakistan. To these, Pakistan has very good claims... [20]

Similarly, Bangladesh’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, wrote:

Because Eastern Pakistan must have sufficient land for its expansion and because Assam has abundant forests and mineral resources, coal, petroleum, etc., Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong. [21]

A look into such passages reinforces the fear among the indigenous people in Assam, and keeps the issue alive. In November 1998, the Governor of Assam, Lt. Gen. (Retd) S.K.Sinha presented a 42-page official report to the President of India on ‘Illegal Migration into Assam.’ Governor Sinha wrote:

As a result of population movement from Bangladesh, the spectre looms large of the indigenous people of Assam being reduced to a minority in their home state. Their cultural survival will be in jeopardy, their political control will be weakened and their employment opportunities will be undermined. This silent and invidious demographic invasion of Assam may result in the loss of the geostrategically vital districts of Lower Assam [on the border with Bangladesh]. The influx of these illegal migrants is turning these districts into a Muslim majority region. It will then only be a matter of time when a demand for their merger with Bangladesh may be made. The rapid growth of international Islamic fundamentalism may provide the driving force for this demand... Loss of Lower Assam [the area close to the Bangladesh border] will severe the entire land mass of the North East from the rest of India and the rich natural resources of that region will be lost to the Nation. [22]

Sinha’s sweeping observations greatly angered Muslim politicians belonging to different political parties, who called him a Hindu chauvinist. These leaders castigated Sinha for virtually doubting the patriotism of indigenous Muslims by suggesting that a day might come when the districts bordering Bangladesh might witness the demand for a merger with the neighbouring nation. That is another story, but the fact that a top government functionary has decided to officially place on record the possible consequences of cross-border human traffic into Assam underlines the fact that the issue is, indeed, of paramount importance.

Government agencies in Assam, such as the Tribunals functioning in accordance with the Illegal Migrants Determination Tribunals Act, 1983, (the IMDT Act) have been going ahead with their job of disposing-off cases concerning illegal migrants. Assam is the only Indian State where the IMDT Act is in force to deal with foreigners. Elsewhere, the Foreigners Act, 1946, is applicable. Under the IMDT Act, the onus of proving one’s citizenship lies on the accused, whereas in the Foreigners Act, the onus lies with the police and other government agencies. Progress has, however, been extremely slow and the number of cases disposed-off, and the number of people declared as illegal migrants, has been negligible considering the figure of aliens living in the State as estimated by the anti-foreigner movement leadership. The Central Government's Ministry of Home Affairs has itself admitted that the functioning of the IMDT Act has been “unsatisfactory”. The Ministry has cited the following statistics, during a presentation in mid-1999 in connection with a court case, to prove its assessment:

       Total enquiries (of suspected illegal migrants) initiated: 3,02,554;

       Enquiries referred to the Screening Committee: 2,96,564;

       Enquiry reports referred to the IMDT Tribunals: 31,264;

       Persons declared as illegal migrants by the IMDT Tribunals: 9,625;

       Number of illegal migrants expelled: 1,461. [23]

It may be noted that the Demographic Yearbook published by the Registrar-General’s Office, which supervises census operations in India, said in its 1981 Report that as many as four million persons, residents in India that year, had reported their birthplace as Bangladesh. This excluded figures for Assam where the census was not held in 1981 because of the anti-foreign nationals-agitation. [24] Compared to such a large figure, the number of suspected illegal aliens formally declared as foreigners by the IMDT Tribunals and later expelled is indeed insignificant.

Students under the banner of AASU, in their continuing effort to get the Assam Accord implemented in letter and spirit, succeeded in persuading the Indian government to come up with a definition of ‘indigenous people’ of Assam. A definition was arrived at during a meeting in April 2000 between leaders of the AASU and senior officials of the Indian Home Ministry. 'Indigenous people' were defined as "those whose names figure in the 1951 National Register of Citizens [25] and their descendants." For the seven districts in Assam where the NRC of 1951 is not available, the electoral rolls of 1952 were to be taken as the basic document. In case of these seven districts, those people who had their names enrolled in the 1952 voters’ list and their descendants will fall under the category of ‘indigenous’ or ‘Assamese’ people. [26]

This triggered a fresh round of controversy in the State. Several individuals and groups in the State are unhappy with this development, [27] and argue that the AASU is not the sole representative of the people of Assam. They insist that it was unfair, to say the least, on the Union Government’s part to have worked on the exercise of evolving a definition of ‘indigenous people’ of the State by sitting with 'a few student leaders.' [28] The stage is set for a major confrontation and, possibly, a legal battle as well.

The search for a definition was necessitated by the demand of the AASU for 100 per cent reservation in the State Assembly and the State's seats in the Lok Sabha, [29] for the ‘indigenous people of Assam'. This demand again had its genesis in the anti-foreigner uprising (1979-85) and was sparked-off by the fear that continued flow of illegal migrants could soon overwhelm the indigenous Assamese, with the migrants coming to dominate the State’s politics. This fear found echo in the Assam Accord, in which Clause VI states:

Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people. [30]

Any move to protect or preserve the identity and heritage of the ‘Assamese people’ is welcome and there can be no two opinions about it. The dispute, however, is over the new cut-off date of 1951 (NRC) and 1952 (voters’ list) chosen to determine as to who would be regarded as the ‘indigenous people’ of Assam. Already, the Assam Accord provides for March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date for detection and expulsion of illegal foreign migrants. This means that people already residing in the State on or before this date are to be regarded as citizens of India residing in Assam. Now, it seems that the government has agreed to push back the cut-off date by another 20 years. These attempts at redefinition have, moreover, created resentment among a large number of ethnic and other minority groups in the State. Leaders of ethnic groups such as the Bodos and the Karbis feel that a cut-off date cannot be used to decide who is a native (indigenous) and who is not. [31] Minority organisations like the UMF say that it would totally go against the interest of the post-partition migrants and the riot-affected people from parts of Assam who had fled to East Pakistan only to return later. [32] An estimated 300,000 Muslims from western Assam fled to East Pakistan in 1950, in the wake of communal riots. Following the Nehru-Liaquat Pact later in 1950, these people returned to Assam in batches, till about 1952. By this time the exercise of preparing the NRC of 1951 as well as the voters’ list of 1952 was already over. The names of this category of people, the absentee Muslims, therefore, did not figure in these two documents.

There is another category of people whose names apparently do not figure in the NRC of 1951. They are the Bengali Hindu refugees from East Pakistan. A large-scale influx of this group into Assam began only in 1950, and continued thereafter. These are the ‘displaced persons,’ and the Assam Act XVI of 1951 made elaborate provisions for granting rehabilitation loans to them, thereby formally welcoming them into the State.

Nevertheless, infiltration has always been a problem in Assam. As early as June 27, 1962, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking to the Assam State Committee of the Congress Party in Parliament, said:

You refer to Pakistani infiltration. This is perfectly true. But you will appreciate that this infiltration from Bengal to Assam has been taking place for a very long time past... this infiltration should be stopped and effectively dealt with… Probably it will be difficult now to deal with illegal immigrants who came before 1952. We might, therefore, fix 1952 as the date of our enquiry. [33]

The AASU or even the Union Government may now find Nehru’s 1952 cut-off date proposal handy. But, the document that is proposed to be taken as a reference point to determine who is a native of Assam is the NRC of 1951, whose legitimacy in a court of law may be disputable. Legal opinions vary on whether the NRC can at all be accepted by a court as evidence under the Indian Evidence Act in support of a person’s claim to Indian citizenship.

For readers outside Assam or an international audience, these events or developments in a remote part of India may appear to be too local or even too intricate. But they demonstrate just how an issue like cross-border migration has come to dominate almost the entire politics of a strategically located State of over 22 million people.

 

Tripura: Tribal Resurgence

 

In May 2000, the north east Indian State of Tripura that juts into Bangladesh from Assam’s southeast, witnessed political developments that can have a far-reaching impact on the State’s already tense natives-versus-aliens conflict. A rag-tag political party of tribals, called the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), won the little-noticed elections to the 28-member Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), an administrative structure established in 1982 to cater to the interests of the State’s dwindling tribal population. The element of news here is that the IPFT, according to media and police reports, is backed by the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), [34] a dreaded, tribal separatist, guerrilla group that is fighting for an independent tribal homeland outside India. The main grouse of indigenous tribals and militant groups like the NLFT is over the increasing pressure on tribal lands and culture as a result of the ever-growing population of Bengali migrants from the plains. The tribals’ anxiety in Tripura is the same as that of the natives of Assam — the invasion by ‘outsiders’, and is, in a sense, far more acute since the indigenous groups have already been reduced to a minority. The rise to power of a rebel-supported political party like the IPFT for the first time since the formation of the Tribal Council is a definite sign of tribal resurgence in the State. Tripura could well be among the few places in South Asia where the natives have been reduced to a minority by hordes of migrants in a span of under 50 years. B.G. Verghese observes:

Tripura is the Northeast’s nightmare being a state whose demographic transformation has rendered its original inhabitants a minority in what was once a proud tribal kingdom ruled by a succession of 183 Tripuri princes who held sway over a land that finds mention in the Mahabharata and Ain-i-Akbari and whose history is recorded over the centuries in the Rajamala, the state chronicle. [35]

The Maharaja or the King of Tripura enacted legislations in 1917 and 1925 to acquire lands for tea cultivation. This encouraged migration. Moreover, Tripura rulers had adopted Bengali for running their administration. This attracted Bengalis from East Bengal to the area.

Artisans followed. Poverty, famine, landlessness and the exploitation of zamindars (land-lords) drove Bengali peasants and others in distress to Tripura. By 1931, the number of immigrants from various other regions had risen to 114,383, the vast majority from Bengal or Assam. [36]

Even at that time, the rulers of the day had anticipated trouble for the State’s tribes people. The Maharaja in 1931 and again in 1943 reserved land for use in agriculture by five tribal groups in the State: Tripuris, Reangs, Jamatias, Noatias and Halams.

The tribals in princely Tripura, where the ‘Excluded Areas’ and ‘Inner Line’ provisions were introduced “only in the 1940s through the creation of a tribal reserve, were the most apprehensive about a possible large-scale influx of Bengalis.” [37] Their fears came true with the Partition of India and Pakistan, which brought about a dramatic transformation of Tripura’s demographic profile. Tripura acceded to India on August 13, 1947 and a complete merger with India took place on October 15, 1949. Waves of migration from what became East Pakistan started into Tripura on a day-to-day basis. “Attacks on Hindus in East Pakistan in the 1960s led to many refugees settling in Tripura. One estimate says that 600 persons fled to Tripura every day after the assaults.” [38] This in-migration forced the State government to seek de-notification of the lands reserved earlier for the tribals. The systematic process of land alienation had begun, and with it the bloody conflict between the natives and the aliens or settlers.

By the mid-sixties, the tribals in the State were getting more and more restive. A tribal political party, the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) was formed in 1967. In the neighbouring province of Mizoram, tribal chieftain Laldenga had formed a separatist guerrilla group called the Mizo National Front (MNF). The formation of the MNF stirred the imagination of Tripura tribals, and men like Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl established the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) in 1978. The activities of the TUJS were, thus, both political and militaristic. In the words of an analyst,

On the one hand [it carried out] mass action through rallies and meetings and on the other [made] a concerted effort to build up a large body of volunteers trained in guerrilla warfare. Harangkhawl was the crucial link in the delicate chain, the bridge between the party's legitimate and underground activities. [39]

By mid-1979, the TNV carried out a series of attacks on the settlers as well as what they considered as the symbols of governmental authority, such as the security forces. The declared aim of these activities was to protect the distinct identity of the tribals from the ‘invaders from outside.’

Tripura has also witnessed a sizeable infiltration of Buddhist Chakma refugees from Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts. As Verghese notes:

One of the components of the Bangladeshi influx is the Chakma refugees originally numbering around 70,000. These Buddhist tribals fled the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the 1980s after the Bangladeshi government settled thousands of plains Muslims in this relatively sparsely populated hill region. [40]

For the State of Tripura, the influx of Chakmas created a dual set of problems. In the words of Partha S. Ghosh, a noted social scientist:

On the one hand it [had] to live with the problem of the intermittent flux of refugees… On the other, the disturbed atmosphere on the border has encouraged its own extremist elements, particularly the TNV, to carry on their activities with impunity from their hideouts across the border. [41]

A look at the official census figures tell Tripura’s story. During the first census of independent Tripura (1876-77), the tribal population stood at 67,906 as against the province’s total population of 91,759. In 1901, Tripura’s total population was 173,325 and 92,477 were tribals. A look at Tripura’s census figures from 1951 to 1991 clearly shows how the migrants have outnumbered the indigenous tribals:

 

 

 

Year

Population

Growth rate

Total

Tribal

Total

Tribal

1951

639,929

237,953

24.6

36.8

1961

1,142,005

360,070

78.7

31.5

1971

1,556,342

450,544

36.3

25.0

1981

2,053,058

583,920

32.0

30.0

1991

2,757,205

853,345

34.0

46.0

Source: ANNEXURE-I of the Memorandum Submitted by the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity to Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Agartala, March 27, 2000.

 

Today, violence is the order of the day in this State. From April 10, 1993 to December 31, 1999, a total of 1,018 persons (656 non-tribals and 362 tribals) have been killed and 2,001 (1,663 non-tribals and 338 tribals) kidnapped in the state. [42]

The situation is one of a bitter ethnic feud between the tribals and the settlers from the plains. The tribals are clearly on a fight-back mode, both politically and through an unlawful armed struggle. Union Minister for Home Affairs, Lal Krishna Advani, visited Tripura over March 27-28, 2000, to make an on-the-spot assessment of the situation. Tribal leaders representing the TUJS presented a memorandum to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the burden of which was the protection of tribals’ rights. The TUJS articulated the following major demands:

       More power to the TTAADC.

       Barbed-wire fence along the State’s 856 kilometre long border with Bangladesh to check the influx of aliens.

       Implementation of the Indira-Mujib Pact (the agreement between Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh’s main architect Sheikh Mujibur Rehman) in terms of which the post 1971 migrants from that country are to be pushed back.

       And the introduction of an Inner-Line Permit system to check the entry of plainsmen to the Tribal Council area. [43]

Simply put, the tribals in Tripura today are bent on ensuring that their population in the Tribal Council area does not come below the existing 70 per cent (as already mentioned, the overall tribal population in the State is as low as 28 per cent).

Tremor in Arunachal, on the Chinese Frontier

 

Sandwiched between three foreign neighbours (China on the North, Myanmar on the East and Bhutan on the West), Arunachal Pradesh is by far the remotest of the Indian States. Arunachal’s recent history of administration dates back to 1838 when the British extended their administration to the frontiers that now form this province. The area was inhabited exclusively by tribal communities, with diverse cultures, values and socio-religious norms. The British made sincere efforts to preserve these tribal societies in their pristine form and to protect them from any outside interference.

Later, the Constituent Assembly of India, while preparing India’s Constitution, considered the aspect of immigration vis--vis what is now Arunachal Pradesh. The members of the Constituent Assembly noted that the hill people were extremely nervous about outsiders, and felt they were greatly in need of protection against encroachment (of land) and exploitation. They attached considerable importance to existing regulations, such as the Chin Hills Regulation. The Constituent Assembly considered that the fears of the hill people regarding unrestrained liberty to outsiders was not without justification, and recognised the depth of their feelings. [44]

The Constitution of India too, which came into force on January 26, 1950, recognised the exclusivity of the area and the need for special protection of its indigenous people. From the status of a Union Territory directly under Central rule (through a federal representative), Arunachal Pradesh was conferred full Statehood on February 20, 1987. Until then, what is known as the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, was in force in the area. This Regulation provided that no person other than local natives shall pass through the tracts without a ‘pass’ and that no person who is not a native of the district (later Union Territory) shall acquire any interest in land or the produce of land. When Arunachal Pradesh became a State in 1987, the Inner Line Permit system was retained, keeping in view the sensitivity of the area. The employees of the State Government, Central Government, public enterprises, business community and labourers, all Indian citizens, were given Inner Line Permits by virtue of their service within the State, but have to leave the area when the contractual work is over, in view of the fact that they cannot reside or settle as per the laws applicable to the area. [45] These provisions give a clear indication of the exclusivity of the area and the protective cover devised by the government for its people.

Otherwise an island of peace in the insurgency-hit Northeast region, Arunachal Pradesh, too, has been gripped by a xenophobic fervour over the past three decades. It all started with the arrival in India of the Buddhist Chakma and the Hajong refugees from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and the Mymensingh districts of erstwhile East Pakistan. These refugees came to Tripura and Mizoram over the period 1964-1969, partly to escape the alleged religious persecution in East Pakistan and partly due to their forced displacement as a result of the construction of the Kaptai Dam in that country. Verghese Notes:

It was not possible to hold these refugees in Tripura in the aftermath of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war and the Mizo insurgency which had had a fallout in the CHT and Tripura. The central government accordingly decided to relocate the Chakmas elsewhere and probably thought of Arunachal in view of its relative low density of population (8,64,558 people according to the 1991 Census in an 83,743 square kilometre area) and the proximity of other Buddhist tribes.... [46]

The decision to settle these refugees in Arunachal Pradesh (then known as the North East Frontier Agency, NEFA) was taken in 1964 by the then Governor of Assam, Vishnu Sahay, who was administering the Frontier. During 1964-1969, a total of 2,748 families of Chakma and Hajong refugees, comprising 14,888 persons, were settled at three locations in Arunachal in the districts of Lohit, Changlang and Papum Pare. [47] The government’s White Paper says that by October 1979, the number of the refugees swelled to 21,494. The estimated population of these refugees according to the 1991 Census is 30,064. The refugees themselves, the White Paper says, put their present number at 65,000.

The Arunachalese greatly resented the government’s decision to settle the refugees in their area without consulting the local tribal communities. [48] From time to time, they demanded their repatriation. The Indian Government replied in no uncertain terms that the Chakma refugees were eligible for Indian citizenship, but stopped short of actually initiating moves to confer such citizenship. In 1992 and 1993, in replies to an MP from Arunachal Pradesh and to the State Chief Minister respectively, the then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, M.M. Jacob, stated categorically that “the central government is strongly of the opinion that citizenship should be granted to these refugees to which they are entitled under the Citizenship Act, 1955.” [49] Jacob, the official document says, also urged the Arunachal Pradesh government to immediately grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees so that they enjoy all rights that flow from it.

This was the start of a bitter anti-refugee agitation in the frontier State. The State’s powerful student group, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), issued ‘Quit Arunachal’ notices on these refugees in July 1994, and soon slogans started appearing on all available wall space in the State’s major towns against the ‘unwanted guests’. There were cases of arson and violence directed against the refugees; their children were denied school admission and medical facilities; trade licences were cancelled; and a general social boycott was imposed. A ruling by the High Court and then by the Supreme Court, India’s apex court, that the Chakma and Hajongs in Arunachal Pradesh were foreigners, greatly strengthened the position of the indigenous Arunachali tribals. Then, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stepped in and filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court charging the State Government of remaining a mute spectator to what it called 'gross human rights violations' against the minority Chakmas and Hajongs in the State. Both the State government and the student outfit denied these charges. [50] In fact, all forces in the State closed ranks against the refugees. This was an emotive issue and could cost any political party an election if it were to show any leniency or favour towards the refugees. The issue remains unresolved. With New Delhi failing to initiate any new move to confer citizenship on the Chakma and Hajong refugees, students and political parties appear to have decided to adopt a wait and watch approach. This could well be the lull before the storm. All it needs is a spark for a fresh anti-refugee stir in this State. And an election could well provide that spark. As in Assam, in Arunachal Pradesh, too, the ‘outsider’ issue has come to dominate local politics to a great extent.

 

The view from Bangladesh

 

To put it simply, both the Government and a majority of intellectuals and Think Tanks in Bangladesh deny that there has been any illegal influx of their people into Assam or any other part of India. They claim that the economy of the Indian States bordering Bangladesh is not sound and, therefore, does not have anything to attract their people to cross over. Dr. S.A. Malek, political adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, asserts: “Why should our people migrate to Assam or anywhere else in India? The living standards in Bangladesh today is quite satisfactory.” [51] Dhaka’s non-government Track II policy influencers are, however, simultaneously making out a case for lebensraum or living space for their country and people. Today, analysts and academicians like former Foreign Secretary and former High Commissioner to India, Farooq Shoban, and Chairman of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus, talk about visa-less travel, border-less trade and other policies that would remove restrictions on the movement of their population across the international border.

The idea of lebensraum has been variously articulated in Bangladesh for a long time, though the use of the expression itself is relatively recent. In the early nineties, Sadeq Khan, a former diplomat, stated:

All projections, however, clearly indicate that by the next decade, that is to say by the first decade of the 21st century, Bangladesh will face a serious crisis of lebensraum... if consumer benefit is considered to be better served by borderless competitive trade of labour, there is no reason why regional and international co-operation could not be worked out to plan and execute population movements and settlements to avoid critical demographic pressure in pockets of high concentration... A natural overflow of population pressure is very much on the cards and will not be restrainable by barbed wire or border patrol measures. The natural trend of population overflow from Bangladesh is towards the sparsely populated lands in the South East, in the Arakan side and of the North East in the Seven Sisters side of the Indian sub-continent. [52]

Of late, this idea of a free movement of people seems to have enough buyers within Bangladesh, and has been strongly articulated by several leading thinkers, economists and former diplomats there. [53] There was strong support for a regime of 'hassle-free' cross-border migration of people. S.A. Malek, despite his denials of cross-border migratory pressures within his country, readily agreed with the view that an effective sub-regional co-operation between Eastern India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal under the aegis of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) but distinct from it, would be beneficial for the people of this sub-region in so far as matters of trade and travel were concerned. [54]

Similarly opinions were expressed by Muhammad Yunus [55] in favour of sub-regional linkages between Eastern India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. He goes on to talk of a possible European Union type of structure. Nevertheless, even as he speaks of borderless trade and visa-less travel in the sub-region, Yunus does not think that there is any economic incentive for Bangladeshis to migrate to Assam or any other north eastern Indian State. “Bangladeshis would rather like to migrate to such Indian cities as Chennai, Delhi or Hyderabad where the economies are looking up.” [56]

Farooq Sobhan, suggested that a document like an identity card should suffice for people to travel between the two nations. He also favours a ‘work permit’ mechanism for workers to stay and work in the two countries. Sobhan, however, conceded that there was 'some' Bangladeshi migration into India's Northeast: “I see no reason why we should not acknowledge that there has been some migration to Assam.” [57]

The refrain among a section of Bangladesh’s elite seems to be the same. Prof. Amena Mohsin [58] for instance, asserts: “Migration is a normal and natural phenomenon and cannot be stopped. The need today is to evolve ways to legalise it.” Erecting a barbed-wire fence along the Indo-Bangladesh border to check migration of people cannot serve anybody’s purpose, she observed. [59]

The Bangladeshi assertion, however, that the state of the country’s economy is not so bad as to encourage large-scale migration, is untenable. A Dhaka-based think-tank, the Centre for Policy Dialogue states:

The state of the economy in the financial year (FY) 1999, representing the period from July 1, 1998 to June 30, 1999, presents a mixed record depending on the time perspective within which it is viewed. If we look at the events specific to FY99, the economy performed better than might have been expected. If, however, we take the long view then a variety of governance problems appear to have aggravated Bangladesh’s development crisis, which poses serious hazards for the country in the days ahead. [60]

Bangladesh was hit by devastating floods in the first half of 1999, the worst such disaster in contemporary memory. Yet, its economy revived quite well, mainly due to the impressive recovery in crop production (GDP growth in 1999 was estimated at 5.2 per cent according to the CPD study). But the CPD study also notes:

...without prejudice to the impact of the floods, the inability to enhance the revenue effort by the Government of Bangladesh remains a longer term problem. A revenue-GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio of below 12 per cent puts Bangladesh in the class of Sub-Saharan Africa. [61]

On Poverty Alleviation, the CPD study notes:

The agenda for poverty alleviation remains at best on the rhetorical agenda of this government (the government of the day) as it has been on the agenda of its predecessors... The inherited approach to poverty alleviation, based on a plethora of donor funded projects under implementation by a variety of ministries as well as the entire NGO community, remains the order of the day with successive governments...

But the study admits this is not working: "...poverty levels remain stabilised at around 50 per cent…. [62] The poverty agenda lacks any overreaching goal based on a vision defined in categorical targets backed by specific programmes with identified budget allocations to realise these targets.” [63] Clearly, all is not well for the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh and this, perhaps, explains the desire in Bangladesh for a serious initiative to achieve sub-regional economic co-operation and population movements that can transcend national boundaries.

 

The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna [64] initiative

 

Eastern India’s premier business and industry body, the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), with its headquarters in Calcutta, has already launched a definite initiative for sub-regional co-operation. It has roped in industry leaders, economists, bankers and foreign policy think-tanks from eastern India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan and has launched, what has been called, the Greater Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna Initiative (GGBMI) for a Eastern South Asian sub-regional economic co-operation. [65]

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting this initiative and has already appointed a staff consultant to prepare a preliminary study of the benefits of sub-regional co-operation and the agenda ahead. The World Bank has also agreed [66] to support the project by sharing its research on transportation logistics for the sub-region. USAID would make available the work done on energy resource sharing in the sub-region. [67]

The ICC’s transnational initiative on the ‘emerging east’ began in 1997 and is now gathering momentum with several countries showing interest in the idea. Canada has also expressed its interest in sharing their experiences of regional economic co-operation.

The steering committee of the GGBMI met at Kathmandu and earlier this year at New Delhi to give shape to the project and push ahead with the idea. Convinced that sub-regional co-operation, with SAARC and SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) in place, would lead to a win-win situation for all the member-countries involved, the Delhi meeting zeroed in on the following benefits of such an initiative:

       Increase in market size and scale of economies;

       Reduction of non-tariff barriers;

       Improvement of physical and institutional linkages; and

       Improvement of access to raw materials and natural resources. [68]

All the 18 key people who attended the Delhi meeting (steering committee members and special invitees like representatives from the ADB) were convinced that the initiative would succeed only if the ‘political mindset’ in each country could be influenced about the benefits of such sub-regional co-operation. The convenors of the member countries in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal are to meet the political leadership in their respective countries on the issue.

The ICC is the co-ordinating body for the GGBMI and the nodal body for India. In Bangladesh, it is the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry. In Nepal, the nodal body is the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry will co-ordinate the initiative in Bhutan.

The ADB’s role would be that of, what the Bank calls, an “honest broker.” It would carry out master-plan and feasibility studies, finance projects and mobilise co-finance and investments once the project is put in place.

During a recent presentation on the GGBMI, ADB officials cited some examples of existing 'growth triangles' including the Greater Mekong sub-region; Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore; Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand; Southern China-Hong Kong-Taiwan and Central Asian Republics. [69]

 

Conclusion

 

The migration of people from one place to another may be a natural phenomenon and a common human experience. As an instance, one may point to the current ‘browning of America’ where, originally, between 1846 and 1930, an estimated 50 million people from Europe went and settled. In South Asia, an estimated 25 million people are believed to have been involved in the processes of mass population movements during the last 50 years. But, when a sizeable group of people migrate in waves to a particular area, the host region gets hit, both politically and economically. India’s Northeast is a victim of this cross-border human traffic. This has led to indigenous people taking up arms and seeking to secede from India as in Tripura. In Assam, xenophobia has gripped the people, with some sections casting doubt on the nationality of even bona fide citizens belonging to the religious and linguistic minority communities.

Clearly, the issue of migration (popularly referred to in the region as the issue of infiltration from Bangladesh) has become a major political-economic issue, not only in the Northeast of India but in the country as a whole. For instance, Bangladeshi migrants living in New Delhi clashed with the police over the arrest of a man belonging to the community in June this year. This was enough to propel the issue of the Bangladeshi influx into India into the national limelight with enormous media coverage. The issue has not only come to dominate local politics in the region, it has also drawn the attention of the central government. For instance, a report of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, while noting the change in the demographic composition of the areas bordering Bangladesh, has made the following observation: “The large-scale influx of illegal Bangladesh immigrants has led to large tracts of sensitive international borders being occupied by foreigners. This has serious implications for internal security.” [70] The seriousness with which the Indian Government views the problem of infiltration is indicated by its decision to fence the entire 4,096 kilometre stretch of the Indo-Bangladesh border spread over five States at a cost of Rs 1,334 crore. [71]

The issue of migration into Northeast India cannot be brushed aside as an uncalled for fear on the part of the region’s indigenous population. There is a combination of factors on both sides which are responsible for the continuing influx of illegal migrants, one of which is the steep and continuous increase in Bangladesh's population and a sharp-deterioration in the country’s land-man ratio. The ‘pull factors’ on the Indian side include ethnic proximity and kinship, enabling easy shelter for immigrants; a porous border with Bangladesh; better economic opportunities (Dhaka's denials notwithstanding); and interested religious and political elements encouraging immigration.

Of late, it is being increasingly felt that market linkages and hassle-free trade and business activity in the sub-region of eastern India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal could greatly boost the economy of the area. If this happens, it is felt that the migration of people for economic reasons would come to a halt or reduce considerably. But, for any such sub-regional initiative to reach its logical end, the mindset of the political leadership in the countries in the region will have to change. Mutual hatred has been among the hallmarks of politics in the Indian sub-continent. Under the circumstances, it would require a sustained drive by the key players of this sub-regional link-up plan to achieve their goal. Until then, migration and its resultant politics will continue to dominate events in India’s Northeast.



* Wasbir Hussain is Editor of The Northeast Daily, Guwahati. He has been covering insurgency, ethnic strife, and other major political and social developments in the seven north eastern Indian states for the past 15 years. Before his present assignment, Hussain was Special Correspondent with The Asian Age; Regional Editor of The Telegraph; and Special Correspondent of The Telegraph. He bagged the 1996 Sanskriti Foundation National Award for excellence in journalism. He also writes in The Hindu on issues concerning the Northeast.

[1] Located at: Longitude 89.460 E to 97.300 E and Latitude 21.570 N to 29.300 N.

[2] Census of India, 1991.

[3] See Annexure-I in “Memorandum Submitted by the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) to Union Home Minister LK Advani”, March 27, 2000. The Memorandum was signed by Shyama Charan Tripura, Chairman, Advisory Committee of the TUJS.

[4] During the six-year period of the agitation, bandhs and roadblocks were organised intermittently.

[5] Monirul Hussain, The Assam Movement: Class, Ideology and Identity, New Delhi: Manak Publications, 1993, p. 10.

[6] Sanjib Baruah, India Against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 44.

[7] Hussain, The Assam Movement, p. 41.

[8] Percival Griffiths, The History of the Indian Tea Industry, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967, p. 96.

[9] Kinsley Davis, The Population of India and Pakistan, Cited in Hussain, The Assam Movement, p. 43.

[10] Edward Gait, A History of Assam (1905), Calcutta: Thacker, Spinck and Co., 1933, p. 414.

[11] Hussain, The Assam Movement, pp. 41-42.

[12] Baruah, India Against Itself, p. 67.

[13] Susanta K. Das, Spotlight on Assam, cited in Baruah , India Against Itself , p. 50.

[14] Hussain, The Assam Movement, p. 60.

[15] The Conference of the Chief Electoral Officers of States was held on September 24, 1978, in Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu.

[16] Sanjoy Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist, New Delhi: Viking-Penguin, 1994, p. 138.

[17] Muslims are a religious minority in Assam and constitute nearly a third of the State’s 22 million-population, while Bengalis are regarded as the chief linguistic minority.

[18] Baruah, India Against Itself, p. 118.

[20] See Governor of Assam, Report on Illegal Migration Into Assam, submitted to the President of India by the Governor, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S. K. Sinha, November 1998, p. 6. The Report can also be accessed at

http://www.satp.org/India/Documents/Assam_Illegal%20Migration%20into%20Assam.htm

[21] Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, Eastern Pakistan: Its Population and Economics, cited in Report on Illegal Migration Into Assam, p. 6.

[22] Report on Illegal Migration into Assam, pp. 17-18.

[23] Ministry of Home Affairs, North-East Division, Supplementary Status Report on Illegal Immigration of Bangladeshi Nationals, New Delhi: Government of India, n.d.

[24] Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist, p. 32.

[25] The National Register of Citizens is a contemporaneous register prepared by the officers appointed under the provisions of the Census Act in the course of census operations.

[26] Northeast Daily, Guwahati, April 12, 2000

[27] The groups and or individuals who have expressed their disagreements include the United Minorities Front, All Bodo Students’ Union, Autonomous State Demand Committee and Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) representing Kokrajhar, S. K. Bwiswmuthiary.

[28] Northeast Daily, April 17, 2000.

[29] The Lower House of the Indian Parliament

[30] See the text of the Assam Accord:

www.satp.org/ India/Documents/Assam_Accord,%201985.htm#Assam_Accord

[31] Bodo Leader U.G. Brahma and Karbi Leader Holiram Terang, quoted in Northeast Daily, April 17, 2000.

[32] UMF leader Hafiz Rashid Choudhury, quoted in Northeast Daily, April 17, 2000.

[33] See M. V. Kamath, “Neglected Assam”, Illustrated Weekly, Bombay, January 20-26, 1980.

[34] Northeast Daily, May 10 and May 25, 2000.

[35] B.G.Verghese, India’s Northeast Resurgent, New Delhi: Konark, 1997, p. 166.

[36] S. R. Bhattacharjea, Tribal Insurgency in Tripura, cited in Verghese, India’s Northeast Resurgent, p. 167.

[37] Subir Bhaumik, Insurgent Crossfire: North-East India, New Delhi: Lancer Publishers, 1996, p.67.

[38] Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist, p. 123.

[39] Bhaumik, Insurgent Crossfire: North-East India, p. 197.

[40] Verghese, India’s Northeast Resurgent, p. 179.

[41] Partha S. Ghosh, Cooperation and Conflict in South Asia, New Delhi: Manohar, 1995, p.78.

[42] Tripura Home Minister’s reply in the State Assembly to a question by an opposition leader on February 14, 2000.

[43] See “Memorandum Submitted by the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity.”

[44] Government of Arunachal Pradesh, White Paper on Chakma & Hajong Refugee Issue, Itaganagar, 1996.

[45] Ibid..

[46] Verghese, India’s Northeast Resurgent, pp. 225-26.

[47] White Paper on Chakma and Hajong Refugee Issue.

[48] The resentment was expressed by the protagonists of the anti-refugee stir like the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union which served ‘Quit Arunachal’ notices to the Chakmas and Hajongs and graffiti appearing on the walls in different parts of the state. For more details see Verghese, pp. 226-27.

[49] White Paper on Chakma and Hajong Refugee Issue.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Interview with the author, Dhaka June 2000. Also see North East Daily, June 16, 2000.

[52] Holiday, Dhaka, October 18, 1991.

[53] These were impressions gathered during the author's visit to Dhaka in June 2000.

[54] Interview with the author, Dhaka, June 2000. Also see North East Daily, June 16, 2000.

[55] Muhanmmad Yunus is known for having revolutionised banking in Bangladesh, a country of 130 million people, by advancing micro-credit to poor villagers without any collateral. His Grameen Bank model has come to be used in countries as diverse as China, United States, Kenya, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Togo, Tanzania and South Africa among others.

[56] Interview with the author at Dhaka, June 2000. Also see North East Daily, June 16, 2000.

[57] Interview with the author at Dhaka, June 2000. Also see North East Daily, June 16, 2000.

[58] Prof. Amena Mohsin teaches international relations at Dhaka University.

[59] Interview with the author at Dhaka, June 2000. Also see North East Daily, June 16, 2000.

[60] See the chapter “State of the Bangladesh Economy, 1999: An overview”, in A Review of Bangladesh’s Development 1998-99, Dhaka: University Press, 2000, p. 1. Centre for Policy Dialogue is a non-government initiative to promote an ongoing process of dialogue between the principal partners in the decision making and implementing process.

[61] Ibid., p. 4.

[62] Ibid., pp. 8-9. The population of the country is around 130 million.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna are among the major rivers of the sub-continent. These rivers can be linked as a water-superway.

[65] The initiative began in October 1997 and took shape a year later, in November 1998. Document supplied by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (henceforth ICC).

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Presentation by the Asian Development Bank at the meeting.

[69] Northeast Daily, June 28, 2000.

[70] Disclosed to the Author by official sources.

[71] Northeast Daily, May 24, 2000.

 

 

 

 

 
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