Adolf Hitler writes in his autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf that the living shape of the Jew personifies the devil as the symbol of all evil. The prejudice may not have gone that far when BJP frontrunner Narendra Modi, in his rousing stump speeches, first in Sreerampore and then in Asansol of West Bengal, threatened to deport Bangladeshis from India. But it had the undertone of warmed-over Hitlerism that made us shudder. Modi's speeches were reminiscent of his ugly past, the specter of the Gujarat riot looming large in our minds.
Why should the Bangladeshis allegedly living on Indian soil suddenly become the focus of an Indian prime minister hopeful's election campaign? It's hard to ignore the threat as political ruse, because the man Modi is today the same man who incited the communal riots known as Gujarat pogrom in 2002. It left 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead. Thousands were injured.
If we look at the total casualty figure, it's 90 deaths short of the number of workers who perished under the Rana Plaza rubble. Statistically, the horror imprecated inside one building in the blink of an eye undermines what had happened in one Indian state for three frightful days. Yet what happened in Gujarat was retail death compared to Rana Plaza's wholesale. For days, Hindu extremists systematically hunted down Muslims and the Muslims also instinctively killed in retaliation and self-defense. The killing fields of Gujarat were motivated and methodical, Narendra Modi being the mastermind.
That such a deranged mind rose through the safety filters of the world's largest democracy itself is painful. Now that he is aspiring to become India's next prime minister it is frightening. It has been made more poignant lately when he repeatedly blurted out his venom in two public meetings. A word to the wise is sufficient. Should Narendra Modi be the Indian voters' choice for next five years, Bangladesh has got tough days ahead.
British author Simon O. Sinek argues that great leaders are willing to sacrifice the numbers to save the people while the poor leaders sacrifice the people to save the numbers. Narendra Modi sounded like a hissing pit of hatred when he showed his penchant for the latter. His stature terribly shriveled from a national figure into a local firebrand, our hopes in his leadership trashed to the core.
It wasn't sheer coincidence that one week before Modi's first menacing speech on April 27, his senior party colleague Subramaniam Swamy had vented similar rancor. He was more innovative in his solution. He claimed that Bangladesh should compensate with land, since one-third of its people were living in India.
After Modi re-iterated his threat again on May 4, one needs to connect the dots. Two BJP leaders saying the same thing back-to-back means they have been singing from the same hymn sheet. Modi's repetition also means this issue is high on their agenda.
Pitifully, it has the absurdity of a drunk losing something elsewhere and looking for it under the street lamp. Even worse, Modi and his ilk are looking for a needle in a haystack. It's not to deny that some Bangladeshis are living in India as some Indians are also living in Bangladesh. That's true for any two countries sharing porous borders unless Modi's head is buried in the sand. How many millions of Bangladeshis are living in India having a population of 1.27 billion? Even if we take Swamy's hyperbolic estimate, it hovers below 4% of the total Indian population.
But the actual number is much lower and it varies from estimate to estimate. The Indian census in 2001 put that figure at 3.1 million. In 2007, the Indian government stated that as many as 20 million illegal Bangladeshis were residing in India. In 2012, the Indian state minister for home, Mullappally Ramachandran, claimed that nearly 1.4 million Bangladeshis had entered India in the last decade alone.
Given the problem of catching a moving target, how does Modi's threat give any solution? It's not about getting a few squatters off the land and sending them home by a couple of bus loads. On May 5, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in her riposte at Ranaghat, threw down the gauntlet to him. She warned that if anybody is deported from West Bengal, she is going to storm Delhi. Enough to tell us that Modi will fall flat on his face.
Mark Twain writes: “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice”. Hitler is proof that history is prejudiced against anyone who treats history with prejudice. Instead of taking the solution to people, the German Führer took people to the solution, and called it the Final Solution. Narendra Modi also has a fancy name for his madness. He is calling it deportation.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.