NARAYANGURI, India – Getting killed for their vote, this statement summed up the situation in India’s north-eastern state of Assam where more than 40 Muslims were killed by militants from Bodo ethnic community as a punishment for failing to support their local candidate in the election.
"We will never go back to the village," Sefaqul Islam, a cattle herder from Assam, told Reuters on Friday, May 9.
Islam spoke as he and dozens of Narayanguri's traumatized inhabitants erected bamboo-framed tents on the opposite bank of the Beki river.
|India’s Modi Blamed for Assam Killings|
His sister and seven-year-old nephew were among 41 Muslims killed by suspected tribal militants last week in India's remote state of Assam.
For many analysts, the bloodshed started Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi said in election rally in West Bengal that immigrants should have their "bags packed" ready to be sent home should he win.
The situation on the ground is far more complex than Bodo against Muslim immigrants, BJP against Congress.
Campaigning mainly on a ticket of economic growth, the Hindu nationalist candidate has ratcheted up rhetoric against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
"The infiltrators have to go, go and go," Modi said on Wednesday in West Bengal, which also borders Bangladesh.
"Don't you think they have made your life miserable?"
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), expected to lead the next government, denies stirring tensions in Assam.
Adding to divisions, Modi has distinguished between economic immigrants from Bangladesh and Hindu refugees, whom he calls "family".
His “divisive” talk, according to the ruling Congress, found listening ears appearing in posts under the #deportbangladeshis tag which came at the top of Twitter's trend list in India on Monday.
"This should shivers down the spines of illegal Muslim immigrant pests, mostly thieves and dacoits (bandits)!" read one comment attached to an article about the killings.
Having no traditional support in Assam, BJP managed to make inroads in the east of India by using anti-immigrants rhetoric.
"Narendra Modi has boldly said what other politicians have not dared to utter so far," said Golap Saikia, a businessman in Assam's largest city, Guwahati.
"Let us see how far he can achieve his commitment."
His party leaders have also asserted that they have the right to address the issue of immigrants as related to national security.
"This is a fight between ethnic people and suspected foreigners who have captured our land and our jobs," said Ranjit Kumar Das, a BJP legislator in Assam's state assembly who lives in Barpeta Road, the closest town to the massacre.
"(The violence) is the natural outcome," he said. "If there is no permanent solution it will happen again and again."
Modi’s promise to force Muslims of Bangladeshi origin to return home has raised alarm bells in Dhaka, where the government said it would resist any such move.
"If they do it, the relationship between the two countries will be jeopardized, it will be damaged," said Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed.
"India, being a ... big country, a democratic country, a secular country, cannot take such a position."
The relatively large Muslim populations in eastern India is partly explained by events in 1971, when East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh after a war that triggered a wave of migration into Assam and other states.
The new divisions threatened the creation of new stateless Muslim population in the border area, estimated by several million Bangladeshis and their descendents born in India, similar to the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Burma.
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