Mr Shah spoke from firsthand knowledge, having met a series of non-BJP delegations and leaders for detailed discussions in the NE states. In the context of already strained ethnic relations in the post Assam NRC period among major communities in the NE, xenophobic scare mongering comes perilously close to fishing in troubled waters.

In Assam, political leaders who unmistakably belong to the second group of people referred to by Mr. Shah are having a field day, for now. There is a fresh attempt to fuel fresh unrest and tension by invoking alarming worst case scenarios for native Assamiyas and different tribal groups. Such moves find ready resonance among the more impressionable sections of indigenous people habitually worried about losing their cultural and linguistic identity.

It needs stressing that both Assam Chief Minister Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal and Minister Mr. Himanta Biswa Sarma have addressed the main Assamiya concerns , about being swamped by the presence of Bengali Hindus of Bangladeshi origin already, releasing statistical details. As usual, scaremongers belonging mainly to the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and other groups, have not dealt with numbers or other factual details, apart from opposing the CAB and portraying it as an existential threat to Assamiya identity.

The oscar for thinking up the scariest horror scenario for Assam goes to Mr Akhil Gogoi, a peasant leader. The implementation of the CAB legislation, asserts Mr Gogoi, would encourage over 1.2 crore Hindu Bengalis currently in Bangladesh to migrate to Assam. Now that there is official assurance that they would be accepted as Indian citizens, nothing would hold them back, he feels. His views are being reported in great detail in the Assam-based media—probably for the first time in his life and gained much traction among some people.

His doomsday oracle does not answer two questions. First, why should Hindus in Bangladesh, many of whom have a respectable presence as traders, businessmen and professionals, come to India, where they must fulfill several stringent criteria post arrival. They must prove they were being persecuted, regularly report to umpteen authorities, state and central, for prolonged questioning and then wait for six years before they may — or may not! — be accepted as Indian citizens! Then they will, of course, face the risk of being jailed.

Second, the per capita income at present in Bangladesh in PPP terms is around $1500/1600, which is almost at par with India. The present figure for Assam however, is around $890. For the other NE states, it is even lower. The Bangladeshi taka earlier used to be exchanged informally for about 50 to 60 Indian paise (at 50/60 per cent of the Indian rupee). These days, it goes for 85/90 paise, almost at par.

Given these facts, can Mr Gogoi and his ilk, (who automatically assume that all Bangladeshis will descend on Assam and nowhere else) explain the basis of their fears? The more obvious explanation for their proposition may well be that in 2019, they still live in a self-created time-warp that has not changed since 1947.

Observers find this sort of campaign, obviously seeking to exacerbate ethnic tensions in Assam among major linguistic groups, a highly dangerous trend that should be nipped in the bud. Further to the possibility of setting off political mayhem at home, his comments have the additional potential to exacerbate the goodwill and bonhomie that now characterizes Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relations.

Yet, for all their apparent absurdity, it would not be advisable to dismiss Mr Gogoi’s fears summarily. There is evidence of such views being examined elsewhere — and seriously, too.

Dhaka monitors recent developments in India, especially issues relating to the CAB and the National Register of Citizens Updating (NRC) very closely. The NRC exercise could consequentially impact Bangladesh. It could unleash an exodus of Bangladeshi migrants who might want to return home from India, as the official pressures against them increased..

According to Bangladesh analysts, there are within the ruling Awami League (AL), apprehensions about the long term effect of the CAB. Regardless of the condition of Hindus in Bangladesh, currently reduced to about 7 per cent of the country’s population, there are fresh concerns whether there could be a gradual emigration from the dwindling Hindu community back to India, now that Delhi has opened its doors wide.

Were this to happen, the ruling AL would be hurt more politically than its implacably inimical rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

That should worry Delhi as well. The BNP is known for its closeness to the Islamist forces and the Jamat-e-islami. Should it stage a comeback, Indian secessionists could well recover their lost ground, operating from Bangladesh. And the future of the ongoing transit and infra bilateral projects which are already bringing political/economic dividends, would be in jeopardy.

The BNP would, for all its public protestations of secularism, would not exactly shed tears over a Hindu exodus to India. Right or wrong, around 90 per cent of the Hindu vote still goes to the AL in every election. Any reduction in the Hindu numbers would therefore make it more difficult for the AL to win.

This is not to suggest that most Hindus are comfortable under the AL rule. As spokesmen of the organisation for Bangladesh minorities, including leaders from the Hindu, Buddhist and Christian communities have alleged, there is a lack of security for non-Muslims in Bangladesh. They are often subjected to ethnic attacks from anti-socials who pose a threat to their property and women folk, whereas the administration often remains indifferent.

But the saving grace for the AL is that the party still tries its best to do what it can for the oppressed minorities, unlike the Islamist Jamat or the BNP. A major reason for this is the genuinely secular approach towards the minorities adopted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself. Over the years she has emerged as a stern, uncompromising guardian for minority interests, ensuring that the administration functioned as fairly as possible.

But — most reassuringly for people like Mr Gogoi — the only thing that seems certain in the present political flux is that few economic migrants would come to Assam, the Northeast or West Bengal for purely economic reasons, looking for work. There is no reason to assume that migrants who leave homes in search of work abroad for a better life are illiterate. (IPA Service)