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Foreigners, refugees or infiltrators? The discourse on Indian nationalisms and Bangladeshi migrants in the states of Assam, West Bengal and Deli in India

posted on 08.02.2019, 02:52 by Shamshad, Rizwana
This dissertation is a study of the current state of nationalist imagination in three states in India: Assam, West Bengal and Delhi. It examines the perceptions of the key political parties and civil society members about the presence of Bangladeshi migrants in these three states. India since Independence has gone through a number of competing nationalist thoughts: secular, Hindutva and ethnic. The existence of these nationalisms denotes that although India is a modern nation-state, its project of attaining a singular nationalism is still ongoing and incomplete. The presence of Bangladeshi migrants in Assam, West Bengal and Delhi has been a persistent election platform of sectarian Hindu nationalists and ethnic Assamese nationalists. How these various nationalisms position the Bangladeshi migrants, and therefore what these perceptions and discourses indicate about the current nationalisms, is the primary enquiry of this research. This study is an ethnographic record and a personal account that uses in-depth interviews of the key political parties and civil society representatives from the media, academia, think tanks and human rights organisations. I have three arguments for the three states. For Assam, I argue that the pre-Independence Bengali-speaking migrants and later Bangladeshi migrants were viewed by the Assamese as ‘threatening Others’ for their ethnicity, Bengaliness. For West Bengal, I argue that it is because of Bengaliness and Marxist ideology, amongst other factors, Bangladeshi migrants have never been a problem or perceived as the ‘Other’ by the Bengalis in West Bengal. The situation in Delhi is more complex, because Delhi is not only a state; it is also the capital of India. Thus the members there representing the key political parties and civil society provide a state as well as a national view. For Delhi, I argue that the Bangladeshi migrants were targeted partly for their Muslimness, and partly because they were in between the vote-bank politics of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its main rival, the Indian National Congress (INC). I analyse the perceptions of the political and civil society members derived from interviews against the backdrop of the relevant theories of nationalism. Finally, I discuss the current state of nationalisms in the three states and in India.


Principal supervisor

Rashmikant Desai

Additional supervisor 1

Michael Steveson.

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Monash Asia Institute. Political and Social Inquiry


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts