At a time when illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are facing the heat over the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam, a WikiLeaks cable has claimed that then Congress president Sonia Gandhi “in a brazen appeal to the Muslims offered to amend the Foreigners Act to prevent deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.”

The cable dated 16 February 2006, authored by a US consulate officer in Kolkata, stated that Sonia Gandhi indulged in this dubious act while campaigning for the Congress in the May 2006 State elections where the party had “lost support from the critical Muslim community”.

The NRC updated by the Assam government under the supervision of the Supreme Court has not included 40 lakh residents of the State, most of whom are believed to be illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

“Her (Sonia Gandhi’s) presence reflected Congress' concern about retaining its hold on Assam... In Assam the main opposition parties, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are weak and fragmented, but Congress has also lost support from the critical Muslim community,” the cable reads.

The cable also pointed out how the then Congress president condemned the killing of a local youth from a terror outfit in military custody “forcing the Army to apologise”.

The message by the American diplomat to their headquarters in Washington said while the political situation in Assam in 2006 was “very fluid two months prior to the election, it appears that Congress will lose its current outright majority, but will likely cobble together a coalition government in Assam.”

The cable noted that a continuous influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants had swelled the Muslim community to 28% of the population.

It also highlighted the reason for Congress’ love for Bangladeshis, saying, “The Muslim vote is likely to determine whether Congress can retain its majority. The Muslim community's importance has been magnified by a steady influx of Bangladeshi immigrants and Muslims presently hold 13 Congress seats in the assembly.”

“Congress had been the party of choice for the Muslims as it protected illegal Bangladeshi migrants from deportation. Congress also supported the illegal migrants’ determination by Tribunals Act (IMDT) of 1983, applicable only in Assam, which made identification, detection and deportation of foreigners in Assam incredibly complex and protected post-1971 illegal Bangladeshi migrants,” it said.

The cable pointed out that the Congress' relations with the Muslims suffered a setback in July 2005 when the Supreme Court ruled the IMDT as unconstitutional.

The Congress has tried to appease the Muslims by not enforcing the Foreigners Act. In her recent visit, (Sonia) Gandhi offered to amend the Act, the cable said.