Citizenship issues and Indo-Bangla relations

The talks held in New Delhi between two prime minsiters, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh prime minister Hasina Wajid  - who both won their second term with huge majority in the elections - are said to have been effective in further bolstering and widening bilateral relations. 

Hasina, who arrived in New Delhi on 3rd October, spent four days in India meeting in the meantime the President and Prime Minister,  and in addition signed protocols for mutual co-operation in the fields of fuel,  water,  coast guard,  education,  culture and youth affairs.   Ever since Sheikh Hasina took office as prime minister in 2008,  relations with the neighbours have been continuing to be all the warme and mutual co-operation stronger.  The most recent figures of economic growth rate in Bangladesh,  even during a period of recession,  is shown to be higher than India's.  One reason for this may be the success of the Awami League leader in suppressing all political opponents and ensuring stability for the regime.  As for India,  it is becoming clear from government's actions that the Modi-Amit Shah duo is trying to take India too along that track.

However,  there is a major difference between the way of the two governments:  whereas Bangladesh is treading a path in purely secular direction,  India's march is entirely opposite that.  One serious fallout, among many,  that can be anticipated from this is that of NRC (National Register of Citizens), i.e. the citizenship issue.  During their talks in Delhi,  and even before that during their meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly,  Bangla prime minister Sheikh Hasina mooted before Modi the subject of 19 lakh people of Assam whose names were not listed in the  citizens' register.    BJP President and Home Minister  Amit Shah,  in an announcement made at Kolkatta on 1st October said that all the people whose citizenship was not proven,  would be expelled and that it was India's decision to accept NRC as a policy.   However,  what Modi assuaged the concerns of Bangla PM with was that Bangladesh did not have to be concerned for now and the NRC is a process that was necessitated by a Supreme Court verdict and it would take long to be implemented.  Although Modi's words of solace may silence Bangladesh for the time being,  it is natural that the fact that the majority of the 19 lakh names excluded are Bengali-speaking population,  are bound to keep worrying the neighbouring country.

The issue for Bangladesh is not the religion of those who arrive as refugees.  Even as things stand,  when seven lakh Rohingyan refugees break the back of the country,  and there is no door that it has not knocked on for a solution to that issue,  what disturbs Bandladesh is having to bear an additional burden of refugees.   It need not be stated that the assurances given by Modi to Hasina are very feeble.  When he says that the basis of NRC is a Supreme Court verdict,  and  identifying illegals is a long drawn-out process,  there is not much to hope from Modi's words given the obstinacy of Amit Shah,  as those know both can easily read.   It was only days ago that a delegation led by Mahmood Madani comprising Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and Ahle Hadith visited Amit Shah and discussed the main issues faced by Muslim minority.  The most important item of the agenda was NRC.  The delegation, after being seen off by Amit Shah with the assurance that they need not be vexed about such matters, informed the media of optimistic signals.   But when Amit Shah made his pronouncement on 1st October, Mahmood Madani was forced to react that Shah's statement was discriminatory and would give an opportunity for forces inimical to the country.

While there is no issue about implementing NRC all over the country,  the tone and tenor of the home minister would give the feeling that his target is Muslims – a stand that will create hatred and friction between different sections of the people.    Jamiat leader has pointed out that it will even raise suspicions about Muslims,  and added that only Muslims looked set to be sent to the detention camps in Assam.   If this is the response of even Muslim organizations that were showing a new bon homie to co-operate with the government in changed circumstances,  it will be evident how those who had no doubts about the sangh parivar's intentions will respond. In short,  if NRC is going to be implemented by displeasing even the Bangladesh government – which  maintains  robust friendship with India and openly opposes Pakistan – the price to be paid for that will be heavy.  As Mahmood Madani warned,  it will bring disrepute to India at international level.  And more importantly, those who set out to tarnish the country's image,  will get one more shot in their arm.

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