By Sagarneel Sinha
It’s an open secret that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is known for her pro-India image — both in her native place and in India. Nobody can deny the strong actions taken by Hasina since her coming to power in 2009, against the anti-India elements who used to operate from the soil of Bangladesh. That’s the reason that Hasina commands respect across the political spectrum of India — whether it is the Congress or the Left or the BJP. This is also the reason that India’s foreign neighbourhood policy for Bangladesh didn’t change much when the Hindu nationalist BJP under Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 — pouring waters on speculations that India under Modi may ignore its neighbour friend, a Muslim majority country. Instead, both the countries show new heights of friendship with the successful resolvement of the historic Land Border Agreement (LBA) in 2015, one of the major hurdles — where both the countries agreed to swap the enclaves. Instead, India lost more areas in comparison to Bangladesh and importantly, it was BJP which was against this agreement when it was in the opposition. But, Modi persuaded his own party leaders — particularly BJP leaders of Assam and West Bengal.
On the other hand, back at home, Hasina is often criticised for her soft India approach by her critics. With CAA, NRC and Delhi riots in the picture, these criticisms have increased in various corners of Bangladesh. The pressure of domestic politics on Hasina can be understood — that’s the reason she had openly expressed her displeasure with CAA, although she didn’t forget to mention that it is India’s internal matter. The Citizenship Amendment Act is a process to give citizenship through fast-tracking to six minority religious communities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who came to India before 2015. Muslims aren’t included because they are the majority in these three countries. However, it will have no effect on Muslim citizens of India and importantly, the amendment doesn’t change the already existing policy of giving Indian citizenship to legal immigrants irrespective of any religion.
Critics of Hasina have been criticising that “Modi’s government disregarded the efforts of her Awami League government in protecting religious minorities including Hindus — as it chose to place Bangladesh along with Pakistan in the CAA. However, the truth is that the Hindus and the other included religious minorities of Bangladesh are those who mostly came to India during the time of East Pakistan, when Hindus had faced religious persecutions under Pakistan backed forces. So, it is completely unfair to say that India has humiliated Hasina’s genuine efforts to secure the pluralistic features of Bangladesh.
However, more than CAA, it is NRC that has caused more anxieties as there are opinions that India would forcefully send the identified illegal Bangladeshis back to the country. This is again a misplaced thought. The reason is India won’t be sending forcefully any resident to Bangladesh because there is no current extradition treaty between the two countries. The fact is that NRC isn’t anti-Muslim — it is about detecting illegal citizens residing in India. It isn’t initiated by the Modi government. The NRC done in Assam was based on the Assam Accord of 1985 signed by the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi with various Assamese organisations. Basically, NRC was a promise by the Congress government to the Assamese but the Congress party kept delaying it. Ultimately, the NRC exercise in Assam was carried out as per orders of the Supreme Court of India. Modi’s government has already said there are no current plans for a nationwide NRC. As far as Delhi riots are concerned, neither the violence was a State sponsored one nor it was a pogrom— as both the Hindus and Muslims clashed with each other. Investigations are on and there have been arrests too.
Apart from this, the pending Teesta water agreement still remains as a barrier between the relations between the two countries. Particularly, Bangladesh is disappointed with India on this issue with Hasina herself has been facing strict condemnations within her own country for her failure to resolve this issue. This isn’t good news for India too. Actually, the problem doesn’t lie with the Union government of India — but with West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who has vetoed this agreement. It must be noted that in 2011 when almost everything was final on this issue, it was Mamata herself who poured water. Importantly, then Mamata’s party Trinamool Congress was an alliance partner of Manmohan Singh led UPA government. Mamata herself often faces criticisms within India for failing to rise above petty politics on national issues. Teesta water agreement may see progress after 2021 assembly polls — if BJP manages to come to power defeating Mamata Banerjee. Nevertheless, the Teesta thorn will continue to bite the friendly relations of the two countries till it is resolved.
Amid all these, Covid-19 has emerged as a big challenge before the world and as a result Modi’s crucial visit to Bangladesh too was eventually cancelled. To tackle this hazardous virus in the region, Modi’s initiative to revive South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a welcome step in the region and Hasina too has appropriated this reach. Already, India has pledged $10 million to the SAARC Emergency Covid-19 Fund where Bangladesh too has contributed $1.5 million. This reach out is crucial at this juncture when India-Bangladesh relations are strained due to many issues — and the response of both New Delhi and Dhaka do indicate that both are eager to melt the ice. No doubt, this initiative of New Delhi is appreciable but it has to walk the longer road to allay Dhaka’s misguided concerns that “India’s pluralism is in danger” — which are untrue. (IPA Service)