No formal talks on NRC during Modi-Hasina meet

Jatin Desai
Sunday, 13 October 2019

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was on a four-day visit to India recently during which India and Bangladesh have signed seven pacts and inaugurated three development projects.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was on a four-day visit to India recently during which India and Bangladesh have signed seven pacts and inaugurated three development projects.

But the most pressing and contentious subject of India’s National Register of Citizen (NRC) was nowhere on the agenda. It was out of sight, kept deliberately that way by the Indian side, but it was not out of mind. Since the NRC exclusion of 1.9 million people hit the headlines, only in the last fortnight Sheikh Hasina raised the issue twice with the Indian PM Narendra Modi. She first picked it up when the two met in New York and now in Delhi.

The joint statement issued at the end of the Sheikh Hasina’s visit does not mention anything on NRC. Though Sheikh Hasina raised the issue when she met Modi on October 5. Shahidul Haque, Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, said, “We were told that this is an internal matter of India. Our relationship is the best of the best at present. But at the same time we are keeping our eyes quite open (on the NRC issue).” Informed sources say the Indian PM had assured Bangladesh that there was no need for Bangladesh to worry about the NRC. The Indian government conveyed that publication of NRC was a court-monitored process and its internal matter.

There is strong apprehension in Bangladesh concerning the NRC. Already Bangladesh is having a couple of lakh Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The statements of Home Minister Amit Shah and others on NRC have created panic. They are saying ‘illegal immigrants’ will be deported, while PM assures Bangladesh that it has nothing to worry. Home Minister has said that Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees will not be forced to leave India.

The issue of Rohingya also figured in the discussion and both agreed to safe repatriation of them to their homes in Myanmar.

Bangladesh is one of India’s closest friends in South Asia. The trade between the two countries is increasing. Bangladesh’s exports to India have crossed one billion dollars in 2019. Sheikh Hasina, in a lighter vein, complained about how India’s decision of ban on onion export has impacted her country. Bangladesh is facing a shortage of onions.

Both countries decided to give more importance to connectivity. Over 50 per cent of foreign patients coming for treatment to India are from Bangladesh. They decided to increase the frequency of Maitree Express (between Kolkata and Dhaka) and Bandhan Express (between Kolkata and Khulna). The number of flights between the two countries will also increase.

The other major issue of concern between the two countries is of water sharing and especially of Teesta river. The issue needs to be resolved on a priority basis otherwise it will strengthen the anti-Awami League forces in Bangladesh. From India’s point of view, Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League is India’s best friend. The ruling party has taken quite significant steps against extremist forces but much needs to be done. The killing of secular, democratic bloggers in Bangladesh is a matter of concern. Sheikh Hasina government has failed to give confidence to the liberals.

Bangladesh will be issuing a commemorative postal stamp on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Both the countries also decided to commemorate the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s next year and also 50 years of Bangladesh’s War of Liberation in 2021. 

The philosophy of Gandhi, Mujibur Rehman and Jawaharlal Nehru is of inclusiveness and secularism. Mujib was a friend of India and India played an important role in liberating Bangladesh. This opportunity will provide an opportunity to highlight the secular democratic dream of Mujib. Both also agreed to set up a coastal surveillance radar system in Bangladesh. 

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