Despite Appearances, Sheikh Hasina Goes Back Worried About NRC
The feeling in the Bangladesh PM’s camp is that her friendship is being taken for granted.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to Delhi with some expectations.
She cannot say she got any ‘definite’ assurances on her key concerns – perhaps she goes back with more worries than before on the NRC issue.
The feeling in her camp is that India is taking her friendship for granted and giving her precious little for all that she has done for India so far.
But on the face of it, the bilateral ties look better than ever before.
India and Bangladesh on Saturday, 5 October, inked seven pacts and launched three projects after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held wide-ranging talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart.
One of the projects included import of LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) from Bangladesh for distribution in the North-Eastern states like Tripura. Another agreement to benefit Tripura was the one allowing withdrawal of water from Feni river for Tripura's Sabroom town.
A Soft Corner for Tripura
Hasina, like her father, has a huge soft corner for Tripura from the days of the Liberation War – and the leaders of the tiny state from Left to BJP have reciprocated that. Chief Minister Biplab Deb was closeted with Hasina in Delhi for several hours this time, while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refused to meet her, citing Durga Puja commitments in Kolkata.
The pacts signed after Modi-Hasina talks provided deeper cooperation between the two countries in areas of water resources, youth affairs, culture, education and coastal surveillance.
In a brief media statement, Modi said India accords priority to its ties with Bangladesh, and increasing cooperation between the two neighbouring countries should be a model for the entire world.
"I am happy that today's talks will further energise our bilateral ties," he said in the presence of Hasina.
Advised by her foreign affairs team, Hasina had repeatedly raised the NRC issue with Modi whenever the two leaders have met in recent months.
Dhaka’s worry is understandable – after sheltering one million Rohingyas, it can ill afford any pushback of NRC-excluded Bengalis from Assam.
Modi and Jaishankar have repeatedly assured her that NRC is an internal matter of India with no ramification for bilateral ties.
But when the Bangladesh side insisted that this assurance be played into the joint statement after Modi's “wide-ranging talks” with Hasina, they were categorically told that was not possible for two reasons.
In the first place, it was an internal matter and so could not find a place on a bilateral statement, the way Kashmir could not be discussed with Trump.
Secondly, the NRC was an ongoing and court-mandated process and the Indian government was as yet not in a position to provide a final picture arising out of the exercise.
Worried by repeated threats from Home Minister Amit Shah and other BJP leaders that ‘every single illegal infiltrator will be pushed out of Indian territory’ and that the NRC would be extended to other Indian states, Bangladesh can no longer bank on any assurance given so far and would have to wait for unforeseen consequences until the NRC exercise is completed.
Shah’s attacks (especially calling Bangladeshis termites) not only strengthens anti- Indian Islamist forces, it embarrasses a pro-Indian leader like Hasina in a country so important for India’s security and connectivity.
It comes at a time when Bangladesh's economy is booming, in stark contrast to India, and there is no push factor for illegal migration as in the last century. Hasina subtly drove home this point in her presentation to World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Indian business chambers when she sought big-ticket investments in her country.
Hasina is also going back without any assurance on a time-frame for a Teesta water sharing agreement or for Indian efforts to pressurise Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees.
Bilateral relations improve through give-and-take and mutual respect. The sooner the mandarins in Delhi and Kolkata realise that, the better for both countries.
Bangladesh stopped export of the hilsa fish when Mamata Banerjee sabotaged the Teesta agreement in 2011. If Hasina finally loses her patience with the one-way traffic with Delhi, India's loss could be much more.
(The writer is a veteran BBC journalist and an author. He can be reached @SubirBhowmik. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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