t requires no additional stress that India attaches great importance to its ties with Bangladesh – a nation reborn by way of a liberation struggle and eventual separation from Pakistan in the early-1970s. While an Islamic nation on the western side of the Indian border is in perpetual enmity with this country, another Moslem nation on the east has had close relations with India since its birth but also depending on which party comes to power in Dacca.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, currently on an India visit, has contributed much to this valued relationship, just as India stood by the side of her father and Liberation hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman till his assassination in 1975; and with elected governments thereafter too. India can only hope this alliance would be carried forward without hurt to either side, especially since the last six years witnessed the decline, or rather the creation of enmity between India and virtually all its neighbours. Notably, Sheikh Hasina is visiting New Delhi at a time when the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC) could emerge as a likely bone of contention between Bangladesh and India.
Sheikh Hasina has given vent to her nation’s fears about the push that the Modi government at the Centre is making to drive out illegal immigrants from Assam, West Bengal and beyond, back to Bangladesh. Granted that the process is overseen by the Supreme Court, the large mass of those who crossed the borders and came to India in the past several decades are bound to face harassment by the Indian authorities sooner or later. The fact cannot be overstressed that the Supreme Court does not possess any tools to oversee such a massive operation involving human lives. Large numbers of families have been living here through two or three generations, in a steady flow since the time of the Liberation movement in the 1970s. The NRC process started with Assam a while ago and lakhs of people have been identified to be ‘outsiders’ who face deportation. While mechanisms to screen the people and identify the ones who could stay back are at work, this is no big relief to the lakhs of families uncertain about their future.
No nation can have an open-arms policy towards illegal immigration. While India has justifiable reasons for stemming the flow and deporting those who are not in a position to prove their credentials, its impact on human lives cannot altogether be ignored. India is primarily at fault, when it left the borders unguarded, resulting in this grim situation. With India taking a tough position now, Bangladesh is wary of the consequences it will have to face. It is here that India requires adopting a judicious approach to the matter, rather than using this also as a stick to beat the minorities with, more so since New Delhi has to accept the fact that dismemberment of East Pakistan from West Pakistan has benefitted in more ways than one.
The statement from Union home minister Amit Shah in Calcutta recently that NRC would be strictly implemented in West Bengal as also Assam has added to the fears. Shah is understandably having a political axe to grind vis-à-vis West Bengal, where the immigrant Moslem population forms a major support base for chief minister Mamata Banejree’s Trinamool Congress. All the same, caution is advised in mixing politics with serious international issues. Shah has also gone on record to say that non-Moslem immigrants would be protected. Giving such a communal colour to the issue was unwarranted and could only harm the national cause.
At any rate, Bangladesh cannot be pushed to the wall. Doing so would be a wrong practice of diplomacy. Bangladesh is by far the only nation in the neighbourhood which gets along well with India; besides the laid-back Bhutan. Nepal is largely a gone case and Afghanistan is into a major churning. Sri Lanka edged closer to China, and so did Maldives to an extent. Pakistan is against India and now China’s closest ally in the geopolitical region. It is in this backdrop that the significance of maintaining and strengthening the ties between India and Bangladesh is felt most.
Sheikh Hasina’s meetings with PM Modi and others in Delhi have resulted in the signing of bilateral treaties in trade, science and other fields. There is palpable optimism on both sides. Alongside, there should also be more of confidence-building measures on India’s part to keep the ties with Bangladesh in good shape for the future. Sheikh Hasina has been reasonable in her approaches so far, and deserves as much from her close regional ally.