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Happy New Year 2020 to all Readers.          January 2020 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Jan' 2020


Dhaka’s scorn !

Rajeev Sharma

AK Abdul Momen and Asaduzzaman Khan O n the face of it, the cancellation of India visit by two key ministers of B a n g l a d e s h — foreign minister AK Abdul Momen and home minister Asaduzzaman Khan—is an act of provocation from a small neighbour. The general perception among common Indians would be of disbelief and anger. How can a friendly neighbour poke India in the eye and that too over an issue like Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which is a domestic matter? India must not let it go unpunished and deal with Bangladesh as sternly.
Diplomacy can’t be conducted with knee-jerk reactions. One must try to understand why Bangladesh is upset over a domestic Indian policy like CAB. One must not discount the fact that Bangladesh is undoubtedly the most important contiguous neighbour of India with which India shares its longest border, running over four thousand kilometres. No other country has such a long border with India. Moreover, one must also not forget that the whole of India’s northeast is Bangladeshlocked.

So a domestic policy issue like CAB or National Register of Citizens (NRC) has as much serious impact on Bangladesh as it has on India.

India’s new citizenship law has deep repercussions for Bangladesh, apart from floating an impression internationally that Bangladesh hasn’t been treating its minorities well.

India’s new citizenship law has deep repercussions for Bangladesh, apart from floating an impression internationally that Bangladesh hasn’t been treating its minorities well.

Now let’s consider some of the contentious aspects of CAB which has amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 and also amended the definition of illegal immigrant for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have lived in India without documentation.

The BJP government’s concern for “persecuted" Hindus in India’s neighbourhood, particularly Bangladesh, doesn’t seem very convincing.

Bangladesh foreign minister Abdul Momen further rubbed it in days after cancelling his India visit by saying that his country has requested India to provide a list of any Bangladesh nationals living illegally in the country. Instead, while rejecting speculation of "pushback" attempts by India, he asserted that some Indian nationals were illegally entering Bangladesh through middlemen “for economic reasons". In the same breath, he also said: “But if anybody other than our citizens enters Bangladesh, we will send them back.”

It is quite a strong statement which scoffs at Indian claims of Bangladeshi citizens illegally migrating to India and suggests that it’s the Indians who have been migrating to Bangladesh for “economic reasons” and not the other way round!

Amit Shah No authentic figures of exact population of minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan exist. While moving the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha on December 9, home minister Amit Shah said at the time of Independence, non-Muslims comprised 23 per cent of Pakistan's population and that by 2011 their share was reduced to 3.7 per cent. About Bangladesh, he claimed that in 1947, non-Muslims comprised 22 per cent of its population and their share in 2011 fell to 7.8 per cent. He did not cite the source of these statistics.

Shortly after Parliament passed CAB, Bangladesh foreign minister Momen hit out at India saying there are very few countries where communal harmony is as good as Bangladesh. "If Amit Shah stayed in Bangladesh for few months, he would see exemplary communal harmony in our country," he went on record as saying.

Sheikh Hasina Clearly, the new citizenship law has taken its own toll on India-Bangladesh relations which have been excellent ever since India-friendly Sheikh Hasina bounced back to power as prime minister almost eleven years ago on 6 January 2009.
Many northeastern states, including Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura, are witnessing violent agitations since Parliament passed CAB. The people in the Indian northeast have a nagging feeling that the new citizenship law is primarily aimed at benefiting illegal Hindu Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh who have settled in large numbers all over the northeast.

Protests against the citizenship law The public anger against Bangladesh was manifested on December 13 when convoy of the Bangladeshi assistant high commissioner in Guwahati was attacked and signposts of Bangladesh Chancery in Guwahati were defaced and vandalized.
India has to exercise restraint and must not escalate the issue of abrupt cancellation of India visit by two Bangladeshi ministers. India already has a difficult neighbourhood --a hostile Pakistan, pro-China regimes in Sri Lanka and Nepal and a perennially volatile Afghanistan. Alienating Bangladesh won’t be in India’s national interest.

An unnecessary and avoidable fallout of CAB-related protests in the northeast is the cancellation of the India-Japan bilateral annual summit which was scheduled to be held in Guwahati from December 15 to 17. The cancellation was announced on December 13, just two days before the event.

An inevitable and concomitant impact of the current atmosphere will be on the Indian economy. Already witnessing a steady nosedive for last several quarters on the trot, the prevailing scenario would bring more stress to the economy.

Rajeev Sharma is a New
Delhi-based columnist and
strategic analyst