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Delhi tries to allay Bangladesh's concerns over NRC, CAA, as Dhaka calls off another high-profile visit to India

nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 03 March 2020, 03:17 IST
Last Updated : 03 March 2020, 03:17 IST
Last Updated : 03 March 2020, 03:17 IST
Last Updated : 03 March 2020, 03:17 IST

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With Dhaka cancelling yet another high-profile visit to New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on Monday sought to allay the concerns of Bangladesh the process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, stating that it was “entirely internal” to India.

Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) of Bangladesh, was scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on Monday, leading an 18-member-delegation on a visit to India. The visit was called off just as other high-profile official visits from Dhaka to New Delhi had been cancelled, after Modi Government enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in December 2019.

Bangladesh had earlier cancelled the visits of its Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan to India – soon after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill had been passed by both Houses of Indian Parliament in December 2019 and had eventually turned into a law, triggering widespread protests across the country.

The new ensures citizenship to people of six non-Muslim communities – Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian – if they had to migrate to India from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on or before December 31, 2014, in order to escape “persecution on the ground of religion”.

Dhaka is understood to have been irked by the remarks made by Home Minister Amit Shah about religious persecution of minority Hindus in Bangladesh while piloting the proposed legislation through Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

Momen, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, had not only dismissed the allegation of persecution of minority Hindus in Bangladesh but had also gone on to say that the new law would weaken India's “historic position” as a “tolerant and secular nation”.

Dhaka, however, never officially linked cancellation of visits by ministers and officials from Bangladesh to India in the past few weeks with its disappointment over the CAA or its concerns over implications of the process of updating the NRC in Assam.

Momen had cited preoccupation in Dhaka for postponing the visit to New Delhi.

Similarly, the cancellation of the proposed visit by Bangladesh parliamentary delegation to India was also attributed to the preoccupation of the Speaker and others ahead of a special session of the Jatiya Sangsad on the occasion of the birth centenary of the neighbouring country's founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Sources, however, told the DH that Dhaka had conveyed to New Delhi its concerns over the implications of the NRC in Assam as well as its disappointment over the CAA.

With Modi likely to visit Dhaka from March 16 to 18, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla flew to the capital of Bangladesh on Monday to help iron out the wrinkles in India's relations with its eastern neighbour.

Modi will hold talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, apart from attending an event being held by her government to mark the beginning of celebration of birth centenary of the Bangabandhu.

“As the closest of neighbours, with so many shared cultural traits, it is also inevitable that events in each other’s countries create ripples across the border – irrespective of whether there is real justification for this,” Shringla said at a seminar organized by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) in Dhaka on Monday. “One recent example is the process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which has taken place entirely at the direction and under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India.”

“Let me clearly state here what our leadership has repeatedly confirmed at the highest level to the Government of Bangladesh: this is a process that is entirely internal to India,” he said.

“Therefore,” added the Foreign Secretary, “there will be no implications for the Government and people of Bangladesh. You have our assurance on that count.”

Hasina had visited New Delhi on October 5. She had conveyed to Modi Bangladesh Government's concerns over 1.9 million people being left out of the updated NRC in Assam. She had also expressed concern over growing clamour by the leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for preparing similar registers of citizens across India.

Bangladesh has particularly been keen to know if India has any plan to send the people, who were left out of the NRC, to Bangladesh. The exercise to draft the NRC was started with the objective to identify the illegal immigrants, who had allegedly sneaked into India from Bangladesh and settled in Assam.

Hasina's government in Dhaka already ruled out the possibility of Bangladesh “taking back” from India the people, who could not make it to the NRC.

Dhaka in fact has never accepted that a large number of people from Bangladesh illegally migrated to India.

The Bdnews24.com, an online news-portal of Bangladesh, also quoted Shringla stating that the people left out of the NRC in Assam could move to Foreigners' Tribunal challenging exclusion and even go to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.

“As you can imagine this is a long and lengthy judicial process and therefore there is no reason at this point of time for any concern that there will be any impact on Bangladesh. As far as we are concerned, this is an internal issue and there should absolutely be no impact particularly when it comes to a country that is a close friend of ours, a country that is an important partner of ours,” Shringla was quoted by Bdnews24.com.

During a “Question and Answer” session after his speech, the Foreign Secretary said that the CAA was “actually a proactive legislation”, which had been brought into force by Modi Government in New Delhi on humanitarian grounds.

“In other words, we have hundreds of thousands of people who are currently in India, who are basically homeless and stateless. They will be allowed to seek citizenship on a faster track. That means instead of 10 years, they will get it in five years,” the news portal quoted him saying.

“Firstly, the citizenship bill is not against any religion. Secondly, it will provide express citizenship to those who have fled persecution in neighbouring countries and have taken refuge in India. And thirdly, this does not apply to the current government in Bangladesh. This applies to the post 1975 period when military governments and other governments did not observe the spirit and letter of the constitution of Bangladesh which is secular and as a result of which a number of people had to flee persecution and come to India,” Shringla said, obviously making an attempt to iron out the wrinkles in New Delhi's ties with Hasina's government in Dhaka.

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Published 02 March 2020, 21:10 IST

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