How not to treat a friendly neighbour

PM Modi with Sheikh Hasina

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India was productive in terms of pacts signed. Six pacts were signed and three projects were inaugurated during her visit. Among the significant accords is an MoU under which Bangladesh has agreed to set up a network of 20 radar systems along its coast. This will add to India’s surveillance of its Bay of Bengal coast. In addition to preventing terrorists from entering our territory to launch attacks, improved surveillance of coastal waters will enable India to keep an eye on Chinese naval activity in the Bay of Bengal. While India’s national security will get a boost from the coastal radar system, its energy security has been increased with the launch of a project under which Bangladesh will supply India with 3,000 tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) per month for distribution in the Northeast. The two sides also agreed on a Standard Operating Procedure pact for India to use Bangladesh’s Chittagong and Mongla ports. With the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement failing to take off on account of Bhutan’s failure to ratify it, Delhi and Dhaka have decided to implement the India-Bangladesh leg of this pact.

However, Hasina has returned to Dhaka with little clarity on how the Narendra Modi government proposes to deal with those left out of the National Register of Citizens. Understandably, the Hasina government is worried that India will push those excluded by the NRC into Bangladesh. This will add to the refugee problem that Bangladesh is already bearing on account of the inflow of Rohingyas. The Narendra Modi government has been fudging its response to the implications of the NRC for Bangladesh. In New York, Modi told Hasina that Bangladesh will not be affected. That Bangladesh raised the NRC issue again in New Delhi indicates that Modi’s assurances in New York did not convince Dhaka. In New Delhi, India dodged Bangladesh’s questions again, saying it would “see [what happens] as the situation emerges.”

The Modi government should have consulted Bangladesh or at least discussed with it the possible outcomes of the NRC. It should have informed Dhaka ahead about its halting of onion exports. This would have enabled the Hasina government to take precautionary steps. Reluctance to consult a neighbour, especially one that is a friend, is reprehensible. Dhaka has accommodated India’s concerns and even risked China’s ire by agreeing to install the coastal radar system. The Modi government’s pressing on with the NRC is wrong at many levels. Its diplomacy vis-à-vis Bangladesh smacks of arrogance and insensitivity. This is not how India should be treating a friendly neighbour.

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