NEW DELHI: Bangladesh has India’s National Register of Citizens firmly in its sights: it is expected to top Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s agenda when she visits early next month for talks with Narendra Modi, and to attend the India Economic Summit of the World Economic Forum from October 3 to 6.
Sources in the Bangladesh government told SNI that their country is already battling the Rohingya refugee crisis and will not allow even one person to cross the border from India into their country. While India has maintained the NRC is a domestic matter–external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said so during his visit to Bangladesh last month–Dhaka fears that those identified as illegal migrants in the NRC exercise might be seen as coming from Bangladesh.
Statements from India’s top leadership have not helped. Union home minister Amit Shah during his recent visit to Assam had said not a single infiltrator would be allowed to stay. Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sharma said that India would have to persuade Bangladesh to take back people excluded from the final NRC list published on August 31 that has left out nearly 19 lakh persons.
Given the concern in Dhaka, the external affairs ministry sought to lower temperatures. Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “As a generic proposition, can somebody tell me which country allows an illegal person to stay on its territory–it’s something we have to ponder over,” adding: “Of course, due process has to be followed and it is being followed. We have explained that NRC is a statutory process, it’s a transparent process, it’s a legal process mandated by the Supreme Court. It is not an executive driven process. Whatever the executive is being told by the SC, that’s being followed by the government.”
Kumar also said reiterated that it was a “a non-discriminatory process so there is no question of any bias or prejudice when the list of 1.9 million excluded people was drawn up. There is a right to appeal before the tribunal and beyond to the high court and the Supreme Court. The person who’s been excluded is not stateless, he’s not been declared a foreigner.”
But the ruling party in Dhaka appears unimpressed. “The issue has left a bad taste in our mouth and has the potential to fan anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh,” said an Awami League leader. He warned that disparaging remarks about Bangladesh by Indian leaders was only fuelling anti-India sentiment in his country.
Asked if those left out of the NRC were from Bangladesh during a joint press conference with his Indian counterpart, the country’s foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen was reported as stating: “I don’t think so. Because if there is any Bangladeshi, they might have gone before 1947 or 1971. So they have been living there for years. We don’t think they are Bangladeshis.”