NEW DELHI: For all the claims by India that the National Citizens Register (NRC) of Assam is an “internal matter”, it remains a matter of great concern for next door neighbour Bangladesh. And this came to the fore when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had talks with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Saturday.
“We have been told that it’s an internal issue and we tend to believe that this is the case,” Shahidul Haque, Bangladesh foreign secretary, told media persons at a briefing. However, he indicated that Dhaka was keeping a close watch on developments stating, “at the same time we’re keeping our eyes open.”
This was the second time in 10 days that Sheikh Hasina had brought up the NRC issue with PM Modi. It was earlier discussed when they met on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York. Modi had assured her that Bangladesh need not worry about it.
A nuanced shift in New Delhi’s stand is now being perceived with government sources saying that the NRC is “an ongoing process mandated by the courts” and that “we will see what the next step is as the situation emerges”.
Sheikh Hasina also urged India to use its good offices with Myanmar for resolution of the vexed Rohingya issue. “India enjoys very good ties with Myanmar and our PM requested the Indian authorities to convince Myanmar to take back their nationals,” said Haque.
As for the long delayed pact which will allow Bangladesh a share of Teesta waters, Haque said New Delhi had assured Dhaka that it is “looking into the issue. Hopefully, there will be progress on this.” he said. Bangladesh succeeded in ensuring the Teesta issue was incorporated into the joint statement, which said: “Sheikh Hasina highlighted that the people of Bangladesh are waiting early signing and implementation of the Framework of Interim Agreement for sharing of the Teesta waters as agreed upon by both governments in 2011.”
The Bangladesh foreign secretary further said that the two sides are also exploring the creation of a framework for six other rivers shared by the two countries. This, however, is in the initial stages of discussion though there is political consensus on the matter, said Haque.
The Rohingya refugee issue also figured in the joint statement. It said PM Modi “appreciated Bangladesh’s generosity in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine state of Myanmar.”
Dhaka feels that it has not got adequate backing from New Delhi to ensure Myanmar takes back the one million plus Rohingya refugees currently living in camps in Cox’s Bazar. Their continued presence in Bangladesh could pose a threat to regional security, officials in both Dhaka and New Delhi have conceded in the past. In a bid to mollify Dhaka, the joint statement said India will be providing a fifth tranche of humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh for the Rohingyas and India is also working on another set of socio-economic development projects in Rakhine state.
However, despite these irritants, it was clear that the two sides wanted to continue with the upward trajectory in ties. This was evident in the two leaders underscoring the “excellent state of bilateral relations”, as noted in the joint statement. PM Modi himself reiterated the phrase ‘sonali adhyay’ (golden phase) in describing the current state of bilateral relations.
The two leaders inaugurated three bilateral development projects including one that will enable the supply of LPG from Bangladesh to the Indian state of Tripura in the North East. Not only will this help the cross-border energy trade but also reduce the transportation distance and costs apart from generating employment in Bangladesh.
India will be providing a Coastal Surveillance Radar system for Bangladesh, which sources here said would help enhance maritime domain awareness. The sources insisted that the surveillance system is being provided at Dhaka’s request since it “wants to identify what is happening in its waters”. India has already provided these radar systems to the Maldives and Seychelles.
The MoU on the surveillance system was one of seven pacts inked by the two sides. Another was on connectivity, enabling Indian goods to be transshipped at Mongla and Chattogram ports in Bangladesh.