Need Tact: BJP’s political rhetoric on Bangladesh could affect New Delhi-Dhaka ties in the long run  

An unintended side effect of the debate on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is the possible impact on relations with Bangladesh. Union home minister Amit Shah, during the debate on the bill in the Lok Sabha, asserted that not a single incident of atrocity against minorities took place in Bangladesh as long as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was alive. But he singled out the regime of BNP under its leader Khaleda Zia for attacks against Hindus, their properties and places of worship. Shah listed the rape of 100 Hindu women in Charbhasan upazila and gang rape of 200 minority women in Bhola in October 2001. He also pointed out that in October 1990, 300 houses belonging to Hindus were set on fire at Kaivailyadham and one thousand Hindu families had come under attack in Lalmohan upazila. Such incidents, he affirmed, were compelling reasons to introduce CAB and grant citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus who have fled religious persecution in the neighbouring country.

It is unfortunate but true that atrocities have taken place against minorities in Bangladesh from time to time. And giving sanctuary and asylum to such persecuted refugees should indeed be welcomed. But the question is that should the issue be articulated in such a fashion that it upsets the people of Bangladesh and possibly impacts India-Bangladesh relations. What if Bangladesh or another neighbouring country had asserted in its Parliament that Muslims were persecuted in India as evidenced by some riots and proceeded to pass a resolution to this effect? Would India have taken it lying down? Certainly not. 

The problem here is that BJP has been building a political narrative on Bangladesh that isn’t conducive for relations between the two countries. To be sure, the state of current bilateral relations is excellent under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina. But no matter how good government-to-government relations are, ties cannot be durable unless people-to-people relations are solid. It is on the latter score that BJP’s problematic narrative is failing the overall relationship. Shah last year had described illegal Bangladeshi migrants as termites – a comment that certainly did not go down well in Bangladeshi society. He and the BJP then played up the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam as an anti-illegal Bangladeshi drive. And now he is openly castigating previous Bangladeshi governments for atrocities against religious minorities. 

While the BJP government here has repeatedly reassured Dhaka on NRC and other related matters, the rhetoric it is deploying to push through its pet projects is certain to create resentment among the people of Bangladesh. And Shah and BJP should know that governments come and go, but damages inflicted to the bilateral relationship at the level of society endure for years. Bangladesh, to its credit, has maintained diplomatic silence on NRC and CAB. But how long will the people of Bangladesh put up with BJP’s rhetoric? And will that affect bilateral ties at a later stage? Only time will tell.   

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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