External Affairs

Junior Home Minister's Remarks on Bangladesh Could Impact Bilateral Ties, Say Former Envoys

The envoys said that the comments were in poor taste and ill informed.

New Delhi: A statement by Minister of State of Home Affairs G. Kishan Reddy has again raised concerns that there is a lack of sensitivity among the larger political establishment about the impact of remarks on Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s domestic political capital and therefore on bilateral relations with India.

On Sunday, PTI had reported that Reddy criticised Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao for opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act, claiming that expanding provisions to Muslims in Bangladesh would lead to over half of the south Asian neighbour’s population to enter India.

“Half of Bangladesh will be empty (vacant) if India offers citizenship to them (Bangladeshis). Half of Bangladeshis will come over to India if citizenship is promised (to them). Who will take responsibility? KCR? Or Rahul Gandhi?” he had asked. 

“They seek citizenship for infiltrators. The government of India is ready to review the CAA if it has one word against anyone of the 130 crore citizens, but not for Pakistani or Bangladeshi Muslims,” Reddy had also said. 

There has been no official response from the Bangladesh government, even as Bangladeshi media did take note of these remarks. Dhaka Tribune termed it a “ridiculous” comment.

Also read: Dilip Ghosh Now Promises to ‘Send Back 1 Crore Illegal Bangladeshis’

Relations between India and Bangladesh have come under a shadow in recent months especially following the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act. The legislation allows for fast track citizenship for six non-Muslim and non-Jewish religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan on grounds that they have been prosecuted.

Speaking to The Wire, former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh Deb Mukherjee said that Dhaka was likely to view these remarks with “distaste and contempt”.

“These are bizarre statements,” he said.

However, Mukherjee stated that the silence from Dhaka to such repeated statements from BJP leaders. “Whether it is the mention of “termites” or that “Bangladesh will become vacant,” these are in such poor taste and so ill-informed…what will the Bangladesh government actually say about them?” he said.

Even while the Bangladesh government is silent, Mukherjee said that he feels that there will be a cumulative impact on Bangladesh-India relations. “Of course, they will have an impact on Bangladeshis, as it shows that India as an unreliable and arrogant partner”.

The retired Indian foreign service officer said that the statements show India to be “unreliable”, as they demonstrate that Indian ministers are not looking at “political repercussions for (prime minister) Sheikh Hasina back home”. Mukherjee was referring to the popular perception that Hasina has been more friendly towards India, compared to the political opposition in Bangladesh when they were in power.

“How will the PM face up to the people?”

Another former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, who did not want to be named, felt that that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance that the National Register of Citizens and CAA will not impact Bangladesh may have played in Dhaka’s calculations in remaining silent.

Also read: CAA an Internal Matter, But Don’t Understand Why India Did it: Bangladesh PM

After Sheikh Hasina met with Modi on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in New York, in September 2019, Bangladeshi media had reported that the Indian leader had given assurance that NRC won’t impact Dhaka after the former noted that it was of “great concern”.

The former Indian envoy told The Wire that his contacts in Dhaka have expressed concern that repeated statements about Bangladeshis “vitiate the atmosphere” and create a sense of “distrust”.

He noted that the main concern in Dhaka was that the CAA, coupled with the NRC, could lead to a large movement of people without the requisite documentation, towards Bangladesh.

Former Bangladesh high commissioner to India Tariq Karim described the remarks by Reddy as “outrageous and incendiary. “(This is) not the way to win friends or influence people. People are incensed by these insulting remarks,” Karim, who had been Dhaka’s envoy to India for over five years till 2015, told The Wire.

Following the passage of CAA in early December 2019, Bangladesh foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen cancelled his trip to Delhi, just 24 hours before his arrival. Both India and Bangladesh maintained that the visit had been postponed as Momen had to take part in two important national events.

Following Amit Shah’s initial remarks in Lok Sabha while steering the legislation, the Indian government had to clarify that he had only been referring to atrocities against minorities under the previous government run by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Indian officials had argued that relations haven not deteriorated as portrayed in the media, pointing out that there had been a meeting of security personnel and trade officials.

Last month, Bangladesh junior foreign minister M. Shahriar Alam had cancelled his participation in the Raisina Dialogue. However, Bangladeshi information minister Hasan Mahmud came to Delhi on schedule for a meeting with his Indian counterpart and met with the Prime Minister too.

Modi is scheduled to visit Dhaka next month to take part in founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary celebrations.