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NRC: India’s contentions about Bangladesh are baseless, say experts

The Citizen’s Amendment Act (CAA) may seem to be India’s internal affair, but it has a serious impact on Bangladesh. Not only does it tarnish Bangladesh’s image, but it also ignites communal unrest, according to former diplomats, researchers and experts on international affairs.

Certain statements made by top Indian politicians and recent events unfolding there, have given rise to these views. Experts feel that these events are not in keeping with the existing good relations between the two countries.

Defending the controversial anti-Muslim bill in parliament, Indian Home Minister and President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Amit Shah said that the BJP is obliged to take such divisive political decisions due to the fact that India was divided in 1947 on the basis of religion. Shah said that if the country hadn’t been divided on the basis of religion, there would have been no need for this bill today.

However, Professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, said that it was the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swaymsevak Sangh (RSS), which first introduced the politics of religious division in the Indian subcontinent.

Many have forgotten that even before Jinnah, it was the RSS that brought up the “Two-Nation” theory. And that was 17 years before Jinnah propagated it, Dr. Ahmed said. The BJP is run by RSS and Narendra Modi himself is associated with RSS.

Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed went on to say that India had earlier overridden the Two-Nation theory and had moved on to being a secular state. But it is obvious that it has now moved away from that and has taken up the politics of extreme nationalism based on religion.

This is very alarming because the BJP is wanting to give legality to these changes where Muslims are sidelined, and are blatantly told that India is not their country.

The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 9 December and by the Rajya Sabha on 11 December. President Ramnath Kovind signed the bill into law on the night of 12 December.

It was said that the 64-year-old Citizenship Law was changed to ensure the citizenship of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians who had fled to India in the face of persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Bangladesh’s former Ambassador, M Humayun Kabir, said that it is wrong for Bangladesh to be ‘used’ in order to win support for the bill. He pointed out that Afghanistan is far away from India. Given the relationship between India and Pakistan, there is bound to be some acerbity. But it is shocking that Bangladesh should be used to justify the bill, Kabir said.

He further said that India’s contentions about Bangladesh in relation to the issue are baseless. Communal harmony and friendly relations exist in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Hindu Buddha Christian Oikya Parishad even admitted this and expressed concern about the Indian bill. Former Ambassador Humayun Kabir felt there is an ulterior motive behind involving Bangladesh in the issue. The move is bound to disrupt peace in Bangladesh, he warned.

After the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 11 December stated that the citizen’s bill discriminates against Muslims. The United Nations also maintained that the bill is discriminatory.

Professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, Amena Mohsin, said that a citizenship act could not be based merely on religion. She expressed her shock that India could come up with such a law. “They are becoming a religious state,” she said, adding that India is losing its non-communal image. This is creating divisions among themselves. “I would say India is harming itself,” she added.

Speaking at a briefing on a report regarding the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Washington on Thursday (12 December), the founder of “Genocide Watch” Dr Gregory Stanton said what is happening in India is just one step away from genocide.

While working for the US State Department in 1996, Dr. Stanton listed 10 stages of genocide. The first stage is ‘division’ to distinguish people as ‘us and them’. The second stage is symbolization, where the victims are seen as aliens. The third stage is dehumanization which entails discrimination and depriving a section of people of citizenship.

The eighth stage is persecution. The ninth, extermination and the tenth, denial. Dr Stanton said that India is clearly preparing for genocide.

Meanwhile, feeling insecure in India, many people are trying to enter Bangladesh through its western border. It is said that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be enforced all over India. This is giving rise to more fear.

Humayun Kabir said: “We have seen the impact of the NRC in Assam. What will happen to the people who are left out of the list? Where will they be kept? If India wants, they can keep them in detention camps, but it must be realised that not everything goes in accordance with government’s wishes. Such measures will create social insecurity and cause a rift between India and Bangladesh.

The question is, what stance should Bangladesh adopt? It has already postponed the visit of two of its ministers to India. India’s High Commissioner in Dhaka, Riva Ganguly, was summoned when two signboards in front of the Bangladesh Consulate in Guwahati were blackened and a convoy of Bangladesh’s Deputy High Commissioner was attacked. Bangladesh conveyed its displeasure about these incidents. Indian media referred to this as ‘pressure’.

Humayun Kabir said that such signals were sent out beforehand. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Bangladesh’s Prime Minister in New York, the NRC issue was raised. It was raised again during the Home Minister-level talks between the two countries. However, no joint statement was issued.

South Asian political analysts are taking note of Bangladesh’s stance in this regard. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina may be seen as a loyal ally of India, but she is not taking the CAB lying down. She is making it clear, albeit in a peaceful and strategic manner, that India should show a positive attitude towards Bangladesh.

Ironically, even when the political opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was in power, it had failed to take a firm stance against India’s aggressions. Out of power, they are even more hesitant to provoke India’s displeasure. At a recent human rights discussion organized by the BNP and attended by several foreign diplomats, party Secretary General, Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir, cut Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner short several times when the latter began to criticize India on Kashmir and other issues in his speech.

Equations in regional politics have changed. As it is, India has been uneasy with China’s growing presence in the region. Bangladesh has seen a deluge of Chinese investments and Hasina makes no secret of her eastward overtures. Perhaps that added firmness to her stance towards India when it came to the Indian National Register of Citizens.

Bangladesh, after all, is already burdened with over a million Rohingya refugees who had fled from genocide in Myanmar to take shelter in Bangladesh. It simply cannot afford another influx of refugees from India. No bonds are strong enough to allow such a crisis to befall upon the country again.