Bangladesh’s NRC fears need careful handling

The fact that many of the illegal immigrants in India, particularly Assam, have their origins in Bangladesh is an open secret.

Published: 02nd October 2019 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd October 2019 01:27 AM   |  A+A-

As Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lands in New Delhi on Thursday, Dhaka’s concerns about the possible deportation of people who were excluded from the National Register of Citizens in Assam is likely to be at the top of her mind. The issue even came up during her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New York last week, although the Indian foreign ministry’s read-out after the interaction was silent on it.

Modi is reported to have assured Hasina that the NRC would have “no impact on Bangladesh.” Earlier, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, during a visit to Dhaka, had also tried to allay fears over the NRC, describing it as India’s “internal matter”. But despite these assurances, there appears to be great concern in Bangladesh over the issue. The reason is not far to seek. Soon after the publication of the NRC on August 31, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Sarma told the media that India would soon begin talks with Bangladesh on the issue. His statement was followed by some BJP governments declaring that they, too, would bring in NRC in their states.

The fact that many of the illegal immigrants in India, particularly Assam, have their origins in Bangladesh is an open secret. Dhaka may deny any migration to India after Pakistan’s military cracked down on Bangladeshis on 25 March 1971 that led to the country’s liberation, but millions of refugees did flee the then East Pakistan and enter India. But the touchy subject of illegal immigrants needs to be handled with care, especially with an India-friendly government led by Hasina.

Except the Teesta water dispute, many of the ticklish issues between the neighbours have been resolved and relations could not be any better. One way to deal with the problem of illegal Bangladeshis could be a bilateral agreement under which the two countries agree to take back each other’s illegal nationals. The countries could also work out a system in which there is a joint verification procedure. It’s time to replace fiery statements with hard-nosed diplomacy.


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