The Indian external affairs minister’s maiden visit to Dhaka, was not one that garnered high expectations as it is considered to serve the protocol of formally bringing an invitation to our prime minister from her Indian counterpart and completing the preparatory work for it. Even so, we cannot help but feel disappointed by Mr S Jaishankar’s visit if not by what was said but more so by what remained unsaid.
Two issues need to be mentioned here—the case with regard to water sharing agreements and the issue of the NRC—two issues of great concern for Bangladesh. While Mr Jaishankar expressed India’s desire to find a “mutually acceptable” formula to share water from 54 common rivers, he was rather vague regarding the Teesta water sharing treaty. When asked about it he merely said that there was no change in India’s commitment to the position it had taken. The last time we checked, the two countries could not sign a deal during former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in 2011 because West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had vehemently opposed the deal. And in 2015, the then Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that there would be no deal without the West Bengal government on board. Is this the position Mr Jaishankar is referring to?
His response “it is an internal matter of India” with regard to the National Register of Citizens in Assam that has left out around four million Bangla-speaking people at risk of losing citizenship and facing possible expulsion from India, is rather confusing. What will be the fate of the four million people who are excluded? Will they be pushed into Bangladesh? We raise the question because statements from Indian leaders, including the home minister, all but indirectly hinted so. Also, the cut off year being 1971, leaves little doubt of what may happen.
The Indian external minister’s stress on easing the process for people’s visits to the countries, assurances to address the border killing issue, readiness to provide assistance to the Rohingyas in Bangladesh and enthusiasm regarding enhancing India’s economic partnership with Bangladesh were some of the more positive outcomes of the visit and we thank him for them.
We look forward to our prime minister’s visit to India and hope that her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the contentious issues and result in sustainable solutions that will give a genuine boost to the cordial relations the two countries share. Given our extremely warm relationship with India, we have great expectations from the upcoming summit.