BJP’s motormouths, domestic politics are irritants in Delhi-Dhaka ties

The day two nations issued a joint statement hailing their “deep historical and fraternal ties”, Himanta Biswa Sarma raked up the utopian concept of Akhand Bharat, which seeks to integrate Bangladesh and Pakistan with India

India Bangladesh
Narendra Modi, in his interaction with Sheikh Hasina, nudged the neighbour to protect minority Hindus by keeping the spirit of the 1971 liberation war alive; that translates to upholding secularism.

The BJP’s domestic politics and the rhetoric of its motormouth leaders once again put India in an embarrassing — if not precarious — diplomatic position during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to the country.

The day the two friendly neighbours issued a joint statement hailing their “deep historical and fraternal ties”, senior BJP leader and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma chose to rake up the issue of ‘Akhand Bharat,’ a utopian concept fostered by the BJP’s ideological fountain head, the RSS. 

Also read: Bharat Jodo Yatra is just band-aid for existential crisis of Rahul and Congress

Taking a dig at Rahul Gandhi for launching the Bharat Jodo Yatra — a 3,500-km unification march from Kanyakumari to Kashmir — Sarma on Wednesday (September 7) said the Congress leader should instead try and integrate Bangladesh and Pakistan with India, much to the embarrassment of India’s foreign ministry team hosting the Bangladesh delegation.

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Tone of discord 

Incidentally, during Hasina’s four-day visit that concluded on Thursday (September 8), Assam, which shares a 262-km border with Bangladesh, figured prominently in the initiatives the two countries took to enhance their bilateral cooperation.

The visit saw the signing of a deal to share the waters of River Kushiyara that flows from south Assam to Sylhet in north-east Bangladesh.

Also read: Why Sheikh Hasina’s India visit is crucial for both Delhi and Dhaka

The joint statement said the deal will “help Bangladesh to address its irrigation needs and facilitate water projects for south Assam.”

Likewise, Assam is also an important constituent in the two countries’ decision to connect their power grids synchronously. For this purpose, the proposed high capacity 765 KV transmission line will connect Katihar in Bihar with Bornagar in Assam via Parbatipur in Bangladesh.

Sarma’s ‘Akhand-Bharat’ remark was a contravention to the spirit of the initiatives of the two countries.

Past controversies

Such gratuitous remarks of influential BJP leaders in the past had caused major damage to India-Bangladesh relations.

Then BJP president Amit Shah’s “termite” remark on Bangladeshi migrants had created quite a flutter in the diplomatic circles, with Dhaka taking serious note of the comment, calling it “unwanted” and “not proper.”

Three Bangladesh ministers cancelled their India visit in 2020 soon after the BJP government enacted the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to provide citizenship to “persecuted” religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

This time, however, Bangladesh chose to ignore Sarma’s comment. Of late, the Assam CM has developed a penchant for courting controversy by shooting from the hip, ostensibly in a bid to score some brownie points with the RSS.

Reacting to Sarma’s remark, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said the former was trying hard to prove his worthiness in the new setup. “A new convert is more eager to show his loyalty,” Baghel said, alluding to Sarma’s relatively new stint in the BJP.

Opinion: Hindutva politics of hate, manipulation of history now India’s cross to bear

In June, India faced diplomatic backlash with Muslim countries taking serious exception to the alleged defamatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed by former BJP spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal.

Not in sync with foreign policy

Besides the uncalled-for remarks of its leaders, even some political stands of the BJP are often not in sync with the country’s foreign policy. This disconnect was reflected in the joint statement issued by the two countries.

In the statement, India profusely lauded the humanitarian assistance Bangladesh provided to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

“India expressed appreciation at the generosity of Bangladesh in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to over a million persons forcibly displaced from the Rakhine State in Myanmar and underlined its continuing commitment to support both Bangladesh and Myanmar, as the only country that is neighbour of both, in the effort to ensure safe, sustainable and expeditious return of these forcibly displaced people to their homeland,” the joint statement read.

New Delhi actually hailed Bangladesh for doing something which it opposes in India — giving refuge to persecuted Rohingyas.

Last month, the Union Home Ministry had stated that Rohingya refugees in New Delhi would be held at a detention centre and then deported.

Also read: Sheikh Hasina: Gritty stateswoman who steered Bangladesh to prosperity is 75

Several Rohingyas have been pushed back to Bangladesh ever since the BJP came to power in 2014 in a move described by rights bodies like Human Rights Watch (HRW) as “cruel disregard for human life and international law.”

Rohingyas issue

The HRW recently observed the deportation highlighted the life-threatening risk Rohingya refugees were facing in India.

The Hindu nationalist BJP views the presence of Rohingya Muslims in India as a “security threat” to the country. The BJP government’s uneasiness over the Rohingya issue did not go unnoticed even in the joint statement where the refugee community was simply referred as displaced people from Rakhine instead of identifying them by their ethnicity.

A government source in New Delhi, however, stated that the omission was because Myanmar does not recognise Rohingyas as a distinct ethnic community. In the 2014 census, the Myanmar government forced the Rohingyas to identify them as “Bengalis”. So, New Delhi does not want to engage in a diplomatic tussle with Myanmar over the term being used to refer to the community.

More than diplomatic compulsion, it is the BJP’s aversion towards the community that is preventing the party-led government from referring to the Rohingyas by their ethnic identity, said Suhas Chakma of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).

Spirit of 1971 war

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his interaction with his Bangladesh counterpart, nudged the neighbour to protect minority Hindus in that country by keeping the “spirit” of 1971 liberation war “alive.”

Muslims and Hindus of Bangladesh jointly fought against Pakistani forces during the country’s liberation war, upholding secular spirit. So, by insisting on the need to keep the 1971 spirit alive, India clearly called for upholding secularism, a tenet the ruling BJP is often accused of “bulldozing” in the country.

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