MORE THAN a month after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was passed, leading to Bangladesh cancelling at least two ministerial visits to India, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that while the Act and the proposed nationwide NRC are “internal matters” of India, the CAA move was “not necessary”.
Hasina’s comments, during an interview to Dubai-based Gulf News, come two months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit Bangladesh for the birth centenary celebrations of Hasina’s father and Bangladesh’s “Father of the Nation”, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Growing strain in relations
During the interview in UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi, where Hasina had gone on a bilateral visit last week, she said that she did not understand the purpose of the CAA passed in India, which aims to offer citizenship to non-Muslim minorities that have faced persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Explained: What NRC+CAA means to you
“We don’t understand why [the Indian government] did it. It was not necessary,” she said.
Bangladesh, where 10.7 per cent of the 161 million-strong population is Hindu and 0.6 per cent Buddhist, has denied any migration to India because of religious persecution.
The Bangladesh PM also said there has been no recorded reverse migration from India. “No, there is no reverse migration from India. But within India, people are facing many problems,” Hasina said.
Protests and violence have erupted across India since the enactment of the CAA last month, and over declarations by the government that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be carried out nationwide.
Analysts in Bangladesh have expressed fears that Indian Muslims, who are unable to prove their citizenship claims, will seek shelter in Bangladesh.
OPINION | CAA, NRC need to be debated objectively
“[Still], it is an internal affair,” Sheikh Hasina said. “Bangladesh has always maintained that the CAA and NRC are internal matters of India. The Government of India, on their part, has also repeatedly maintained that the NRC is an internal exercise of India and Prime Minister Modi has in person assured me of the same during my visit to New Delhi in October 2019,” she said.
The issue of NRC has come up in bilateral conversations over the last year-and-half, since the NRC process in Assam took centerstage in 2018.
Last October, after Hasina met Modi during her visit to Delhi to attend the India Economic Summit of World Economic Forum, she had said she was satisfied with the Prime Minister’s assurance on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that Bangladesh should not be worried over the NRC in Assam.
Later, she visited Kolkata for the first day-night Test match between India and Bangladesh, where West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Amit Shah’s son and BCCI Secretary Jay Shah met her, among others.
Last month, two top Bangladesh ministers in Sheikh Hasina-led government — Foreign minister A K Abdul Momen and Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan — had cancelled their visits to India, a day after India had passed the CAA.
Foreign Minister Momen had said that CAB could weaken India’s character as a secular nation and rejected allegations that minorities are facing religious persecution in his country.
Later, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar clarified that there was no religious persecution under the “present government” of Bangladesh led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and it had happened under the “previous government” and “military rule”.
The back-pedalling by MEA was seen as a response to the Hasina government not being happy with the underlying assumption behind CAB.
To assuage Dhaka’s concerns, the MEA spokesperson had then pointed out that Home Minister Amit Shah, in his speech in Parliament, had mentioned the actions taken by the Hasina government.
He had quoted Shah, who had said: “As long as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was leading Bangladesh, everything worked very well. But once his government went, minorities began to be oppressed. I can tell you that a large number of Bangladeshi Hindus had to come here to seek refuge… the current government in Bangladesh is also taking care of religious minorities. It is making arrangements for religious minorities, but there has been a long period in the past in between, during which people came to India on account of religious persecution. This Bill is only to give citizenship to those people who came at that time.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines