Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, India's former High Commissioner to Bangladesh, in one of his recent article expressed his concern over India's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its possible fallouts as its passage only allowed illegal migrants other than Muslims to easily obtain Indian citizenship. He vented his fear that the reverse migration in the post-CAA regime can encourage the Islamists and anti-Indian lobbies in Bangladesh to target Hindu minorities in the delta, besides hampering the existing bilateral relationship.
The CAA came into force last week on the heels of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, and according to Pinak Ranjan, "has impacted ties with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan." In the CAA Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been named as the three Islamic countries which are the sources of illegal migration into India, and ones with significant numbers of persecuted non-Muslim minorities.
Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, in his article he stated that, "India has always maintained that the NRC in Assam is a domestic issue, whenever concerns were raised in Bangladesh. The NRC undoubtedly is a domestic issue and so is the CAA, which is an amendment to India's Citizenship Act of 1955. The CAA states that designated non-Muslim persecuted minorities will not be treated as illegal migrants if they have entered India by 31 December 2014, and fast tracks the grant of Indian citizenship via naturalisation after 6 years."
Though India has been emphasising that it considers both Hindus and Muslims as illegal immigrants, no such opportunities are being offered to the Muslim migrants. Though Pinak Ranjan has mentioned that the CAA has also been the result of how Bangladesh has been treating its minority, pointing to its 10 percent Hindu population and the ongoing flow of migrants into India. Pinak Ranjan pointed out that though Bangladesh prides itself as upholding a secular ethos, he implied that the country must also rethink its realities vis-a-vis its minority population. Perhaps the fact that "CAA has aroused fears of reverse migration," should be seen in the light of all such failures, the retired diplomat suggested.
He also went to argue that "Bangladesh is 89 percent Muslim, with 1 percent Christians and other communities. Anti-Indian and Islamist propaganda is likely to paint India as having turned against Muslims."
"This may become the stick to target Hindus, he wrote. Bangladesh's original Constitution was secular till the dictator General Hussain Muhammad Ershad forced through an amendment which made Islam the state religion. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has not ventured to repeal this amendment, fearing backlash from quarters who will label any such attempt as un-Islamic," he added.
The former ambassador touched on some issues relating to the treatment of Hindu population in Bangladesh. He said, "They [Bangladesh government] have asserted that communal harmony is better than many other countries. Bangladesh is peeved that India has bracketed it with Pakistan, the latter having an atrocious record of ill-treating its Hindu minority. There is empirical evidence of sporadic harassment of Hindus and destruction of temples in Bangladesh, but PM Sheikh Hasina's government has never encouraged it and has acted to prevent and deal with such incidents. There has been criticism of lack of punishment for perpetrators of such acts from Hindu leaders and civil society."
Concerning the bilateral relationship between the two countries Pinak Ranjan wrote, "Bangladesh's dilemma is an acute one because it has a policy of not acknowledging illegal migration from its territory into India. There is little doubt that during 2001-2006, when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat-e-Islami government was in power in Bangladesh, there were large scale atrocities against Hindus, resulting in migration into India."
What the article by the retired diplomat fails to address is the atrocities in the post-BNP-Jamaat regime.
"The ground reality is that there is always a flow of migrants into India from Bangladesh, though numbers have come down. How the Indian government will deal with illegal Muslim migrants who will become stateless, is the million-dollar question," he observed and went on to add that "Reports of large detention centres being built in Assam has spooked Muslim migrants who find their names in the NRC, though there are provision for appeal. This fear is aggravated by the talk of having a country wide NRC. Bilateral ties with Bangladesh are at risk of going downhill, if this issue is not managed with sensitivity."
People in Bangladesh has also showed their concern over the CAA and NRC issue. And few prominent figures has reacted in the local media platforms. Shahab Enam Khan, professor of international relations at Jahangirnagar University says that the Bangladeshi public's perception of India will only veer towards the negative because of the recent situation. "The anti-India sentiment has increased sharply over the years, largely due to Bangladesh's foreign policy weaknesses along with the Indian media's persistent negative projection of Bangladesh as 'India's backyard'," says Khan.
Journalist and author Altaf Parvez, who has written a book on the water-sharing dispute between India and Bangladesh, says India is unfairly dragging Bangladesh into its internal issues without any substantive evidence of illegal migration. "I'm not saying there has never been any illegal migration from Bangladesh. But people who migrated to India after Bangladesh's liberation did so of their own volition. It may be that they loved India and thought it was a better place to live. But it had no connection to communal relations in Bangladesh," says Parvez.
India's claim of NRC being their internal issue holds all the potential to quickly change the mood in Bangladesh with the sudden rise in illegal border-crossing from India since November. Though people are getting detained by the Border Guard Bangladesh, yet many people are still entering the country illegally according to some local and global media agencies. It has been also claimed that they are 'Bangladeshi Muslims' and they have returned home because they no longer have any hope of getting Indian citizenship after the CAA came into force. And if this issue of Muslims crossing the border is not managed with sensitivity, India's bilateral ties with Bangladesh might sour.