Certainly, the process of creating a national register of citizens (NRC) in Assam and last year’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have made things more complicated, says India’s former foreign secretary Dr Muchkund Dubey
"Rock solid." "Connected by blood."
These two remarks were made by two influential senior cabinet ministers of Bangladesh within 24 hours to describe relations between Bangladesh and India.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen made the first statement at the handover ceremony of 10 diesel locomotives from India to Bangladesh on Monday.
The second one was made by Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader when Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das called on him at the secretariat in Dhaka on Tuesday.
However, if this was the reality, then why has a section of the Indian media been writing about the cold relations between Dhaka and Delhi for the last few days? Isn't Delhi worried at all about Bangladesh's so-called growing “dependence” on China and signs of a thaw between Dhaka and Islamabad?
"The answer is both yes and no," said Sanjay Bhardwaj, a professor of international relations at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University and head of the Centre for South Asian Studies.
“India knows very well that there is nothing to worry about Imran’s one or two phone calls to Dhaka. However, if Imran wants to grow sentiments about Kashmir in a Muslim-majority country like Bangladesh, then Delhi knows how to deal with it diplomatically," Dr Bhardwaj said.
“The same goes for China-Bangladesh relations. It would be a mistake to think that India does not realize that Dhaka has to have relations with Beijing to protect its economic interests and investment opportunities,” he added.
So the notion that Delhi is angry with Dhaka over Bangladesh’s not professing solidarity with India when twenty Indian soldiers were killed in Galwan Valley in Ladakh is completely misplaced.
Several top officials in Delhi’s South Block have repeatedly told this correspondent in the last few days that India understands and respects Bangladesh's obligations very well. "We can never ask Bangladesh to choose either India or China as a partner. Our foreign policy does not state that either," they said unequivocally.
Then how true is it that there is a stagnation in implementing Indian projects in the current term of Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh? The Indian Ministry of External Affairs is largely blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for this situation.
However, the implementation of India-Bangladesh bilateral projects is still going on. The new horizons opened up by India-Bangladesh trade through rail links amidst the lockdown or the movement of goods shipment to the north-eastern region of India is proof.
Even the ongoing Rampal power plant project work has not stopped during the lockdown, an official from the South Block has stated.
Former Indian high commissioner to Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty told Bangla Tribune: "If Prime Minister Narendra Modi had gone to Dhaka in person to attend the inaugural function of the Mujib Year in March, these Indian projects would have gained momentum. Prime Minister Modi's visit could have added momentum, which was not possible because of Covid-19.”
However, he thinks that despite the delay forced by Covid-19 for the last couple of months, there are no uncertainties regarding the completion of Indian backed projects in Bangladesh.
He said: “There has always been a pro-China group or 'lobby' in Dhaka’s power corridor, and of course it is still there but it couldn’t ever become an obstacle in the development of the India-Bangladesh relationship, and I am sure this time too it won’t be anything different.”
When asked if it meant that there were no elements of discomfort between the two neighbouring countries, India’s former foreign secretary Dr Muchkund Dubey said: “Absolutely there is. And it is India’s treatment of its Muslim minority.”
The veteran diplomat was Indian high commissioner in Dhaka during the 1980s and still regularly visits Bangladesh and interacts with people representing different levels of the society there.
“What I have learned while talking to everyone in Bangladesh is that the incidents of Muslims getting beaten to death for eating beef and then being deprived and oppressed just for being Muslims makes them angry and frustrated,” he added.
For those in Bangladesh who saw India as a beacon of secularism, it was heartbreaking for them to accept this reality, he observed.
“Certainly, the process of creating a national register of citizens (NRC) in Assam and last year’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have made things more complicated,” he added.
And against the backdrop of such developments, India is all set to inaugurate the construction of a temple on the ruins of the 16th-century Babri Masjid, destroyed by a Hindu mob in 1992. Sources say that the Indian prime minister will attend the event.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, while talking to India's The Hindu newspaper this week, said he did not believe that the construction of this temple would cast a shadow over the strong ties between Bangladesh and India.
But at the same time, he warned that India (with the construction of this temple) "should not do anything that could erode the deep relations between the two countries."
It will be recalled that Dr Momen, in light of the CAA being passed by the Indian government last December, postponed his scheduled visit to Delhi.
Moreover, Asaduzzaman Khan, Bangladesh’s Home Minister, also decided to cancel his planned India visit.
Neither of these two visits took place later on. It is no secret that Dhaka is still unhappy over the Indian government’s attitude to its Muslim population.
Speaking on the state of Dhaka-Delhi ties, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, said: “Our relations with Bangladesh are time-tested and historic. They have always recognized the Jammu and Kashmir issue as India's internal matter. It's a stand they've always taken.”
Here what has been left unspoken is that no matter how much Imran Khan tries to bring up the Kashmir issue, India has full confidence that Sheikh Hasina will give much importance to its position.
"Just as we don’t believe that Bangladesh's Kashmir policy will change because Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke for a few minutes with the Bangladeshi Premier, it is ridiculous to think that relations between the two neighbours will be crippled due to Bangladesh not issuing a statement on the incidents in Galwan.
“Our bilateral relations are based on a solid foundation, and you’ll see that it will grow even stronger next year during the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s Liberation War,” said a top Indian foreign ministry official.