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Assam NRC: Should Bangladesh be concerned?

  • Published at 03:46 pm September 3rd, 2019
People wait to check their names on the draft list at the National Register of Citizens (NRC) centre at a village in Nagaon district, Assam state, India, July 30, 2018 Reuters

Most Indian observers believe that India is not keen on jeopardizing relationship with Bangladesh

India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar has sent out a 10 paragraph statement to journalists covering the Foreign Ministry in New Delhi, explaining the background of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) or national citizenship and the position of the Indian government.

The statement, issued on August 29, sought to explain the Indian government's position on it, adding that the procedure was implemented on the order of the country's top court, not on any executive order of the government. 

The statement also claimed that exclusion from the NRC does not necessarily mean that individuals have been rendered "stateless" or identified as "foreigners."

However, the question arises why the country's foreign ministry finds it necessary to issue such a lengthy statement when the Indian government has repeatedly claimed the NRC process is an "internal matter."

The answer to the question is simple - as much as the authorities in Delhi would like to call the NRC process a domestic issue of India, it is not unknown to them that the matter has considerably worried their neighboring country Bangladesh. 

Therefore, one of the main reasons for issuing this statement was also to ease the concerns of Bangladesh.

"It may be true that Bangladesh is not mentioned in the statement, but I do not have the slightest doubt that Delhi wanted to ease Bangladesh's worry in this regard," stated Prof Ujjwal Kumar Singh from the Department of Political Science, Delhi University.

However, Professor Singh also mentioned that the statement does not sound convincing for Bangladesh.

 “See, even though the statement is full of detailed information on the scope of appeal for people excluded from the NRC to be included in the citizen’s list, it will continue to worry Bangladesh that it never mentions that attempts won’t be made to push these people into Bangladesh or any other states,” he added. 

Responding to a query asking if the exodus of 1.9million people into Bangladesh was possible, Senior Fellow at Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, a top strategic thinktank in Delhi, Pushpita Das said: "No, it is not possible. Apart from that, India will not kill people or force them to leave the country like Myanmar did with the Rohingya community."

"It is not possible to push these millions of people to Bangladesh no matter which party is in power in this country. The authorities will probably attempt to make a position of second class citizen within India, where these people will lose their right to vote, their right to own a ration card, and lose opportunities to work for the government." 

She said: "However, if any of them have actually descended from Bangladesh and want to go back to their ancestral place after losing all privileges in India, then it is a different matter."

"But otherwise there is no way to force these people into a friendly country such as Bangladesh through civilized and diplomatic means," Professor Das said.

In fact, Bangladesh is now India's closest neighbor in South Asia apart from Bhutan. The economic and strategic relations between the two countries have also grown steadily. Therefore, most Indian observers believe that India will not jeopardize their relationship by forcing these millions of people to Bangladesh.

Mridula Mukherjee, a professor, and an eminent historian and researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said: “My analysis is that the main purpose of this NRC process is political. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to demonstrate that they are identifying the true citizens of India and ensuring the security of the country in the process. 

"For this reason, the party wants to repeat the same procedure in other states after Assam. But it would not serve any political purpose for BJP to send these people who were left out of the list to Bangladesh - it is more likely to backfire."

The professor further said: "Therefore, I believe they will not be compelled to make the journey in this regard, rather the BJP has nothing to lose if these people lose their franchise and live in India, as anyway they have never considered the Bangla-speaking Muslims of Assam to be their supporters."

Thus, most Indian analysts predict that it is unlikely that India will force out the millions of people left out of the NRC list into Bangladesh anytime in the near future, as the political and diplomatic reality says otherwise.

"However, Bangladesh cannot drop their guards and sit comfortably over this issue. India might declare it an internal matter, but Bangladesh authorities should keep working out of sight so that these people are not forced to cross the border." Professor Ujjwal Kumar Singh advised Dhaka.

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