The seven pacts signed by India and Bangladesh yesterday (6 September) during Sheikh Hasina’s four-day visit is a sign that bilateral relations are back on track after the chill induced by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The act, still to be implemented, prioritises faster citizenship to persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Bangladesh did not take kindly to the insinuation that it does not protect its minorities — though that is the reality.
The seven agreements include deals to increase cooperation in trade, energy, connectivity, water resources, security and defence.
A long-term comprehensive economic partnership agreement is also to be negotiated. These are essential for bilateral ties, where China is trying to queer the pitch for India.
However, the light of friendship needs to be refracted into two separate rays: one is the Bangladeshi government and the other is its Islamising society.
The government of Sheikh Hasina is a friend of India, but the nature of Islamism is such that extreme groups (and even mainstream opposition politicians) are able to enforce steady demographic change and Islamisation whether the “secular” government in Dhaka likes it or not.
If this wasn’t the case, the Bangladeshi Hindu population would not have dwindled from over 21 per cent in 1951 to less than 9 per cent now.
A Dhaka University professor, Abul Barkat, has gone on record to say that Hindus continue to leave Bangladesh even today at the rate of over 630 daily — at which rate no Hindu will be left in that country after 30 years.
This indicates that the underlying nature of Indo-Bangladeshi friendship will be impacted negatively by Islamists — and this is the area where the two countries need to focus, never mind the bonhomie in other areas.
India needs five agreements or political understanding in the following areas.
First, there must be an ability to share citizenship and electoral rolls data at the government-to-government level, so that the same person enrolled as a voter in both countries can be struck off the rolls in India and repatriated to Bangladesh, if both countries agree.
Both citizenship data and electoral data should be shareable.
Second, to enable this information exchange, India could offer to share Aadhaar biometric technology for free.
In case Bangladesh wants to check out other technology options for the same, the crucial requirement should be that the two digital databases can talk to one another and identify duplicate identities.
Third, to sweeten this information sharing agreement, and ensure a buy-in from Bangladesh on cleaning up citizenship data on both sides, India can offer not to repatriate any Bangladeshi citizen and deny him his current livelihood in India.
This can happen provided there is an explicit understanding that he or she will not be given citizenship, and must return to Bangladesh when the work permit period ends.
They can return, but with new work and temporary residency permits. The arrangement can be reciprocal, with Indian citizens too being allowed to work in Bangladesh.
This will happen at high skill levels, for many Indian companies use Bangladesh as textile or manufacturing bases for export, including exports to India.
Fourth, we need a formal pact for mutual help in natural disasters, which are likely to get worse and may even force many Bangladeshis to move to India if their places get inundated by rising sea levels or river overflows.
There is, in fact, a long-term chance that climate change will force many Bangladeshis to move to India. The pact must offer temporary shelter to citizens of both countries, with provisions to repatriate when things settle.
A joint fund to operate such disaster-management and rehab programmes will be good for both.
Fifth, since demographic change is not completely stoppable or reversible when countries have porous borders, India must get Bangladesh to agree to a new pact where the latter agrees to specifically protect Hindus in its territory.
A Nehru-Liaquat pact was agreed after Independence to protect minorities in both countries after Partition, but Pakistan never kept its part of the bargain — nor intended to.
A Modi-Hasina pact should have a better chance of success, provided there is political will on Bangladesh’s side.
We could for example, agree to give Bangladesh access to check how Bengali Muslims are faring in Assam or Bangladesh, and the latter could do the same for Hindus in its territory.
India can offer to help Bangladesh with internal security issues on this front.
We cannot forever live with the assumption that Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan have nowhere to go but India. One-sided ethnic cleansing is no longer acceptable.
The pact should provide for reciprocal repatriation of Bengali Muslims from India — something that B R Ambedkar wanted during partition — if Hindus continue to leave Bangladesh.
A Modi-Hasina pact would be as useless as Nehru-Liaquat if it is one-sided.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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