Highlighting the "most extensive and integrated" relationship between the two countries, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Monday said the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will have no impact on Bangladesh.
“These are purely internal to India,” Shringla said.
He was delivering the keynote speech at a seminar on "Bangladesh and India: A Promising Future" at Sonargaon Hotel in the city.
The Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and Indian High Commission in Dhaka jointly organised the event.
As the closest neighbours with so many shared cultural traits, Shringla said it is also inevitable that events in each other’s countries create ripples across the border -- irrespective of whether there is real justification for this.
One recent example, he said, is the process of updating the National Register of Citizens in Assam, which has taken place entirely at the direction and under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India.
“Let me clearly state here what our leadership has repeatedly confirmed at the highest level to the government of Bangladesh: this is a process that is entirely internal to India. Therefore, there’ll be no implications for the government and the people of Bangladesh. You’ve our assurance on that count,” he explained.
Prime Minister's International Affairs Adviser Dr Gowher Rizvi spoke as the chief guest at the seminar highlighting the relationship between the two countries.
He laid emphasis on water sharing issues and protecting the secular values.
Dr Rizvi said Bangladesh and India need to work very closely to protect secular society and also sought a long-term solution to all the problems between the two countries.
BIISS Chairman Ambassador Fazlul Karim, Indian High Commissioner Riva Ganguly Das and acting Director General of BIISS Colonel Sheikh Masud Ahmed also spoke at the programme.
Shringla said the two countries have resolved many issues through a consistent and focused effort. “We’ve sought to identify and eliminate obstacles to our partnership, without finding fault or apportioning blame. In sum, we’ve worked to find quick, practical and practicable solutions.”
Shringla said great poet-philosopher Kazi Nazrul Islam once wrote: “We all share happiness and sorrow equally.”
"This noble emotion must motivate us as neighbours to recognise that both sorrow and happiness do not respect borders or passports: in this globalized era, they arrive equally at everyone’s doorstep,” said the Indian Foreign Secretary.
He said their approach to Bangladesh will always be characterised by this sentiment. "And I trust that our Prime Minister’s (Narendra Modi) visit later this month will fully exemplify India’s strong sentiment of goodwill, trust and respect for Bangladesh."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been specially invited to participate in the inaugural ceremony of ‘Mujib Borsho’ marking the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman later this month.
"We’re looking forward to this visit, both because of the priority the Prime Minister attaches to this relationship, and even more so, because Bangabandhu is just so iconic – as a globally-recognised statesman and iconic symbol of liberation for Bangladesh and for our subcontinent,” he said adding that for them in India, there is a special resonance to his name.
“He’s as revered and as remembered in India, as he’s here in Bangladesh," said the Indian Foreign Secretary.
Quoting Prime Minister Modi, Shringla said, “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is our national hero, too. We’re honoured to be part of the celebrations, including through the joint production of a special feature film on the life of Bangabandhu.”
The Indian Foreign Secretary described Bangabandhu as a “man of letters, a man of action, courage and conviction, and most of all, a true hero, for he liberated from oppression the spirit of a people and brought forth a nation.”
Often, he said, they tend to lose the sight of these larger realities, especially in the noise and clamour of the immediate, and in the minutiae of the moment. “But for those of us who are in the business of policymaking, there is little doubt about the abiding reality that we in India will always seek the closest possible ties with Bangladesh.”
Shringla said it is entirely in India's national interest to fully support Bangladesh’s own efforts to build a strong, prosperous, progressive, peaceful and harmonious Bangladesh; to build a nation that stays true to the extraordinarily farsighted vision of Bangabandhu.
“Today, it’s Bangladesh that’s leading Asia's development race, a miraculous achievement that merits every word of praise,” he said.
The Indian Foreign Secretary said it is in this overall context that Bangladesh today has become India’s largest development partner in the world; largest trade partner in the region; and the most extensive and integrated government-to-government relationship.
He said the closest possible cooperative relationship between governments, businesses, civil society and people creates a process by which there is a mutuality of interests.
Shringla talked about the management of shared river waters saying, “I know how sensitive this issue is in both of our countries, given that we’re both densely-populated societies with extensive needs and dependence on life-giving rivers that run through our geographies.”
He said it is self-evident that good arrangement to share the waters of the 54 rivers that unites the two countries in a manner that is fair and environmentally sustainable lies in “our broader national interests”.
“I’m pleased to say that both sides recognise there’s ample room for progress on each of the rivers that we share, and it’s in this spirit that serious dialogue has resumed between our officials responsible for this important matter since August 2019,” he said.
The Foreign Secretary assured Bangladeshi friends that India remains “committed to finding the best possible solutions” to sharing scarcities and hardships fairly during the dry season.
“And to improving water management so that our rivers continue to sustain future generations as they’ve sustained our people for so many millennia,” he said.
Shringla said it is in the spirit of finding common ground rather than being bogged down by a few differences that they have jointly agreed to work to enhance the navigability of waterways that serve as Bangladesh’s historic north-south arteries of connectivity.
The Indian Foreign Secretary said the partnership between the two countries will reach its true potential when they equally recognise that their interests converge and there’s a mutuality of benefit.
The Indian Foreign Secretary said there is also often interest and sometimes “uninformed speculation” about their position on the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State of Myanmar, and its impact upon Bangladesh.
“Let me clearly say that India is deeply appreciative of the spirit of humanism that motivated Bangladesh to offer shelter to nearly one million displaced people. And we fully recognise and sympathise with the enormous burden that you’re facing.
“As the only country that’s an actual neighbour of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, we’re committed to offering the fullest support for any mutually-acceptable solution that’ll enable the earliest possible return of displaced persons to their homes in Rakhine State and to a life of dignity,” he said adding that this should be done in a manner that is “safe, secure and sustainable”.
Shringla said they have provided five tranches of aid to the camps in Cox’s Bazar area through the government of Bangladesh, and are prepared to do more.
“In parallel, we’re investing in the socio-economic development of the Rakhine area, including housing, so that there’s an incentive not only for people to return, but also for all communities to focus on cooperative solutions for economic development, rather than compete for limited resources,” he said.
Towards this end, he said, they are consistent in their interventions with the government of Myanmar at all levels, on the importance of closing IDP camps, facilitating socio-economic development projects, and in offering a conducive environment to encourage displaced persons to return to their homes in Myanmar from Bangladesh.
In other words, Shringla said, there is no difference between India and Bangladesh on the way forward in addressing this major humanitarian problem.
“All we suggest in this regard is that we encourage diverse stakeholders to lower the rhetoric and find practical and pragmatic solutions, bearing in mind that the priority is finding a fair and dignified humanitarian outcome,” he said.
Shringla said they are also working more closely to simplify and expand trade as easier and simpler trading systems offer them scope to generate wealth and create jobs on both sides.
He said there is enormous untapped potential for businesses to establish footholds in each other's market. “And we, as governments, must make extra efforts facilitate our businesspersons and entrepreneurs doing business in each other's country.”