Bangladesh fears exodus of Bengalis from Assam

Asks India to halt the national citizens register plan

February 21, 2018 10:38 pm | Updated 10:41 pm IST - DHAKA

Sheikh Hasina

Sheikh Hasina

The ongoing process of compiling the National Register of Citizens in Assam may trigger an exodus of Bengalis and create one more Rohingya-like refugee crisis for Bangladesh, senior officials of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government said here on Wednesday.

Addressing visiting Indian journalists, they said the process in Assam is threatening India-Bangladesh ties and will be exploited by anti-India elements and Islamic fundamentalists who are challenging the Awami League rule.

“Citizenship issue will be another disappointment after the setback on the sharing of water of the river Teesta. We believe India should think of its friendship with Bangladesh before going ahead with the full implementation of the citizens register in Assam.

“If the process leads to deportation of a section of the Bengali population of Assam, it will trigger another Rohingya-like refugee crisis,” said Iqbal Shobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Prime Minister Hasina.

Bangladeshi policymakers are unanimous that the failure to conclude the Teesta water sharing agreement between New Delhi and Dhaka has been disappointing and the ongoing process in Assam will complicate the situation further.

Prime Minister Hasina reflected this sentiment on Tuesday and said, “It’s sad that ‘Didimoni’ (West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) does not want to give the share of Teesta’s water that belongs to us.” These observations have gained significance as a section of the ruling Awami League believes that India has not reciprocated Ms. Hasina’s support on counter-insurgency steps in the northeastern states.

They said that the Awami League government under Ms. Hasina, without any expectation of reciprocity, aided India to nab ULFA leaders who had taken refuge in Bangladesh and in Southeast Asia. But a new refugee flow from Assam, will undo years of bilateral cooperation.

They said that Bangladesh experienced two major floods in 2017 and the Rohingya crisis has strained its resources and further turmoil will add to the volatility of the country which is heading to the polls by the end of the year. In a frank exchange regarding irritants to bilateral ties, officials said the citizen-related exercise in Assam is reminiscent of the communalism of the 1940s.

“If someone has lived in a place for sometime, then he or she is presumed to belong to that place and they should have the freedom to stay where they are located. But the (exercise reflects the) the two-nation theory and it seems that Muslims are meant to live in Bangladesh and Hindus will live in India, as if Bangladesh is a successor to Pakistan,” said Mashiur Rahman, senior civil servant and Economic Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Ms. Hasina’s party has been in power for nine years and has to counter anti-incumbency factor along with other substantial issues. “India must help us,” said Communication Minister Obaidul Quader urging Delhi to address Dhaka’s concerns.

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