by Taj Hashmi 5 March 2020
Dear Mr. Shringla:
I write this open letter to question you most respectfully why you told a seminar in Dhaka on 2nd March that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by Indian parliament last year was misunderstood by many, also in Bangladesh. Although I can’t disagree with you more that: “This is a proactive legislation that has been undertaken on humanitarian grounds….the people who were refugees or faced political persecution and came to India within a cut off time were allowed fast track citizenship,” yet I consider the whole thing is possibly an internal affair of your country. To me, the most important clause of the Act, which only promises Indian citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian immigrants/refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, excluding the Muslims from these countries, is possibly also integral to India’s internal affair. However, the way you lectured Bangladeshis in the Seminar smacks of your whole-hearted support for Hindutva fascism, which is disturbing indeed! You were condescending to the Seminar audience, and also in a state of denial in support of the mini genocide that took place in and around Delhi last month.
You can rest assured Mr. Shringla, I write this open letter not to embarrass you for being a “patriotic” Indian. However, patriotism in the negative sense of the expression often reminds us Hitler and his cohorts! I’m sure it was not your naiveté, but a deliberate exercise to hoodwink Bangladesh into believing that India had been keen on resolving all the unresolved bilateral issues between India and Bangladesh, as your country had agreed to sign water sharing agreement on seven common rivers, including the Muhuri, Monu, Dharla, Khowai, Gumti and Dudhkumar, might be signed by this year. Why I believe you were being deceptive and totally noncommittal to resolving the main issues between the two countries, such as sharing the Teesta waters with Bangladesh, and killing of Bangladeshi nationals by the BSF at the common border. You carefully avoided mentioning what BJP leaders had been telling the world that once the NRC was complete, India would “pushback” “Bangladeshi intruders” into Bangladesh, almost two million from Assam alone.
I, however, don’t blame you for not mentioning some other problems that India had been creating for Bangladesh with active collaboration of the Bangladesh Government, such as: using Bangladeshi roads and highways – which are not adequate for the country’s own needs – to transport goods between West Bengal and India’s northeastern states (which could be used to transport troops and military hardware posing security threats to Bangladesh in the long-run); establishing environmentally disastrous, coal-run power plants in close proximity to the Sundarbans and some offshore islands, in Bangladesh; and your country’s undue interference in the national elections in Bangladesh in favour of a particular political party since 2008.
I can’t, however, exonerate you for telling something utterly disgusting, diplomatically unacceptable, and in contradiction of international law. You told the Seminar that although the Teesta deal had been almost finalised in 2011, following objections from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the deal was not yet finalised. “Given our federal system, an agreement can only be finalised on the basis of consensus among stakeholders. We certainly want to show you that we are working on concluding the deal as soon as possible,” you added. Your sharing some domestic problem of your country (about the lack of understanding between the central and provincial governments) with the audience was simply unwarranted, undiplomatic, and something not acceptable in international law and code of conduct. Mr Shringla, unfortunately your fig leaf was too flimsy to hide India’s unwillingness to resolve the Teesta water-sharing issue with Bangladesh. Unfortunately, Narendra Modi is on the same boat which Manmohan Singh was riding to bypass the Teesta issue by putting the blame on Mamata Banerjee. Although the present Bangladesh Government seemingly is too willing to accept the “Mamata Banerjee Story” in this regard, I’m sure you know Mr Shringla, none having some ideas about international water sharing protocol would give any damn to what Chief Minister X or somebody else somewhere in India wants or doesn’t want in regards to the Teesta water sharing issue. And, since you and I know Bangladesh deserves its due share of Teesta waters, you shouldn’t have justified India’s dillydallying in this regard. Your narrating the same hackneyed “Mamata Banerjee Story” to an informed audience in the Seminar was simply pathetic; or conversely, an arrogant assertion by the Foreign Secretary of a neighboutring country, which suffers from some delusion of grandeur, or which wants to treat all the smaller countries in the neighbourhood as another Bhutan (which isn’t allowed to run its own foreign policy), or even worse, another Hyderabad, Kashmir, Goa, or Sikkim!
I’m sorry to write this Mr Shringla, you spoke like a very arrogant, condescending representative of a colonial power or the “Big Brother” in the Orwellian sense – which no Bangladeshi at home or abroad (like myself), having some self-respect, dignity, and love for the compatriots is going to like, at all! Your finger pointing at Bangladesh as a persecutor of minorities in the past from 1975 to 1996 was beyond all norms of civility and diplomatic code of conduct too. I want an unconditional apology from you to Bangladesh for your rude comments and opinion. Your denial of any potential adverse effects of the CAA and NRC (National Register of Citizens) on Bangladesh is simply untenable. So many BJP stalwarts are haranguing on a regular basis that millions of Bangladeshi Muslims or “termites” in your rustic Home minister Amit Shah’s parlance, have infested the polity of India. Modi Government’s direct attacks on Bangladesh as a country, which maltreats and persecutes its minorities in defence of the CAA and NRC violate all norms of decency and good neighbourly relationship. And, you were lecturing Bangladeshis in their own territory about the “innocuous nature” of the draconian CAA and NRC!
As a historian-cum-security analyst – having more than fifty years of research and teaching experience in modern South Asian history, politics, and culture – I have no reasons to believe in what your CAA and NRC apparently stand for. I know it well these are your Government’s red herrings, and well-thought of long-term RSS programmes to establish Hindu-supremacy in Greater India (from Afghanistan to Indonesia) by crushing Dalits, tribesmen, Muslims, and other non-Hindus. These are old Nazi-Fascist tactics learnt from Hitler and his associates by the founding fathers of the RSS. And, Modi and many of his close associates have been RSS members, since their youth. I also know it’s possibly only a question of time – given the opportunity – the Modi Government is likely to turn India into a full-fledged Hindutva Fascist state. And, that would pose an existential threat to Indian minorities, especially Muslims, and a security threat to countries across the Subcontinent, and beyond.
On this token, Mr Shringla, your unqualified support for the Modi Regime transcends the boundaries of what a government servant is entitled and supposed to do. I assume you are educated enough to know how the Free World treated many of Hitler’s close associates, government employees, police and military officers and troops, and even petty prison guards in-charge of Jewish prisoners. Lynching Muslims in India – surreptitiously or in public – by Hindu fanatics, for allegedly eating or possessing beef, or just for their appearance as Muslims; and the genocidal attacks on Muslims in New Delhi by Hindutva fascists and Hindutva police for three days in late February – what Mamata Banerjee calls genocidal – can’t remain India’s internal affairs, any longer! The UN has already registered its concern at the indiscriminate killing of Muslims in India.
Mr Shringla, I have reasons to believe the way you lectured some Bangladeshis at the Seminar, your over-enthusiasm for the CAA and NRC crosses all limits of diplomatic decency. Although I don’t expect every Indian bureaucrat to become another Dr Harsh Mander, yet you could have relied on your discretion and sense of decency, expected of a qualified person like yourself. The audience at the Seminar didn’t come to hear from you how many hundreds of thousands of people in India Modi Government will allow to apply for citizenship, and how many thousands of Pakistanis the same Government has allowed Indian citizenship. These are your internal matters, Bangladesh has nothing to do with them. By the way, as the news report which covers your seminar speech, also reveals what PM Hasina’s External Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi told the Seminar as chief guest. I wish I could be as optimistic as Dr Rizvi that Bangladesh has nothing to worry about any adverse effect of the NRC, only because the Modi Government has assured Bangladesh, in this regard.
Mr Shringla, your speech was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, in the Shakespearean way of pooh-poohing some grossly overstated, worthless talks and ideas! Your indefensible defence of BSF’s killing of hundreds of Bangladeshi nationals at the border was simply a horrendous bundle of untruths. I quote, what you said, to refresh your memory (in case you have forgotten what you told the Seminar): “There have been attacks on border guarding forces on both sides. Deaths on the border are not necessarily confined to the citizens of Bangladesh. There are equal number of Indian citizens”.
Mr Shringla, your assurance to Bangladesh that India was committed to offering the fullest support for any mutually-acceptable solution that would enable the earliest possible return of Rohingyas to Rakhine state in a safe, secure and sustainable manner, sounded like a promise an alcoholic husband makes to his wife about giving up alcohol forever, each time after misbehaving with her. You know India’s track record in regards to the Rohingya issue is anything but re-assuring for Bangladesh. And, you know there can never be a mutually acceptable solution between Myanmar and Bangladesh to the problem of expulsion of Rohingyas by the former. You possibly know this could be the likely effect of the so-called NRC operation in India. Bangladesh would possibly be forced to accept millions of Indian nationals, who are likely to be kicked out of the country as aliens from Bangladesh. Your callous and shameless assertion to whitewash Delhi Massacre of Muslims by Hindutva-inspired and Delhi police-backed mobs last month tells a lot about what was the purpose of your recent visit to Bangladesh. You have conveniently manufactured a conspiracy theory about the recent Delhi Massacre, which you said, could be “instigated by any third party”, not by the neo-fascist Modi Government!
Mr Shringla, as an academic who has spent more than fifty years of his life studying, publishing, and teaching modern South Asian history, politics, culture, and international affairs, I would like to give you some pedagogic advice: a) please try to understand why India is the only country in the world (which Israel and South Africa used to be in the past) which is hated by all its immediate neighbours, from China to Sri Lanka, and Pakistan to Bangladesh; b) while Bangladesh have had strong reservations about the relatively civil Indian governments under the Congress party since the1970s, the country doesn’t have the stomach to tango with a regime which is blatantly fascistic and hateful of Islam and Muslims. I hope you get the moral of my unsolicited and free advice! It is: India can’t win the hearts and mind of the overwhelming majority of people in Bangladesh by merely having a compliant government in the country. Historically, Bangladeshis have been a nation of rebels. India would be better off by not relying on a handful of unrepresentative “representatives” of the people in Bangladesh, who are not that different from Mir Jafars and Lhendup Dorjis!