The passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is likely to have lasting repercussions on India’s relationship with Bangladesh. Though Bangladesh has maintained that no one from their country migrated to India illegally after 1971, Union Home Minister Amit Shah made repeated references to “infiltrators” from the neighbouring countries and said that they will be thrown out of the country.
A day after the passage of the Bill, the Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen calling off their respective visits to India.
In an interview with News18, Khan said that his visit was called-off because of the “law and order situation” in the Northeast. He, however, rubbished the narrative of illegal migration from Bangladesh calling it a “big lie”.
Read the excerpts from the interview here.
You cancelled your trip to Shillong where you were supposed to attend an event linked to the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. What prompted you to cancel your official tour?
Yes, I cancelled my trip. What to say? You know the situation is not conducive in the northeastern region due to the protests over the Citizenship Act. We thought that it is not the ideal situation for me to visit India. I will reschedule my trip only after the normalisation of the law and order situation. Bangladesh has nothing to do with the CAB. It is purely India’s internal matter and we hope that India will also maintain this line.
Being the Home Minister of Bangladesh, what do you think about the Citizenship Act, which was passed in the Indian parliament?
I am aware of the CAB but I would like to stress that no one from Bangladesh had moved to India after 1971. It is purely an internal matter for India and we have nothing to do with this. I repeat, Bangladesh has nothing to do with CAB and we hope that India will maintain this stand. We are fortunate that since the inception of Bangladesh, India is with us in all kind of situations. Our relationship with India is ‘magical’. India is our friend but as far as CAB is concerned, I can say with full responsibility that no one from Bangladesh went to India after 1971. I don’t think that the Indian government will push them towards Bangladesh.
There are BJP leaders, who are claiming that in the last seven-eight years, a large number of Bangladeshi nationals entered and settled illegally in India? What you have to say about this?
This is a big lie. They are misleading people. I don’t want to go into the details of who is saying what. All I can say is that before the liberation war, some Hindus migrated to India but no Muslims went to India illegally after 1971. I think there is a big conspiracy by someone to spoil our relationship with India for some hidden interest.
Bangladesh is not a poor country that people will migrate illegally to India. Our economic growth was 8.15% in fiscal 2018-19. Our current Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is 8.13% and our per capita income stands at $ 2000. You tell me, why would someone from Bangladesh illegally go to India when the living standards there is better?
You will be shocked to know the amount of business we are giving to India in terms of tourism, medical treatment and education. This has become possible because of the healthy economic growth of Bangladesh. Our people are giving business to India and they are accusing Bangladeshis of migrating illegally for better livelihoods. I would like to request them (the Indian politicians), not to spread lies that will affect the relationship between India and Bangladesh.
So, you are sticking to your point that no one has migrated to India illegally after 1971?
Yes, I repeat, no one had.
There are reports especially from the bordering areas that people from Bangladesh are entering India illegally in search of jobs and better livelihoods. What do you have to say about this?
See, people from both countries entering each other’s territories is nothing new. People from Bangladesh visit India on special occasions and come back to Bangladesh. Similarly, people from India come to Bangladesh.
During Durga Puja, you will see several Indians celebrating the festival at Cox Bazaar. This is something different. Before, the Liberation War, several Muslims from India migrated to Bangladesh and lived here. But after liberation, no one went to India illegally. As far as better livelihoods are concerned, why will someone from Bangladesh go to India? You know, we have made significant progress towards reducing poverty. Our poverty declined from 44.2% in 1991 to 13.8% in 2016-17. Several foreigners are working in Bangladesh. People from European countries, India, Pakistan are working in Bangladesh for better prospects. I think we should highlight these issues rather than make claims of illegal migration from Bangladesh to India.
Don’t you think, considering the present situation (due to the CAB), Bangladesh should immediately initiate a dialogue with India?
See, we believe that India is our good friend and we hope that there shouldn’t be a situation that spoils our relationship with India. We always stood for India in times of crisis and we expect India to do the same. The citizenship issue is purely an internal matter that they have to resolve. We are no one to comment on this issue. After the 1971 partition, few people left Bangladesh and those who left are now settled across the world.
Every time such a situation arises, it is unfair to broach the belief that they are Bangladeshis and need to be pushed back. As far as dialogue is concerned, it can happen any time. I think there are people who are trying to spoil our relationship with India. We have full faith that India will not do anything to hamper our relation with them.