Why is India so insensitive to the affairs of Bangladesh?

Why is India so insensitive to the affairs of Bangladesh?

In December 2010, New York based Human Rights Watch in a report described the Indian border guards as “Trigger Happy” force and documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment by the BSF

On 7th February, the chief of Border Security Force (BSF) U.K. Banshal reportedly came out with a chilling statement that : “ It would never be possible to totally stop firing; for so long the criminal activities continue along the border, we shall have to prevent the offenders. “

Again on 23rd February, one day ahead of Bangladesh Home Minister’s visit, the chief BSF reiterated his view that his soldiers at the border with Bangladesh would fire on criminals who dared them. In simple language, border-killings of Bangladeshis will continue.

This statements of BSF chief go directly against 2011 July- statement of his boss, the Indian Home Affairs Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram who said the Indian guards would no longer shoot people crossing the porous border from Bangladesh. Instead the guards would use rubber bullets after warnings.

Bangladesh people are puzzled that the Indian Home Minister remained silent on the reported statement of the chief of BSF. Do we assume that Home Minister’s July statement was not meant to be what he said? Was it only a political statement meant for Bangladesh people to assuage their anger of inhuman killing at the border?

On 9th February, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni said the killing and torture of Bangladeshi nationals by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the border was not acceptable. She told journalists: “The government has long been protesting the border killing. India has also agreed to stop it. “.

On 14th February, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reportedly noted with regret that despite assurance of India’s highest political level of putting an end to the killing at border, stray incidents of killing and torture of Bangladeshi nationals by the Indian BSF personnel continued.

On 24 February, at a meeting with Bangladesh Home Minister in New Delhi, Indian Home Minister assured Bangladesh that efforts were on to bring down the incidents of firing along the border to zero level. It would mean efforts are being made to bring down to zero level while firing would continue.

The senseless torture and killing of Bangladeshis by BSF at the border has led overwhelming section of people in Bangladesh to believe that India did not care the loss of lives of Bangladeshis.

It is not understood why Indian government remains so insensitive to the sentiments of people of Bangladesh. New Delhi is a long distance from Dhaka (1,424.20 km) but that does not mean that Bangladesh affairs would be neglected or sidelined.

Some analysts say there are several reasons why is India insensitive to affairs of Bangladesh? Some deserve mention below.

There is a saying in the diplomatic corridor in South Asia that India considers Pakistan as the only “neighbour” in South Asia and does not deem others as “neighbours” because their relationships do not weigh much of India’s concern.

In October last year, India’s former Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey writes : “Attitude of most of Indian political leaders, senior officials, business magnates and strategic thinkers towards Bangladesh has been one of disdain and apathy. Very few of these people either understand the dynamics of the domestic politics of Bangladesh or have grasped the full import of Indo-Bangladesh relations.” (Daily Star : Forum: October 2011)

Similar position is reflected in the book “ The Jamdani Revolution” by Krishnan Srinivasan, another India’s former Foreign Secretary, in which he writes: “ The political will and attention span have been lacking in New Delhi even though the bureaucracy has been willing to give a shove in the right direction-which has not always been the case. In other words, the Indian government has tended to allow the hardliners and Hindu chauvinists to set the agenda for its policy towards Bangladesh.”

Another eminent Indian journalist Sunanda K. Datta-Ray writes in July 2009 in Calcutta’s The Telegraph “Bangladesh may sizzle but it sizzles on a back-burner of Indian priorities.”

From time immemorial, the behaviour of powerful and weak states has engaged many historians and political scientists and been aptly summed by Greek historian, Thucydides (460-395) when he wrote: “The Strong do what they have power to do; the Weak accept what they have to accept”.

India is a “rising power” regionally and globally and some observers say many of its policy-makers may believe the above doctrine of Greek historian toward Bangladesh.

Empirical evidence suggests Bangladesh has relied too much on Indian promises in the past and now. . In the past there have been many instances where India had been found deficit in fulfilling the pledges it made to Bangladesh.

Currently delay in implementing the promised deals with Bangladesh is causing serious misgivings among most people in Bangladesh about India’s commitment and sincerity and the existing behaviour will only demonstrate the repeat of its past conduct. To Bangladesh, federal-state conflict in India’s politics cannot be an excuse for non-implementation of India’s pledges.

On 15th February the Times of India warned the Indian government to rectify policies before the time was over. New Delhi failed to deliver on big-ticket issues and risked, losing most of the goodwill it had previously garnered, it added.

While Dhaka has moved quickly to address Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terrorism and connectivity to the North-East, it appears the implementation of the bargain on the Indian side has been lost, especially in water-sharing of the common rivers.

Time is the essence of the implementation of the agreed deals with Bangladesh and India must realise that its failure is not helping politically the hands of Sheikh Hasina.

Furthermore, India is creating an environment in which the Sheikh Hasina government will be unable to respond positively in future to Indian requests. It is a pity that India appears to have not appreciated or taken for granted Bangladesh’s quick actions to meet its vital interests.

Goodwill cannot be imposed as it is built on principles of mutual respect and trust which is created when promised deals are translated into action with fairness and justice. Self-interest demands that India should pay more attention to the sentiments of Bangladesh people.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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