As per the assurance of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, NRC is an internal matter of India that Bangladesh need not worry about. Modi assured his Bangladeshi Counterpart Sheikh Hasina at the side-line of the 74th UN General Assembly that Dhaka and New Delhi can "take care of the issues like the NRC and water-sharing very easily as relations between Bangladesh and India are quite excellent."
On the other hand, Assam state minister and India's ruling party BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma believes that India should "start discussing with Bangladesh to accept its citizens who had settled in India illegally." Unlike Modi's assurance, Sharma thinks India's friendly relations with Bangladesh will allow New Delhi to send back people at a "far higher" number. The BJP President and the Indian Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah also vowed that his government "will not allow a single illegal immigrant to stay."
Indian political leadership has obviously been playing these hydra-headed politics for the last two and a half months.
Consequently, despite the Indian government's assurance that no harm will befall Bangladesh because of the Assam NRC, this doublespeak from the top political figures of the Indian government, however, has left Dhaka perturbed. Dhaka's concerns with the NRC crisis at the border regardless of Modi's assurance cannot easily be assuaged given the fact that many such past assurances from India didn't produce results.
India has been assuring Bangladesh of signing Teesta treaty for almost a decade by now. Governments passed and leaders changed, but Teesta treaty has remained all but as a list of promises. Moreover, to add a carrot to go along with the stick, India recently has made a treaty with Bangladesh to retract water from the River Feni for drinking purposes in Tripura.
Bangladesh agreed to allow India retract water from the Feni on humanitarian ground and as a friendly gesture. Dhaka indeed has always been sincere with Delhi in all accounts attempting to be a friendly neighbour. A glimpse at India-Bangladesh trade size is proof enough. In 2017-18, India exported around $8.63 billion worth of goods to Bangladesh. In the same period, Bangladesh exported only $0.87 billion worth of goods to India.
However, this 'geniality' of Dhaka could not convince Delhi to sign the Teesta treaty. Rather, instead of a genuine exchange of friendly gesture, the BJP leaders have been threatening to deport the "illegal immigrants" to Bangladesh.
Amit Shah, resorting to rhetorical extremities, declared that he will pick up the "infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal." This raises an obvious question about the seriousness of India to have a friendly neighbour next door.
Indian PM Narendra Modi and Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar's assurances to Bangladesh in comparison to Amit Shah and other BJP leaders' invectives on the deportation of so-called 'infiltrators' sound rather obnoxious because India is yet to decide what to do with the people who fail to prove their citizenship after the Foreigners Tribunal investigation.
The BJP leadership assured the "non-Muslims" who failed to enlist their names in the NRC that they will eventually get their citizenship back.
Although this sectarian approach is nothing new, it does raise some issues involving Bangladesh and its stance on the question of how, if both sides willing, to negotiate the fate of a sizable section of the Indian Muslim population who lost their citizenship.
What really happens to the Indian Muslims who lost their citizenship? Since these so-called 'termites' will not vanish in thin air, what does the Indian authority plans to do? Can they afford to lock millions of stateless people up in cells for ages? If India truly wants to deliver on its NRC assurances to Dhaka, they better address these issues before Amit Shah's rhetoric further complicates the NRC row.
Following the NRC in Assam, the political spectrum of West Bengal has also heated up over the citizenship question lately. The BJP leadership has been all over West Bengal inciting the people with their increasing usage of words like 'infiltrators' and 'intruders'. The target of such divisive politics is the Bangladeshis who are alleged to have been living there illegally. However, if Assam is considered our guide, one must observe the situation with trepidation. No one knows who would be declared an intruder since Assam testifies that the Indian authority is also out to disenfranchise families who migrated in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Thus, BJP's demand for NRC all over the country puts India's Muslim minority in between a rock and hard place. The wave of anxiety that grips them is more intense in the states that share border with Bangladesh.
Tripura and West Bengal share border with Bangladesh and BJP seems to have developed a knack for making the water muddier in these regions. It is apparent that NRC issue has become a political instrument apparently to manipulate the electoral roll. And it is efficacious for the saffronised government of India to target the states that share border with Bangladesh, since they provide the ground for easier political manipulation.
The NRC row has created an added sectarian dimension in India, a country already saffronised to the extent that lynching people to death (Tabrez Ansari for example) just because of religious differences is no longer breaking news. But what is more alarming in this Hindutva saga continues in the absence of a strong civil society movement in India. There is no one to protest against such blatant human rights violations, let alone against the effort to render a section of Muslims stateless.
With an ever-weakening and divided opposition, the BJP and the RSS are now stronger than ever before with their far-right mantras informing their political rhetoric as well as actions.
The more these mantras are exercised in the political arena, the more the minorities and dalits of India stand to lose their spaces. A stronger opposition and civil society could play the role of checks and balances within the democratic premises of India to protect the minorities and the dalits as well as the people stripped off their citizenship because of the NRC.
Assam's NRC issue emerged at a time when a prolonging Rohingya crisis at the south-eastern border of Bangladesh imperils its diplomatic relations with Myanmar. When Bangladesh needed its 'friendly' neighbour most in her efforts to repatriate the Rohingyas back to Myanmar, India's NRC warns Bangladesh of an unforeseen crisis at the north-eastern border.