Jaishankar Reassures Bangladesh

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AFSAN CHOWDHURY |

INDIAN Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s visit was not a high rolling dice game but a low shouldered visit meant to preserve continuity of relations. It was one of the first foreign trips by the fresher FM in BJP’s round two cabinet. The biggest priority on Modi’s desk was Kashmir and that’s largely done. While it’s making waves of anxiety in the region, the region is bereft of “regionalism”. Global players have moved in robustly and the arrangements of power doesn’t include the smaller countries like Bangladesh or Nepal to which the Indian FM flew after concluding his useful visit to Bangladesh. So it was to an extent ceremonial.

■ S Jaishankar | Archive

TEESTA, BORDERS AND ASSAM MIGRANTS 

The Indian FM met his Bangladeshi counterpart as well as paid a courtesy visit to the Bangladeshi PM Sk. Hasina but going by Dhaka media, the visit was itself not a news generator. The discussions were more about other issues including Kashmir and Assam but India has designated both as “internal” matters of India. So the media chat was about Teesta and ports. Neither are major media issues.

Jaishankar affirmed that the Teesta treaty would be resolved during his BJP’s reign. Obviously this is an internal matter of India and BJP as well. Its not Delhi that stands in the way but Kolkata and Mamata, Bengal’s CM. Obviously BJP is hoping  to bring down TMC in the next elections and once in power, it will be easier to resolve Teesta. Indian elections are India’s internal matter.

 

Given they are already identified as “Illegal immigrants of Bangladeshi origin”, the issue has already become bi–lateral. However, the asymmetry of power works here as India can take its time to decide what to do next while Bangladesh with its very limited capacity in handling a million Rohingyas has little hope of dealing with 4 million more from Assam

 

Kashmir too is obviously that though the huge ripples and small waves that arose in the wake of the Kashmir “whatever”. India’s position is being challenged by Pakistan and it’s trying to get to the International courts but the future of the issue is settled. India understood very well that global players in general are not interested in the issue and internal support for cancellation of the Article 370 very high.

What has remained unsaid is the timing. Why it was so urgent now requiring some bit of extra time and minding the issue is not clear. It’s fine to say, “this was the right moment as India is now strong enough” but specifics are missing from this statement. However, no threat exists for India, it’s stronger than ever and is on an ideological streak. So far so good.

 

India’s position is being challenged by Pakistan and it’s trying to get to the International courts but the future of the issue is settled. India understood very well that global players in general are not interested in the issue and internal support for cancellation of the Article 370 very high

 

“NEW INDIA” AND CALLING THE SHOTS

It’s on this line that Jaishankar’s visit to Bangladesh has to be read as the FM must have explained to his Bangladeshi counterparts about the “new and confident” India.  Clearly, the Indian FM mentioned that Teesta would be resolved under the BJP rule—hint and land ports and border security etc. However, on Assam, he said that it was an “Internal issue” of India.  Since Kashmir was also declared the same, anxieties are on in Dhaka. Given they are already identified as “Illegal immigrants of Bangladeshi origin”, the issue has already become bi–lateral. However, the asymmetry of power works here as India can take its time to decide what to do next while Bangladesh with its very limited capacity in handling a million Rohingyas has little hope of dealing with 4 million more from Assam.

Bangladesh has little capacity to deal with Myanmar let alone India so it’s no brainer that threats don’t work. So the “internal” matter will largely depend on the capacity of India to handle it if consequences arise. An uncertain and unstable Bangladesh with a volatile population and a minority 10%, mostly Hindus, will mean that the migration flow will not be one sided. If India thinks it can handle such a contingent cost, it will push out, if not it will be more cautious.

 

This was the right moment as India is now strong enough — but specifics are missing from this statement. However, no threat exists for India, it’s stronger than ever and is on an ideological streak. So far so good

 

THE COST OF PRINCIPLED STANDS ?

BJP’s main problem could be in taking a principles stand and then using it to parley into political capital. Capital can’t be left unused so unless spent, value is reduced. So by raising the Assam issue it has created capital but how well it can be used waits to be seen. Pakistan is probably its least problematic country as the relationship is defined but elsewhere in South Asia it’s not. So how that is managed including possible threat perceptions is India’s “internal’ matter no doubt.

That’s a message FM Jaishankar symbolised if not stated. Meanwhile life goes on as Bangladesh’s internal problem continue to cause havoc particularly the dengue epidemic. And China continues to go bigger in investment and trade size with Bangladesh much to the happiness of the ruling class. ■

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