India must be sensitive to Bangladesh's concerns over its Citizenship Amendment Act

The CAA and its influence on Bangladesh demonstrate the complex interplay of geopolitics, identity, and diplomacy in South Asia. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

In December 2019, the Indian government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a legislative move that reverberated across the globe, sparking fervent debates, protests, and diplomatic wrangling. The CAA, designed to offer expedited citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighboring countries, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, who migrated to India before December 31, 2014, has emerged as a focal point in discussions surrounding immigration, religious identity, and geopolitics. However, beyond its domestic implications, the CAA has far-reaching consequences, particularly for Bangladesh. 

After five years, on 11 March 2024, India's Home Ministry notified the bill amending certain provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Though the BJP government insists that the measure is not against the Muslim community, clouds of uncertainty hover. The bill's timing further adds to the doubt, as India's national election approaches.

To fully comprehend the implications of the CAA on Bangladesh, it is imperative to delve into the historical backdrop that underpins the relationship between the two nations. The partition of British India in 1947 gave birth to two nations, India and Pakistan, with the latter comprising two geographically distinct regions - West Pakistan (present-day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). Two major riots that erupted in 1947 and 1948 following the partition of British India left an indelible mark on the socio-political landscape of the Indian subcontinent. The communal violence, fueled by religious animosities and political tensions, resulted in widespread displacement, loss of life, and human suffering. In the aftermath of the partition, millions of refugees, both Hindus and Muslims, sought refuge in newly formed India and Pakistan, including East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), resulting in the displacement of around 15-16.5 million people. During the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War around 10 million people sought refuge in India but appx 1.5 million Hindus stayed back in India. A considerable amount of people have been displaced in the subcontinent over the past 75 years, aside from those two significant events. So, the implementation of the CAA has profound implications for Bangladesh, touching upon a spectrum of socio-political and diplomatic spheres.

The passage of the CAA has strained the traditionally cordial relations between India and Bangladesh, prompting a cautious response from Bangladesh. Reiterating the secularism and nondiscrimination tenets in its constitution, the Bangladeshi government has voiced concerns over the law. In addition, since the CAA is unilateral, there are worries that it may upset the delicate balance of bilateral relations, calling for a diplomatic balancing act to protect both parties' interests and maintain regional stability.  

Roiling Bangladesh's politics

Domestically, the CAA has become a contentious issue in Bangladesh, sparking heated discussions and scheming by politicians from a variety of ideological backgrounds. The polarized nature of Bangladeshi politics is reflected in the back-and-forth between the opposition and the ruling party regarding the legislation's implications. While some view the CAA through the prism of national identity and sovereignty, others perceive it as an affront to the secular fabric of Bangladeshi society, underscoring the complexity of internal dynamics and the divergent viewpoints that shape public discourse.

Central to the CAA is its provision for granting citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighboring countries, with a specific focus on religious identity. While the CAA ostensibly seeks to provide refuge to vulnerable communities facing religious persecution, it has raised pertinent questions about the status of minority communities in Bangladesh, particularly Hindus. Bangladesh boasts a diverse religious landscape, with Hindus constituting a significant minority. However, concerns persist regarding discrimination, marginalization, and communal tensions, underscoring the need for inclusive policies and proactive measures to address the socio-economic disparities faced by minority communities.

The recent "India Out" campaign has gained traction on social media platforms, with hashtags and online movements calling for a boycott of Indian products in 

Bangladesh. Utilizing social media, activists and online users have voiced their complaints and rallied support for the cause, calling attention to alleged injustices and promoting unity with people impacted by Indian policy. Thus, their campaign may be fueled by a controversial Indian policy at this point.

Need for Delhi-Dhaka collaboration

In terms of security, the CAA has substantial implications for terrorist activities and regional stability. Bangladesh has successfully combated extremists after the Holey Artisan attack in 2014. The CAA's implementation may create an environment susceptible to radicalization and violent extremism. Thus, to alleviate security concerns while maintaining regional peace and stability, India and Bangladesh must collaborate more closely in areas like as intelligence sharing, border control, and counter-terrorism operations.

The CAA and its influence on Bangladesh demonstrate the complex interplay of geopolitics, identity, and diplomacy in South Asia. While the Act raises valid concerns and problems, it also provides an opportunity for India and Bangladesh to engage in conversation and cooperation. By cultivating an environment of mutual respect, understanding, and collaboration, both countries can traverse the complexity of the CAA and chart a road toward a future marked by diversity, justice, and peace. 

The impact of the CAA extends beyond national borders, resonating across the South Asian terrain and altering regional dynamics. Understanding these implications and creating a road forward via communication and cooperation is critical to promoting regional stability, peace, and progress.

 (The author is a retired Bangladesh Army officer and a commentator on geostrategic affairs. Views are personal)

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