Visiting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will on Saturday inaugurate three projects, including one for the cross-border supply of LPG to the northeast, and give a boost to trade and connectivity, people familiar with developments said.
Both countries are keen to publicly play down the issue of the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, though officials from both sides privately acknowledged the matter is expected to figure when Hasina holds talks with Modi on Saturday.
During a brief interaction with journalists at a reception hosted by the Bangladesh high commission on Thursday night, Hasina said Bangladesh doesn’t foresee any problems with India over the NRC following an assurance from Modi.
“I don’t see any problem (on the NRC). I had a talk with Prime Minister Modi, everything is okay,” she said, adding she was satisfied with Modi’s assurance during their meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York that Bangladesh had nothing to worry about the NRC. She had raised the issue during that meeting.
Some 1.9 million people found themselves left out of the final version of the NRC in Assam, and Dhaka has been concerned by statements by senior BJP leaders that these people will be deported to Bangladesh.
The people cited above said the two leaders will remotely inaugurate three projects during their meeting – the Vivekananda Bhavan at Ramakrishna Mission in Dhaka, a five-storey students’ home, the Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute, a facility to benefit small and medium enterprises at the Institute of Diploma Engineers at Khulna, and a project for cross-border export of LPG from Bangladesh to Tripura.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said six to seven documents were expected to be signed in the fields of transport, connectivity, capacity-building and culture.
Kumar said “relations have never been so close” and two sides will focus on “next steps to take the bilateral relationship into a different trajectory”. He also played down the NRC as a “Supreme Court-mandated ongoing exercise”, saying, “The due process has to be completed first, (including) several appellate processes before you reach that stage.”
However, a senior Bangladeshi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said while there was currently no concern at the official level on the NRC issue, people in Bangladesh were worried about the matter, especially in light of remarks by BJP leaders about deporting everyone left out of the register.
Other Bangladeshi officials, who too didn’t want to be identified, said the issue could give a boost to radical elements in their country whose activities had been successfully curtailed by the Hasina government. Moreover, public comments by BJP leaders about allowing in Hindu refugees could embolden the “land mafia” in Bangladesh to harass and push out Hindus in order to take over their lands.
The officials pointed to the divergence between assurances given by Modi and external affairs minister and public remarks by home minister Amit Shah, who has said every infiltrator will be driven out.