Bangladesh Envoy Rubbishes ‘Bangladeshi Infiltration’ Theory

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The outgoing Bangladesh high commissioner to India, Syed Muazzem Ali receiving memento from Press Club of India in New Delhi. — Photo by Caravan Daily

INTERVIEW

Muazzem Ali says this issue is being used for domestic consumption by certain politicians

Abdul Bari Masoud | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — The outgoing Bangladesh high commissioner to India, Syed Muazzem Ali, rubbished the “Bangladeshi infiltration” theory, and said this was being used by certain political parties in India for domestic political consumption.

To buttress his point, the envoy said, “Bangladeshis have more than double the per capita income in comparison with the entire northeast of India. So why come here?” He said National Register of Citizenship (NRC) is an internal matter of India, and this was what New Delhi had told Dhaka.

In an interview with Caravan Daily, Muazzem Ali spoke on a range of issues including the Rohingya refugees, just as he has completed a five-year stint as Bangladesh’s envoy in New Delhi and is getting set to leave New Delhi for Dhaka soon.

Ali was asked about Dhaka’s stand on  the alleged illegal Bangladeshi migration issue, in the backdrop of the recent NRC exercise in Assam which rendered almost 1.9 million inhabitants there ‘stateless’. He maintained that New Delhi never raised this issue with the Bangladesh government and it “always told us that this is an internal matter of India.”

So, is it not that politics is being played on this issue and Muslims are being targeted and defamed in the name of Bangladeshi infiltration?  The envoy replied that some political parties and politicians here might be using the “politics of influx” with special aims. “Our people (Bangladeshis) would prefer to swim the Mediterranean and go to Italy than come to India. I brought three people from Bangladesh to work here but not one stayed here for more than six months. The per capita income in Bangladesh is more than double of what the North east people here have,” he asserted.

The envoy said India is not much of an attraction to Bangladeshi citizens, unlike what is often projected here. “More so, since the difference in the per capita incomes of people in the two countries is narrowing.”

Ali said: “The Illegal Bangladeshi issue has never ever been raised in the bilateral sense. So I refuse to comment on this subject. It is an internal matter of India and you will resolve this issue internally.”

When it was pointed out to him that 19 lakh people were made ‘stateless” in the Indian state of Assam which borders Bangladesh, he said, “This is for the Assam government to handle, and they and the federal (Indian) government are working on it. I am sure about this, but you are not.”

To buttress his point, the envoy also said, every year 2.8 million Bangladeshi nationals visited India and there existed a mechanism to track any citizen who violated the conditions of the Indian visa and overstayed here. “We have started major projects for the people-to-people contacts and there is a record number of Bangladeshis visiting India. Also, the largest number of Indians is working in Bangladesh.”

Asked about Dhaka’s reaction to the changes effected on Kashmir and the Supreme Court verdict in the Babri Masjid case, he said Bangladesh never commented on the internal developments of India, and he cautioned one and all against rise of radicalism and extremism in the society.

 “We are restrained in the matter of commenting on internal developments in your country. So far, the secular and progressive parties have prevailed in Bangladesh and we hope it will remain that way in the future too. India also needs to help us maintain this scenario.”

On the Rohingya issue, Muazzem Ali said, “The issue is not a Myanmar issue, but a Rohingya issue. We have normal ties with India and this is not a bilateral problem between Bangladesh and India. This is, rather, a problem that originated in Myanmar. They must recognise their own citizens and take them back. This is totally a citizen’s right; for them to be allowed to participate in the nation-building efforts in their own country. Keeping one million refugees on the border perpetually can be a security risk and these people may fall into the wrong hands. For peace and stability in our region, the Rohingyas should be taken back by Myanmar.”

Q. What is your major achievement as Bangladesh High Commissioner to India? 

A: The agreement between India and Bangladesh on 111 Indian Enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladesh Enclaves in India. However, sharing the common resources remains as the biggest challenge to both the countries. The two share waters of 54 rivers which need to be de-silted and put through dredging. A Joint River Scheme for preserving the water levels in these rivers is proposed.  Another irritant between the two nations is about small scale projects. For example, the Teesta water dispute. There would be a dramatic change in Bangladesh’s relations with India once the water-sharing agreement is signed. There are three hydro electric projects in Sikkim where this river originates. Two more projects were built in West Bengal. Because of these, Bangladesh gets a meagre share of the Teesta water.

Q: How do you explain Bangladesh’s rapid strides towards progress? 

A: Bangladesh is the fastest growing economy in South Asia. By October-end, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) updated its Asian Development Outlook to revise Bangladesh’s GDP growth for 2019 upwards from 8 per cent to 8.1 per cent, while there was a downward revision for India from 7.2 per cent to 6.5 per cent. In 1971, we used to produce only 12 million quintals of paddy against the requirement of 14 million quintals to feed our people. Now, we produce 40 million quintals of paddy annually. Bangladesh is today the fourth largest producer of paddy after China, India and Indonesia.

Muazzem Ali, 77, is a former foreign secretary. He has long and distinguished career as a diplomat. He had joined the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1968 and retired from while in the Diplomatic Service of Bangladesh in December, 2001. Notably, he was one of the 14 diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff members at Pakistan’s embassy in Washington who pledged allegiance to Bangladesh in 1970-71, when the bifurcation process started.

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