A few days ago, I took part in a discussion with the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma. The Indian Express organised the event titled ‘Adda’ where not only journalists, but professors, bankers, diplomats and people from various strata of society and professional representatives took part. The Assam CM graced the occasion as a special guest. As soon as the Bangladesh issue came to the fore, Biswa Sarma told enthusiastically about his keenness to visit Bangladesh. He said that he has no conflict with the country. He even highly praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and termed Bangladesh as his favourite country. In the past, he once toured Bangladesh. The hospitality that he received there is quite memorable. Over trade-related issues, he displayed his positive stance. He also asserted that Bangladesh is of immense necessity to establish link between the Indian northeastern part and Chattogram port as well as Mongla port.
This time, Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina wrote a letter to Himanta just after he assumed power as the Chief Minister of Assam. In the letter, she wrote that Assam and other parts of India can avail of the opportunity that Bangladesh can provide them with following its remarkable GDP growth. This region of India can flourish fast by working jointly in trade arena.Himanta did not miss the chance of bringing Narendra Modi to the fore. He repeatedly told about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intention of Indo-Bangladesh joint development. The PM’s famous quote is: Let India and Bangladesh move forward together. Himanta is determined to fulfil the commitment of Narendra Modi for moving forward collectively.
Now, we are passing through a critical period. A terrible virus named coronavirus has shattered everything. India has failed to send vaccine to Bangladesh as per its commitment. On January 21, 2021, the vaccine first reached Bangladesh. Then Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar, in a tweet, termed it as vaccine fraternity with Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh are aggrieved due to India's utter failure to reach the second instalment of the package of vaccine despite its full payment. It was supposed to reach in March, but now the month of June is going on. It is not such that India is not disturbed. Recently, talks were held over the issue in the South Block-- the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Over the issue, an elaborate discussion was held between PM Narendra Modi and FM Jaishankar. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who was once the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, also a friend to the country, wants to send the vaccine as quickly as possible. The Assam CM has said: “Come, let us try to untie the knot.”
Undoubtedly, the Indian Government is in a difficult situation following the surge of coronavirus during its second wave. It is to be admitted that the government of Narendra Modi could not realise that Corona-2 would emerge in such intensity than that of Corona-1. Presently, a blame game is underway. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said: "What shall I do? The health experts have misguided me." Experts said: “We have been in different administration. But, what did the virologists predict? Again, since inception, Jaishankar was pushing for an aggressive vaccination policy. Watching the blame game, the PM became a bit annoyed. The Prime Minister’s Secretariat is now handling the matter. It can be said the situation is a bit better now than that of the past. Over Bangladesh issue, the PM sat with the Foreign Ministry officials on several occasions. According to internal sources of the South Block, FM Jaishankar intends to send some vaccines to Bangladesh on a priority basis.
Although, India produced the highest amount of vaccine, but the situation became so bad that it had no vaccine to meet its domestic demand. It was a problem that related to demand and supply. Foreign Minister Jaishankar toured the USA where he talked to the people who are at the helm of affairs. Afterwards, he came back with an assurance from the Biden administration. That vaccine has already started arriving. It is hoped that sufficient vaccine is likely to reach India from different parts of the world within a fortnight. As per information received from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, the BJP seriously objected to sending vaccine to Bangladesh. The reason is domestic politics. If the vaccine is sent to Bangladesh instead of Paschimbanga or Uttar Pradesh where an election is nearing then the Modi government would fall victim to internal politics. Presently, atmosphere for mutual understanding or government-opposition dialogue is missing. I think the Modi government is a bit responsible for the situation. Following its landslide victory, it should have paid due honour to the opposition by maintaining a cordial relationship what works in bad times. Both the governments of Modi and Mamata must have to realise it. Finally, I came to know that Dhaka has already been informed that New Delhi would send the rest of vaccine after the month of September. In the coming days, Dhaka will be compensated in full. If needed, India would not shrink back from sending much more vaccine to Bangladesh than what it had paid for.
Again, I come back to the topic of discussion of Assam CM. Following him, I tell that what had been termed as ‘Look East’ policy is now ‘Act East’ policy. For implementation of the policy, Bangladesh is of utmost necessity. For the purpose of security of the geo-strategic position, India requires Bangladesh. Finally, the Assam CM has summarised the citizenship bill--the BJP’s political agenda. He said the citizenship bill will remain ineffective for the time being. It has been sent for reviewing on a plea of coronavirus. It will be improper if it comes into effect during the pandemic period. He said that lots of people, who have been identified, went to courts to challenge the bill. So, instead of thinking it a final list, an in-depth study is necessary. It matters to lots of people. It should be done very cautiously. At the moment, the BJP has climbed on the back of the tiger. It is also not possible on the part of the BJP or the RSS to discard or withdraw the citizenship bill. Again, Paschimbanga has reacted violently over the issue. Before the just-concluded polls, Mamata Banerjee played a very aggressive role. As to why, silence is being maintained regarding implementation of the bill. Moreover, ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha election, the BJP and the RSS must have to show that they won't backtrack from their political issue of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ - their old political agenda. The Indian home minister has expressed it time and again and tried to do so. In such a situation, the assertion of the Assam CM bears significance. He said the issue of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ would be resolved through talks with Bangladesh. Centring the issue, they have no conflict with Bangladesh. And, they are against any conflict.
So, now, during the corona crisis, it seems, whatever it be, but the citizenship bill will not get priority. Narendra Modi has understood that. The BJP too must have to understand it.
The writer is a senior journalist of India
Translated by Z. A. M. Khairuzzaman