New Delhi/Kolkata: India has lodged a “strong protest” with Bangladesh over the killing of BSF soldier Vijay Bhan Singh and sought an official response and closure to the case while the force has stopped joint patrolling along a long stretch of the border, multiple sources told ThePrint.
“Dhaka has to come up with a credible answer on why he (Singh) was shot at. We hope that Bangladesh comes up with some credible answers soon and bring closure to the case,” said a top Indian official, who refused to be identified.
While both sides have sought to downplay the 17 October incident owing to the bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina and have refrained from raising temperatures, tension is said to be simmering below the surface in the BSF.
As a result, the force has decided to stop joint patrolling along the India-Bangladesh border in the South Bengal frontier area that stretches to about 1,000 km up to Murshidabad district. The total length of the border between the two countries is 4,096 km.
Both BSF and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) have been conducting joint patrolling in this area since December 2014.
The patrolling, a senior BSF officer said, has been suspended temporarily in view of the current tension between the forces and it will be resumed in consultation with the Union home ministry.
However, fishing activity around the Kakmarichar border — where the incident took place on 17 October — that was suspended after the killing is now being resumed gradually.
“I have visited the spot. Normal economic activities are slowly resuming in the area. The sector DIGs are handling the situation,” said Sanjeev Singh, ADG (Eastern Command), BSF.
India could postpone DG-level talks scheduled for December
Official sources said India is now having a “rethink” on holding the next round of Director-General-level talks between the heads of BSF and BGB.
This will be an unprecedented move, sources said, since the DG-level talks take place without fail twice a year.
The last round took place in Dhaka in June and the next round is expected in India in December.
The BSF post in Kakmarichar, where Vijay Bhan Singh was stationed, is a riverine border defined by the Padma river. There is a tacit understanding between the neighbours that the boundary line is the middle of the river.
But in reality, Bangladesh believes that the entire Padma falls on its side, even though New Delhi has clearly told Dhaka that the river will be claimed by both sides and that the middle of the river is the border.
While both sides remain quiet on this difference, problems arise at this time of the year when Bangladesh observes a ban on Hilsa fishing as it is the season for the fish to lay eggs. But India does not follow such a rule and thus it does not bar its fishermen from fishing there.
According to sources, matters took an ugly turn when Singh was killed despite Bangladesh calling for a flag meeting on its side of the border. The BSF jawans had crossed the river to secure the release of the detained Indian fisherman during the flag meeting and went inside Bangladesh’s territory. However, Singh and another jawan were shot by a BGB personnel while they were returning.
Flag meetings between BSF and BGB take place almost every day as India shares its longest border with Bangladesh, Indian sources said.
However, Bangladeshi diplomatic sources said a flag meeting was never called on 17 October and Singh had crossed the border “illegally” and the shooting took place due to a “misunderstanding”.
What has also upset India is that, instead of taking any remedial measure following the death of the BSF jawan, BGB wrote a protest note to BSF which said the jawans went inside Bangladeshi territory without informing the other side in advance. The note also claimed that the BGB fired in “self-defence” as BSF tried to snatch the fishermen and also fired at BGB troopers.
Hasina likely to visit India in November
The Bangladeshi sources also said some sections in the country were not happy with PM Hasina’s visit to India earlier this month. But she is expected to visit Kolkata again around 22 November where she will be joined by Modi and, therefore, it is all the more reason for the two countries to downplay the border incident.
Many Bangladeshis are still not able to digest the “termites” comment made by Home Minister Amit Shah referring to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, the sources said. Besides, Hasina does not want to upset sections of her army that harbour anti-India sentiments and do not see her pro-India stance favourably.
The present Bangladeshi chief of army staff Aziz Ahmed has also served as the head of the BGB.
Both sides should handle the matter in ‘mature’ way, say experts
Experts who closely track India-Bangladesh relations said both sides should investigate the matter thoroughly but should also refrain from escalating tensions.
“You can never rule out an individual’s reaction. There must have some verbal duel. All such incidents are fully investigated. This is most unfortunate and there was no reason to open fire. But these things happen and such happenings don’t overturn the relationship,” said veteran diplomat Pinak R. Chakravarty, who was India’s High Commissioner to Dhaka from 2007-2009.
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Senior Fellow, ORF, agreed. She said the incident should be seen as an “aberration” and that both countries should be credited for handling it in a “mature and responsible” manner.
“Things sometimes do happen at the ground level but India-Bangladesh ties are at their best now. The Indian government perhaps does not want to embarrass Bangladesh by raking up the issue,” Bhattacharjee said.