Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe postponed his visit to India amid protests in Assam over the passage of the new citizenship law. This comes a day after Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan cancelled their visit. India’s External Affairs Ministry said it was “unwarranted” to link Momen’s cancellation with the citizenship law. UN human rights mechanisms have already reportedly expressed “their concerns about the nature of this law.”
ThePrint asks: CAB, NRC, Kashmir: Is Modi govt damaging India’s diplomatic standing for domestic politics?
Foreign policy not free of domestic politics. Citizenship, Kashmir are India’s internal matter but affect Pakistan, Bangladesh
Executive council member, VIF, and former foreign secretary
Foreign policy cannot be autonomous from domestic politics altogether, especially in a democracy like India.
All the three burning issues – citizenship law, NRC and Kashmir — are India’s internal matters. Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha (where the Narendra Modi government lacked majority but eventually got the support of other parties) have approved the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir after transparent, though heated, debates. The Supreme Court has been monitoring the NRC process in Assam and will also hear petitions on Kashmir and the citizenship law in time.
These three issues, however, also involve Bangladesh and Pakistan principally. Illegal migration from Bangladesh is a reality that had to be addressed. The cut-off date in the citizenship law and the Modi government’s acknowledgment of the absence of persecution of minorities under the Hasina government — should satisfy Dhaka.
Pakistan’s jihadi policies towards India and its refusal to give citizenship to Biharis of erstwhile East Pakistan and Afghan refugees make its utterances hypocritical and irrelevant. For Pakistan and Bangladesh to express concerns about India’s secularism is dishonesty.
In the context of India’s diplomatic standing, is it worried about the US and Europe? Actually, US domestic politics is vitiating its foreign policy. With growing anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe and its own citizens who joined the Islamic State prevented from returning, Europe is answerable itself.
Citizenship law and NRC issue can strain India’s ties with its most important neighbour — Bangladesh
Head of Research, Takshashila Institution
‘Neighbourhood first’ was supposed to be the guiding principle of Modi government’s foreign policy. But all three measures — the new citizenship law, NRC and Kashmir issue — are examples of policy actions that are likely to have adverse outcomes for India’s interests in the region.
The amended citizenship law and the NRC issue will put strains on India’s relations with its most important neighbour in the Indian subcontinent — Bangladesh. In 2018, Bangladesh emerged as India’s largest export market for Indian-made two-wheelers. Bangladesh has also surpassed Pakistan in terms of GDP per capita. The 2011 census data shows that illegal migration from there is reducing and is not a problem of the present. Most importantly, the Sheikh Hasina government is one of the few steadfast pro-India formations in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the signal being sent to other leaders in the region is that taking pro-India positions might turn out to be a loss-making proposition.
In the case of Kashmir, Pakistan will try to use the Article 370 issue to drive a wedge between the US and India. From Pakistan’s standpoint, returning to the India-Pakistan hyphenation era in the eyes of the US is desirable. From India’s viewpoint, the more Pakistan features in India’s foreign policy outlook, the less energy it has for confronting the more significant global challenges.
India being unfair to neighbours by questioning their record on minorities, who are living their willingly
Former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia
While defending the citizenship bill in Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah made a number of observations and comments about India’s three neighbouring countries: Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. When you bring three neighbouring countries into domestic politics, the issue ceases to be purely a domestic one. Making negative remarks on these countries will obviously generate resentment.
India has been unfair to its neighbours. It may be concerned about illegal immigrants, but to criticise other countries on their treatment of minorities will be seen by them as an intrusion into their domestic affairs. Most countries in South Asia are pluralistic societies, accommodating a wide variety of communities pursuing different religions and ethnicities.
Bangladesh has a large number of non-Muslims, and many of them have chosen to be Bangladeshi nationals. Criticism in the case of Afghanistan is also unfair. The Sikh community has been living there since centuries. The war-torn country is trying to heal itself and the last thing it needs is another country pouring scorn over it on the issue of religious persecution.
Pakistan also has a substantial number of minorities. These have deliberately chosen to live there and are attempting to be exemplary citizens.
I don’t think India’s criticism is likely to be well-received. Moreover, all countries are vulnerable to criticism by others. India’s social fabric is also under stress and has been questioned. Countries should instead support each other in upholding the multicultural order.
For officials of other countries to use citizenship law to cancel visits or express displeasure is not expected
Former foreign secretary
The amended citizenship law is a piece of domestic legislation. It has been passed by the India Parliament. For officials of another country to use this as a reason for either cancelling their visit or showing displeasure is not expected. At the same time, I don’t think India has taken the trouble to brief Bangladesh on the ramifications of this law. Bangladesh must be explained that India’s citizenship law will not affect people of other countries except those who have illegally come to India.
India allows the people of Nepal and Bhutan free access to enter as long as they stay here legally. India should actually be considered as an example for countries to follow.
But the Modi government could have taken greater care in handling the situation. The comments made against our friendly neighbouring countries were irresponsible. For instance, Amit Shah referring to Bangladeshi refugees as “termites” is not acceptable. Passing disparaging remarks about people from a certain country is not how diplomacy is conducted. This may hurt the self-image of that particular country.
This is just a temporary setback and can be explained. India should take care to not alienate someone as sympathetic as Sheikh Hasina. I am optimistic that the citizenship law will not be a factor in the deterioration of India’s ties with its neighbours.
By Kairvy Grewal, journalist at ThePrint