Internal decisions can have external ramifications. The views expressed by the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, on the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act are an example of this duality. While acknowledging that the CAA is India’s “internal matter”, a position that New Delhi has maintained to fend off international criticism, Ms Wajed did not hesitate to add that the legislation was ‘unnecessary’. Ms Wajed’s reservations are not unprecedented. Even the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal institution, has been unequivocal in its condemnation of the CAA, describing the law, which seeks to equate citizenship with selective faith, as an assault on the pluralist character of India. Ms Wajed’s comments, read together with the global anxiety about the direction that New India has taken under the stewardship of Narendra Modi, go to show that the line between domestic politics and international diplomacy need not be inviolable. No State can hope to stall a diplomatic retaliation after implementing a patently discriminatory law.
This convergence of the national and the international is best demonstrated by the shadow that the CAA has cast on New Delhi’s ties with Dhaka, which has been a staunch ally of India in a restive neighbourhood. The pivot that holds the CAA aloft is the assumption of religious persecution of specific religious minorities in such neighbouring countries as Bangladesh. Dhaka is unlikely to be pleased with such a hypothesis. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s threats to identify and deport Bangladeshi immigrants could further complicate bilateral ties. Dhaka would be loath to shoulder this human load, especially since the mechanism of identification may well be tainted by institutional prejudice. Several irritants have creased the folds of the New Delhi-Dhaka relationship in recent times. The Teesta water-sharing issue remains unresolved. The stalemate could prove costly for Ms Wajed in the long run. After all, the allegation that New Delhi has remained inert to Dhaka’s repeated overtures has not been exorcized by Ms Wajed’s electoral triumphs. There is also the prickly issue of rising trade deficit to Dhaka’s disadvantage. India, on its part, cannot afford to alienate Bangladesh either. An unresponsive Bangladesh could intensify India’s security headache. Ms Wajed’s statement on the CAA could well be strategic. Piling on the pressure on the other side is an old tactic in diplomacy. The outcome of
Mr Modi’s visit to Bangladesh, if it does take place, would be closely watched around the world.