Bangladesh Deputy Foreign Minister skips Delhi visit amid an all-is-not-well perception

Bangladesh Deputy Foreign Minister skips Delhi visit amid an all-is-not-well perception

Shahriar Alam is the fourth senior official from Dhaka to cancel schedule in the past month.

Bangladesh Deputy Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam has cancelled his visit to Delhi scheduled for this week on Saturday, making this the fourth visit by senior officials from Dhaka that has been cancelled in the past month.

According to Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, Mr. Alam, who was due to visit Delhi to address the MEA’s annual Raisina Dialogue Conference from January 14-16, has conveyed to the MEA’s organising partner thinktank, Observer Research Foundation, that he would be travelling to the United Arab Emirates instead, accompanying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on a visit there.

“The Ministry would like to convey that State Minister Mohammad Shahriar Alam was invited as a speaker in the Raisina Dialogue which coincides with his visit to UAE to accompany the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. As such State Minister Alam could not avail the participation,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry. “The inability of his participation has no other connection,” the statement added, in response to reports that it was linked to tensions between New Delhi and Dhaka over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Mr. Alam’s decision not to visit India comes after the cancellation of scheduled visits by Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on December 12, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on December 13 and a delegation of senior officials for the Joint River Commission talks on December 18, the timing of which raised speculation they were connected to disquiet over the passage of the CAA in Parliament on December 11.

The Ministry of External Affairs downplayed Mr. Alam’s cancellation saying he was not coming on an “official bilateral visit”. “It is understood that he had to cancel his India visit as he has to accompany the Bangladesh PM on her visit abroad,” an MEA official said. In December too, the MEA had denied the cancellations were connected to Dhaka’s unhappiness.

“We have to understand that with Bangladesh there are over 75, over 75 dialogue mechanisms which are taking place and dates are decided through mutual consultation. Our understanding is a relationship which is as close as between our two countries should not be defined in terms of a postponement of a visit here and there,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

Though the government has clarified in Parliament that the CAA pertains mainly to religious persecution in Bangladesh that took place before Sheikh Hasina came to power, Bangladeshi Ministers have said publicly they are not happy to be “bracketed” with Pakistan and Afghanistan on this issue, and denied that minorities in Bangladesh are under threat. Ms. Hasina had herself raised the issue of the NRC leading to India deporting ‘illegals’ to Bangladesh with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when she met him in New York in September 2019 and in Delhi in October 2019.

According to officials who asked not to be named, however, there is growing unhappiness in Dhaka over the Modi government’s push for the CAA-NRC and ‘unfavourable’ references to Bangladeshi migrants.

A few other incidents in the past few months have also added to the sense that all is not well, they said. One official pointed Ms. Hasina’s two visits, to Delhi for a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi which resulted in seven agreements being signed and a visit to Kolkata for the first day-night Test match between India and Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens. On both occasions, Ms. Hasina was welcomed by fairly junior officials, including a Minister who was a “first-time MP” in Delhi, and the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh in Kolkata, which had surprised the delegation, the official said. The issue had been raised in Dhaka, and even in Parliament in Delhi. To a specific question in Parliament on December 12, Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan had said Ms. Hasina had been “provided due protocol courtesies”.

The failure of the two sides to move forward on the Teesta river water settlement for years, which is being held up by the West Bengal Chief Minister, has also been a constant cause for concern for Ms. Hasina, who faced criticism from the Opposition and the media over agreeing to share the Feni river water with a town in Tripura in October, without assurances from India on other water sharing talks.

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