New Delhi, Feb. 5: Armed with ration cards, electricity bills and other documents, India is preparing a dossier to establish that the 213-strong group of snake-charmers and their families stranded near the border with Bengal are Bangladeshi nationals.
Delhi has also proposed either a joint verification by the Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Rifles, or independent interviews by the media of the two countries to establish the group’s nationality.
Even as such elaborate preparations are on, a view fast gaining ground among political parties is that the standoff should be resolved amicably and as soon as possible at the political and diplomatic level.
The issue was discussed at this afternoon’s parliamentary consultative committee meeting, which was chaired by foreign minister Yashwant Sinha.
Several members suggested that either Sinha should speak immediately to his Bangladeshi counterpart, Mohd Morshed Khan, or Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should take up the matter with Begum Khaleda Zia.
Sinha explained India’s position at the meeting. His stand was later voiced by foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna, who said: “There is no question of Indian nationals being pushed across to the other side. They are Bangladeshi nationals and Dhaka has to play a responsible role to resolve the crisis.”
Senior Bangladeshi officials have contested the Indian claim. They allege that the 213 people are Indians who are being forcibly pushed into Bangladesh.
At the consultative committee meeting, the members expressed their concern about the impact of the standoff on India’s image abroad. References were made to similar problems in the past and how they were resolved by the 1991 agreement, which put in place an arrangement to jointly verify the nationality of anyone found straying along the border.
However, the problem this time is that neither the 1991 agreement nor any other suggestion by India seems to be working with Bangladesh.
The foreign ministry spokesman later told reporters that documentary evidence showed that the group was Bangladeshi. He said the electricity bills in their possession have showed that they paid the bills at the Purbari Palli Vidyut Samiti. The snake-charmers, who are from Lalmonirhat district, have even named the local MP, Mohammed Salauddin, to prove that they are Bangladeshis, he said.
According to Indian officials, the group was picked up by police while performing in the Sawar police station area near Dhaka. As they are essentially nomads who habitually leave home for long periods of time, their absence in their village in Purba Palli were not missed by others.
Indian officials are hopeful that the crisis will be resolved through diplomacy as reports from Dhaka have indicated that a mood is building up there against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government’s handling of the issue. “There are voices of criticism against the Khaleda regime’s policy towards India. This may be useful to resolve the crisis sooner than had been expected earlier,” an official said.