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BEYOND THE POLLS

India figures prominently in most election campaigns in Bangladesh. Opponents of the Awami League, which is generally believed to be a pro-India party, find an “Indian hand” behind every general election in Bangladesh. It is rare for Bangladesh to become an issue in an Indian poll. However, “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh, if not the country itself, have suddenly emerged from the shadows to find a place in India’s election campaign this time. Narendra Modi started it all during his campaign in Assam and subsequently in West Bengal, promising to pack such migrants back across the border if he came to power. Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has always made a distinction between Muslim “intruders” from Bangladesh and Hindu “refugees” from that country who had to flee it and take “shelter” in India because of social and religious persecution. Mr Modi’s threat to deport the “illegal migrants” has been vehemently opposed by Mamata Banerjee, who would not allow any such deportation from Bengal. Much of this is plain and simple poll rhetoric, used in order to garner votes on communal lines. But it is bound to cause some unease in Dhaka, where all politicians, including Sheikh Hasina Wajed, simply deny that there are Bangladeshis staying in India illegally.

However, once the heat and dust of elections settle, the new government in New Delhi will have to take a serious look at a number of issues in India-Bangladesh relations. Ms Wajed, Bangladesh’s prime minister, has reasons to be worried about how the new regime in India deals with some of these issues. Two of them — the land boundary agreement and the pact on the sharing of the waters of the Teesta river — were nearly settled by Manmohan Singh’s government. India is bound by its promises to implement the agreements on these two issues. The new government will have to complete the processes for keeping India’s promises on these. No country can afford to let its foreign policy commitments be hijacked by domestic politics. India’s security concerns demand that every government in New Delhi deal carefully with issues involving Bangladesh. Relations between the two countries had seen significant improvements, especially in trade, during the tenure of the previous BJP-led government. Dhaka has no reasons to worry too much about a regime change in New Delhi.