Bangladesh’s PM Sheikh Hasina arrives in India today for a four-day visit. She will meet with her counterpart Narendra Modi on Saturday.
India’s National Register of Citizens—an anti-immigration policy that aims to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the state of Assam—could cause tensions between the neighbours. Up to 1.9 million people could have their Indian citizenship stripped.
New Delhi has been ambiguous about its intentions for the effectively stateless people, but members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have suggested they will be deported. Bangladesh is extremely unlikely to accept this. Being complicit in the forced displacement of so many people would harm its international image, and Dhaka is already struggling to manage some 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
Both sides have leverage. India supplies Bangladesh with the raw materials that fuel its textiles industry, worth around $35 billion in exports each year. Bangladesh, meanwhile, occupies a strategic location on the Bay of Bengal and is actively leveraging Indian-Chinese competition to attract investment. New Delhi will not want to push Dhaka into Beijing’s sphere of influence.
At this point, the likeliest resolution could be to maintain the status quo—whereby the stateless remain in Assam but with fewer rights than recognised Indians. While that “solution” would preserve warm relations between India and Bangladesh, it risks sparking a humanitarian crisis in the medium-term.
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Alex is a senior analyst in the Current Developments team with a primary focus on the Americas. He also serves as an editor on The Daily Brief.