'India’s help needed to resolve the Rohingya crisis'

Sohrab Hassan and Mizanur Rahman Khan | Update:

Muchkund Dubey. Photo: Prothom Alo

Muchkund Dubey was born in 1933 in Jharkand, India. He earned his master’s degree in economics from Patna University in 1956 and taught there for a year. In 1957 he joined the Indian foreign service. He served as a diplomat in Tehran, Geneva, Berne, New York and Dhaka. He was the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka from 1979 to 1982. Then from 1982 till 1985 he was the Indian permanent representative to the UN. After retiring as the Indian foreign secretary in 1991, he taught economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University from 1992 to 1999. Presently he is the president of the Council for Social Development in Delhi. He recently visited Dhaka to deliver a lecture on Lalon. In an interview with Prothom Alo during the visit, he spoke about bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh, India’s Citizen’s (Amendment) Act and South Asian geopolitics.

Prothom Alo: When did you get first involved in India’s diplomacy with Bangladesh?

Muchkund Dubey: I first came to Bangladesh in December 1972 from the United Nations. I then returned to the country as an international civil servant. I was given the Bangladesh desk in the foreign ministry, but not as a Bangladesh expert. I needed a job and there was one post vacant which I filled. That was in 1976. In two months I was promoted as joint secretary.

Prothom Alo: Was it during your stint in Bangladesh that you grew your interest in Bangladesh’s music and literature?

Muchkund Dubey: Yes. I already had a few records of Lalon songs sung by the famous Indian folk singer Nirmalendu De. Then when I came here, I heard Farida Parveen’s rendition of Lalon.

Prothom Alo: And does your wife still sing Nazrul Sangeet?

Muchkund Dubey: Yes, very well. In fact her songs may be uploaded on YouTube soon.

Prothom Alo: Do you recall tensions between Bangladesh and India way back during Bangabandhu’s time?

Muchkund Dubey: There was good understanding between the two countries during his time. The steps taken then were very good too. The planning commissions of the two countries worked on long-term relations, on what projects could be adopted and so on. Many qualified and intelligent persons were involved. On India’s side there was Sukumar Chakrabarty and from your country there was Nurul Islam, Rehman Sobhan and others. They were A Class economists. Later there were some misunderstandings. I witnessed these misunderstandings even when I was a joint secretary.

Prothom Alo: Were there any deficiencies from the Indian side?

Muchkund Dubey: When I came, all sorts of obstacles had arisen. Then when I became joint secretary, my work had begun on implementing the Farakka deal.

Prothom Alo: How was the Farakaa deal done during Ziaur Rahman’s time?

Muchkund Dubey: I was closely involved in this. I don’t want to take credit for it, but I mainly carried out this task.

Prothom Alo: We are curious to know how Zia did this deal. Was this farsightedness on the part of Moraji Desai?

Muchkund Dubey: This had started with the exchange of messages with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after independence. That understanding had two aspects. One was that we could start the Farakka barrage. The other was that India pledged that it would start Farakka barrage, but not in any way that would harm Bangladesh. The pledge was made during Mujib’s time. But it was during Ziaur Rahman’s time that Bangladesh took up the matter at the United Nations. The matter was debated at the UN first committee and we were alone.

Prothom Alo: So Bangladesh had astute diplomacy at the time?

Muchkund Dubey: Certainly, in a way. During Ziaur Rahman’s time a five-year agreement was signed. There had been obstacles, but I tried to resolve those.

Prothom Alo: How did Bangladesh manage to include the guarantee clause for minimum water flow at the Farakka point at that time?

Muchkund Dubey: I was here when the agreement term ended. India proposed that we don’t enter a long-term agreement. It will be renewed every year. I told my Bangladeshi counterpart Rezaul Karim not to accept this. You do not accept this because minimum guarantee clause will not be there, I said.

Prothom Alo: When you were high commissioner to Bangladesh, there was a news report that you slapped a Bangladesh security officer. What actually happened?

Muchkund Dubey: I was on my way to a reception of the Kuwait mission and noticed a Volkswagen car tailing me. It bumped into my car from behind. My security guard got out or the car and grabbed the Volkswagen driver. I called the IG of police but he I couldn’t get through to him. About 15 days later there was a news headline that the India high commissioner had beaten up a security officer. This created a stir in India. I met with the foreign minister at the time, Shamsul Huq and told him to investigate the matter for the good of the two countries and if he felt that I should complete my full term in Bangladesh. The matter had to be cleared up. He immediately spoke to the home ministry and took steps. He told the IGP to look into the matter. The inquiry report was ready in four days. It said such an incident did occur, but the Indian high commissioner was not involved. It was his security guard. The report recommended that the driver and security guard be picked up, though I differed. They did not heed me and both were withdrawn to India. I remained. The matter was even discussed in our parliament. The Indian prime minister Narashima Rao fully supported me and said that Dubey is our high commissioner by upholds the interests of both the countries.

Prothom Alo: While Bangladesh-India relations are at a height, recently Bangladesh’s foreign minister and home minister cancelled their trips to India. How will this be resolved and will relations improve? Hindustan Times reported that the height of relations had come to an end.

Muchkund Dubey: This is a sensitive issue and I cannot say anything on the matter.

Prothom Alo: Have you openly said or written anything about the amendment of the Citizens Act?

Muchkund Dubey: No. Bu I can say that this is an unfortunate matter. The Muslim citizens of India will have no problem, but only non-Muslims who have entered after 2014 will be given citizenship, not Muslims. I do not accept this. How can a secular country say it will give citizenship on the basis of religion?

Prothom Alo: Many have approached the Supreme Court about the issue. Do you think the matter will be resolved there?

Muchkund Dubey: I hope the Supreme Court verdict will resolve the matter.

Prothom Alo: Your successor, Indian high commissioner Deb Mukherjee is one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Muchkund Dubey: Correct, and I am proud about that.

Prothom Alo: Do you think this law is contrary to India’s secular constitution?

Muchkund Dubey: Absolutely. If citizenship is given on the basis of religion, then how is a country secular? This is common sense.

Prothom Alo: As a professor of international law, do you think there is adequate protest about the matter from the civil society and the media?

Muchkund Dubey: Not in the media. The media has changed vastly over the past few years, but I don’t want to go into details. There is a qualitative change.

Prothom Alo: This change surely isn’t conducive to freedom of speech?

Muchkund Dubey: Not at all. There is fake news now, paid news.

Prothom Alo: Isn’t there also a matter of fear? There is the digital security act and other prohibitions that are being applied. Does the mind-set of the ruling party play a role in this regard?

Muchkund Dubey: There certainly is fear. The newspapers are in fear. There is fear among the civil society. But remember, they came to power with the mandate of the majority. They are not afraid.

Prothom Alo: Do you see a link between NRC, Kashmir’s special status being cancelled, the Ayodha verdict and the Citizen’s (Amendment) Act?

Muchkund Dubey: There is a common feature, a pattern.

Prothom Alo: Do you see danger in this? India used to have harmony.

Muchkund Dubey: There's danger, there certainly is.

Prothom Alo: As an emeritus professor of international relations, did you have to say or write anything about Kashmir’s special status being cancelled?

Muchkund Dubey: I deal with economy, not with India’s domestic politics. I never did and still do not. I write about foreign policy or economic policy.

Prothom Alo: What about the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodha? Did you say anything or write anything on that?

Muchkund Dubey: I did not, but I am not happy.

Prothom Alo: Has India lost all its friends in the neighbourhood, except for Bangladesh?

Muchkund Dubey: There are many reasons for its being friendless. Pakistan is a major factor. We will not go where Pakistan goes.

Prothom Alo: Nepal not long ago was the only Hindu state in the world. Why have relations with India deteriorated?

Muchkund Dubey: There are reasons and China is one of the main factors. The neighbours want to keep relations with others on their terms.

Prothom Alo: In a previous interview you said, let the corpse of SAARC remain, no need for a burial. Do you still see future for SAARC?

Muchkund Dubey: I think the same way now. There is no need for a burial, given the abnormal predicament of SAARC. That is unrealistic. That’s all I want to say on this topic.

Prothom Alo: If we make a comparative analysis of relations during your tenure and now…
Muchkund Dubey: I want to see good relations between the two countries. During the tenure of this government, the relations have been good in many ways. It is not only because of the Indian government. More credit goes to Sheikh Hasina, the initiatives she had taken, the effort she has put in. But I feel unless relations among the South Asian countries are consolidated, even this relationship will not be sustainable. This relationship can be stronger in context of the entire South Asia.

Prothom Alo: Is Bangladesh being squashed in the competition between China and the US in Asia and South Asia, or is it benefiting?

Muchkund Dubey: I hope Bangladesh can reap benefits from this competition, but Bangladesh does not have that power to draw much benefit from this. And how India can benefit from China and US is a very complicated matter.

Prothom Alo: Why has India decided on a chief of defence, 72 years since its independence?

Muchkund Dubey: This is a non-issue. Such a recommendation was made 5 or 6 times in the past too.

Prothom Alo: Do you think if the Rohingyas are radicalised, this will pose as a security threat for India?

Muchkund Dubey: This can be dangerous for India. If the situation deteriorates here, that can never be good for India.

Prothom Alo: Do you think India should play a stronger role to resolve this crisis?

Muchkund Dubey: India should provide assistance on a broader scale.

Prothom Alo: When presenting your credentials to Zia in 1979, you recited from a poem of Sufia Kamal. What subtle message were you delivering?

Muchkund Dubey: There were quotes from Nazrul too at the event. My message was to go ahead along with everybody.

Prothom Alo: Do you think this sentiment is relevant today in 2020?

Muchkund Dubey: (Laughs) Maybe.

Prothom Alo: Thank you.
Muchkund Dubey: Thank you

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