Doesn’t Fit The ‘Bill’: Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Cancels India Visit

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IN BETTER TIMES: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi President Sheikh Hasina during the latter's visit to New Delhi in October this year.

NEW DELHI: Is Dhaka miffed with New Delhi? So it would appear, given the cancellation of the visit by Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen, who was to deliver the keynote speech at the 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue in Delhi on Friday. Dates for such events are decided well in advance, so the excuse advanced by the Bangladeshis that the cancellation was “due to some sudden pressing national events at home” clearly doesn’t wash.

The pressing national events cited are the ‘Buddhijibi Dibosh’ (Martyred Intellectuals Day) on December 14 and ‘Bijoy Dibosh’ (Victory Day) on December 16, both of which are observed every year. They could hardly be “pressing” or “sudden”. Even the absence of their junior foreign minister and foreign secretary in Dhaka could not have been a reason.

It would appear Dhaka wanted to convey its unhappiness with the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 (CAB) that was passed by both houses of Indian Parliament this week.

Dhaka may have been even more upset over reported remarks attributed to India’s Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament that Hindus in Bangladesh had “found it impossible” to carry out their religious activities.

The Indian government rejected that view. “Any speculation that this development is connected with legislation adopted by Parliament yesterday regarding the Citizenship Amendment Bill is unwarranted,” said Raveesh Kumar, Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday.

For good measure, the MEA even quoted excerpts of Shah’s remarks in Parliament, where he said: “Sir, as long as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was leading Bangladesh, everything worked well. But once his government went, minorities began to be oppressed. I can tell you that a large number of Bangladesh refugees had to come here to seek refuge”.

The ministry also quoted the minister as saying that “the current government in Bangladesh is also taking care of religious minorities. But there has been a long period in the past during which people came to India on account of religious persecution”.

But Dhaka’s unhappiness and unease has been growing ever since the exercise surrounding Assam’s National Register of Citizens was carried out. Bangladeshi diplomats privately conveyed to their Indian counterparts their resentment over Shah’s reported remarks describing illegal migrants from their country as “termites”.

Momen was also quoted by the Dhaka Tribune newspaper as saying that Indian claims about the torture of Hindus in Bangladesh were unwarranted and untrue. “There are very few countries in the world where communal harmony is as good as in Bangladesh. We have no minorities. We are all equal. If he (Amit Shah) stayed in Bangladesh for a few months, he would see the exemplary communal harmony in our country,” he said.

But Dhaka’s worries may be grounded in the Rohingya context, where it has had to accommodate thousands of them fleeing violence in Myanmar. Dhaka would be wondering if the NRC and the CAB could lead to a similar exodus of Bengali Muslims from India to Bangladesh.

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