Despite varied minor hiccups, the Indo-Bangladesh relation is one that needs to be fostered and matured for mutual geopolitical and economic gains
The recent riots in northeast Delhi have reverberated in Dhaka, Bangladesh as the country is bracing itself to receive Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the much glittering centenary celebrations of Father of the Nation, 'Bôngobondhu' Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, scheduled in Dhaka on March 17.
India has been walking an extra mile to ensure that the cordial and friendly relations between the two countries remain on the rails with mature and robust diplomacy. Yet, it suffered a setback when the Bangladesh Parliament Speaker, Dr Shireen Sharmeen Chowdhury, who was all set to come to India ostensibly to extend invitation to her Indian counterpart, Om Birla, former President Pranab Mukherjee and other Indian dignitaries, when she cancelled the visit almost at the last minute citing 'compelling circumstances'. Critics of the Indo-B'desh ties are of the view that this abrupt cancellation must be read in conjunction with the last-minute cancellations of earlier scheduled visits by Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and others in December when CAA was promulgated.
Indian Foreign Secretary( FS), Harsh Vardhan Shringla, in the meantime, was in Dhaka (March 1-2) to straighten out loose ends ahead of Prime Minister Modi's forthcoming visit as well as to attend a high profile seminar entitled B'desh and India – a promising future, being organised under the aegis of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS). (Dhaka is Shringla's old turf where he effectively worked to improve Indo-B'desh ties and paved the way of PM Hasina's successful India visit in 2017). The participants in the seminar also included the senior advisor to BDPM, Dr Gowher Rizvi among other eminent personalities. Rizvi is a mature figure and known to firefight whenever Indo-B'desh ties hit a low.
Such a seminar at this juncture seems useful when a section of people in Bangladesh has risen against the imposition of CAA, NCR, NPR and calling off of the Speaker's visit in addition to acerbic and adverse media coverage protesting against PM Modi's visit, lead us to believe that both sides are making sincere endeavours to maintain the pleasant relations between the two friendly neighbours.
These positive developments notwithstanding, there are plenty of anti-Indian elements active in Bangladesh who are desperate to derail the relations due to the communal riots across the Indian capital as well as for Kashmir related developments and enforcement of the CAA. These happenings have given the forces, vehemently opposed to Indo-B'desh ties, a free hand to harm the existing bonhomie.
Such forces are very vocal in protesting against PM Modi's scheduled presence on March 17 during the start of the ceremonial Mujib centenary celebrations where the Indian PM is believed to be accorded a key slot to speak. Ire to this effect was amply noticed on Friday, when around 3,000 anti-India, pro-Pakistan suspected fanatics led a protest march starting from the most famous Baitul Mukarram mosque after Friday prayers shouting anti-Modi and anti-India slogans. Their main angst is the communal riots in India and invitation to the Indian Prime Minister whom they consider a 'dishonour to Bangladesh.
In a related development, Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamist Advocacy group thought to be close to PM Hasina and her ruling party Awami League (AL), has already started flexing its muscles and commenced resorting to a kind of emotional blackmail by stepping up its anti-India tirade. In an angry reaction, it's Amir, Allama Shah Ahmed had the gumption of making a public statement that people of Bangladesh do not want to see Modi at the Mujib event and the invitation extended to him merited cancellation. He went further by calling up other Islamic countries to ensure that the lives and property of Muslims in India remained safe and secure.
Ordinarily, Hefazat-e-Islam remains in control of the AL, but this time it seems to remain unleashed either on purpose or otherwise. It's clearly exceeding its limits thus emboldening other zealots' parties to embark upon heavy India bashing. Bangladesh has a history of Indian offices and Hindu places of worships being desecrated in the wake of Babri Masjid demolition. It was suspected to have the state support then. Recent riots in India are now a fait accompli but it gives the fundamentalists a very convenient pretext to mobilise anti-India public opinion in the form of protest demonstrations and targeting the Hindu minority in Bangladesh. The minority, therefore, remains vulnerable.
Meanwhile, a section of the media in Dhaka has also intensified its attacks against India. Noted and one of the oldest Bangladesh Bangla newspapers, Ittefaq, has posted a series of anti-India tweets carrying pictures of arson and vandalism in the recent riots. There
is an outpouring of such hostile coverage. In a recent editorial, Brig Gen (retd) Shahidul
Anam Khan (a senior editor with Daily Star) was highly critical of BJP for engineering riots and even blamed the prominent Hindu nationalists for being responsible for the partition of India. This trend emanating from a military man turned journalist, sets a dangerous tone. And, this is only one example. Many more may have gone unnoticed or maybe in the pipeline.
Only last week, some changes in the military establishment have been made in Dhaka believed to be at the express behest of Prime Minister, Hasina. Two such transfers/postings deserve a mention – the Director-General of Forces Intelligence and the head of 9th Infantry Division, Dhaka. Both are extremely sensitive assignments being the eyes and ears of the Prime Minister. As things unfold with reactions in Bangladesh vis a vis India, its hoped things would remain in control and for this, both sides must work hand in hand. After all, one can't live without the other principally because of geopolitical and economic reasons.
The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal