Bangladeshi PM Hasina’s comments on CAA and NRC reflect a measured response by her government, aimed at dispelling perceptions of minority mistreatment in her country
Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina has broken her silence on the ongoing issue of Citizen Amendment Act ( CAA) and National Register of Citizens ( NRC) introduced in India, after parliament legislation which also grants citizenship to minorities of Bangladesh other than of Pakistan and Afghanistan facing persecution in these countries. In an interview given to Gulf News during her recent visit to Abu Dhabi, she described CAA and NRC as internal matters of India but in the same breath, she said she failed to understand the reason on part of Indian government in enforcing such laws, creating so many problems within India.
Hasina's measured reaction, articulated in a politically mature and candid manner, does dispel a lot of air as the Indian move in the introduction of such enactments had surely upset Bangladesh amid cancellation of scheduled India visits by two of its senior ministers. This had naturally led to speculation that Bangladesh was trying to give a message to India that the CAA and NRC didn't augur well with Bangladesh as it meant that the country was apathetic towards its minorities especially the Hindus as it felt that the 10 per cent Hindus enjoyed enough religious freedom and security. Hasina too in her recent interview to the Gulf News, had denied any reverse migration of minorities from Bangladesh to India. It is understandable that no stable sovereign country would like to seen in such dim light on its perceived failure in protecting the minorities from any kind of oppression.
It must be said to the credit of Hasina and her government that they have played the CAA linked developments with caution and a delicate balance least Bangladesh relations with India would sour. There were enough provocations from anti-India lobbies in Bangladesh to arouse communal passions but to no avail, perhaps because of the dexterous handling of the situation by PM Hasina herself and her party colleagues within and outside the government. Analysts and Bangladesh watchers, in the meantime, opine that Hasina wouldn't like to upset the status quo of Indo-Bangladesh relations, at least until till the Father of the nation, Sk Mujibur Rahman's centenary celebrations are over in 2021. Till then, it's watching the developments with eyes wide open. It's therefore, equally incumbent upon India to closely monitor the happenings for a long term interest, important from the strategic point of view.
However, coincidentally or otherwise, a different minority-related development seemed to rock the communal balance when the Hindus organised protest demonstrations to vent their ire to defer January 30 as the date of Dhaka city's mayoral elections. The vehement objection by the Hindus to this date was that it was clashing with the Saraswati Puja falling on the same day. This annual ritual has been followed with immense religious fervour from time immemorial and there have been reports of participation by many Muslims too as Saraswati is strongly believed to be the goddess of learning. Hindu leader, Ashok Ghosh even filed a writ in the court of law for the deferment. This shows the assertion Hindus are exercising in favour of their legitimate religious rights. Many leaders belonging to the ruling Awami League ( AL) also prevailed over changing the date and much to the relief of the minority Hindus, the polling date stands changed and the Hindus will observe their puja on the due date. This development strengthens Bangladesh government's arguments that Hindus enjoy religious liberty there and therefore they are not persecuted. Yet, the government needn't lower its guards from the vigilance from the hawkish religious ultras who are forever looking for the slightest opportunity to cause a schism within the communities in the light of the ongoing CAA debates.
Other than the Hindus, there are Buddhists, Christians and Ahmediyas too who fall in the category of minorities. Again and coincidentally, the Ahmediyas ( loosely also referred to as Kadianis) were targeted by diehard zealots when the former's mosque( Mojid Baitul Wahid ) came under attack and acts of vandalism in Kandipara, in district Brahmanbaria in Bangladesh on January 16. Several Ahmediya houses were also targeted on a false rumour that a Sunni madrasa was attacked by the Ahmediya minority. Ahmediya spokesperson, Ahmed Tabshir was quick to react by clarifying that it was the handiwork of the Islamic extremists trying to fan inter-sectarian clashes. Subsequently, a video came under circulation all over Europe and other western countries with a comprehensive commentary highlighting atrocities perpetrated on the Ahmediyas. Very significantly, the commentator says that assault on the Ahmediyas in Bangladesh was carried out at the prompting of Pakistan based intolerants as the plight of the Ahmediyas in Pakistan is well known due to continued hostility unleashed on them as they are not accepted as Muslims. Hence, there may be a well thought out anti-minority tirade being planned by Pakistan for showing Bangladesh in adverse light, perhaps taking advantage of the CAA related happenings. It would also appear pertinent to state that Ahmediya mosques in Bangladesh ( then East Pakistan) were desecrated in 1962 and 1967. In order to display the government's secular credentials, it would be imperative on the Bangladesh establishment to protect its minorities from any high-handedness to prevent being labelled for its failure to protect its minorities. This is a major challenge. And the task seems taller than before due to the prevailing fragile situation.
Shantanu Mukharji is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst, a columnist and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal