Bangladesh has expressed concern about India’s policies affecting Muslims through official channels, Dhaka’s foreign minister told BenarNews on Tuesday, one day after New Delhi announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi deferred a trip to the neighboring country because of the global spread of novel coronavirus.
Bangladesh on Sunday announced the first three confirmed cases of the virus on its soil and said it was scaling back celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, planned for this month. Modi had been scheduled to attend a grand ceremony on March 17 that would be held later, it said.
Islamic parties, which had threatened to hold a major protest on Thursday, suspended the plan after New Delhi announced the cancellation of Modi’s Dhaka trip on Monday. They continued to call for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to condemn what they termed India’s discriminatory policies and attacks on the Muslims.
“It’s not true that we are silent. We have been talking to the Indian government at different official forums,” Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told BenarNews, refuting allegations during protest rallies by the Islamic parties.
Previously, Bangladeshi officials said Modi was expected to hold bilateral talks with Hasina on a wide range of issues during his two-day visit starting March 17.
But Islamic political parties staged protest rallies across nation for two consecutive Fridays demanding cancellation of Modi’s visit, alleging that the Indian government had stoked tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
At least 52 people were killed and hundreds more suffered injuries during a 72-hour outburst of intercommunal violence in the Indian capital two weeks ago, local reports said.
To prepare for Modi’s tour, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Dhaka early this month and assured Hasina and Momen that India’s decisions regarding the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) would not impact Bangladesh.
CAA, which has led to violence in several parts of the country over the last few months, makes it easier for persecuted non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to get Indian citizenship. It was passed by the Indian parliament in December 2019.
On Monday, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said it had received formal notification from Bangladesh that the birth centenary celebrations were delayed because of the detection of coronavirus cases in the country.
“The Bangladesh government has advised us that fresh dates for these commemorative events will be conveyed later,” the MEA said. “In this context, [the] Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh next week at the invitation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is being deferred.”
Momen, meanwhile, said he had asked his Indian counterpart “whether the NRC and the CAA were necessary.”
“The Indian foreign secretary gave his government’s clarification and assured me that the NRC and the CAA were internal affairs of India and those would in no way affect Bangladesh,” Momen told BenarNews.
New Delhi authorities have not explained what whipped up violence where Hindu rioters set several mosques ablaze and engaged Muslims in pitched battles using swords, sticks, guns and axes.
Reports said the clashes stemmed from tensions over amendments to the citizenship law passed by Modi’s government but seen by critics as discriminating against Muslims. The religious community forms the largest minority group in Hindu-majority India, which is one of Bangladesh’s closest allies.
Bangladeshi government officials earlier withheld comment on the controversial amendments, saying they involved matters related to New Delhi’s “internal affairs.”
Despite the demonstrations and mounting criticism, the Hindu nationalist government has rejected calls to repeal CAA.
Islamic leaders suspend protests
“As the trip had been cancelled, we have suspended protest-action programs,” Ahmed Abdul Quadir, secretary general of Islamic political party Khelafat Majlish told BenarNews on Tuesday.
“Our expectation was that the Bangladeshi government would not remain silent on the question of condemning the attacks on Muslims in Delhi and the discriminatory policies of the Indian government against Muslims,” Quadir said.
“But the government is silent. They are just expressing concerns,” he said. “We were expecting the government to condemn India for NRC and the CAA.”
But diplomatic analysts rejected the statements from the Islamic party leaders.
“Why should Bangladesh take the responsibility of all Muslims around the world? Bangladesh is not an Islamic country,” Touhid Hossain, a former foreign secretary, told BenarNews.
Bangladesh lacks the political, economic, diplomatic and military strength to put pressure on India, Hossain said.
“We have to accept the reality,” he said. “Bangladesh cannot condemn India.”
But Munshi Faiz Ahmad, chairman of the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, a state-owned think tank, said Bangladesh had cancelled many bilateral visits to India to deliver a message: Dhaka does not support the CAA and the NRC.
In the presence of the Indian foreign secretary, one of Hasina’s advisers said during a March 2 meeting on Bangladesh-India relations that India “should not do anything that may harm Bangladesh’s secular atmosphere,” Ahmad said.
“Through this comment, Bangladesh has communicated a message to India,” he said. “And this is strong enough. We cannot go for public condemnation of India.”