It was a different India during my recent trip to the neighboring country on a pilgrimage to the shrine of one of Islam’s greatest saint’s, Hazrat Khawaja Mainuddin Chisty (RA) in Ajmer Sharif.
There is a special love for Kolkata and also New Delhi as India to me meant these two cities.
The visits to India were more on holidays, rather than professional reasons and that speaks of my love for this country which gave its historical support to our Independence War in 1971. Bangladesh remains eternally grateful for this support.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose closeness to the Indian leadership in its entirety is no secret and a matter of itch for her political opponents who seek New Delhi’s friendship “secretly,” but shout anti-India slogans in pubic, appeared to be sharpening their knives to attack the government on India’s NRC and CAA initiatives.
Violence against the measures continued as I write this piece.
What heartened me most was the concern about “special ties” with Bangladesh following the NRC and CAA.
My friends in Kolkata and in New Delhi were unanimous when they said “whatever happens we do not want any crack in the solid and tested friendship between India and Bangladesh.”
The concerns were also reflected in a number of publications specially after Bangladeshi Foreign and Home ministers cancelled their scheduled trips citing major pre-occupations at home.
The OUTLOOK magazine in its cover story (December 23, 2019) said “Among neighbors, ties with Bangladesh are the one bright spot. Concerns about NRC and CAB must not be allowed to derail it.”
It said, quoting diplomats from both sides, that … “an unease in the relationship” … “has begun to creep in.”
Veena Sikri, who served in Dhaka as India’s envoy, told the magazine that the situation “needs mature handling and constant engagement between the two sides.”
India Today, the widely read magazine, in its piece Politicising Asylum” (Dec 23, 2019) warned that “Privileging non-Muslim refugees, the Citizenship Bill threatens to alter the secular foundations of the Indian State and reignites ethnic tensions in the Northeast.”
New Delhi has categorically said it was an internal matter and Muslim in that country had no reason to worry. Dhaka on its part has taken into confidence what its neighbor has reasoned and thus far kept quite.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, has however repeatedly said anyone India sends to Bangladesh would first have to satisfy immigration about their origin before being allowed to enter this country.
Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League has remained firm on the country’s founding pillar of secularism ensuring equal rights to its citizens belonging to all faiths as it repealed Islam as the state religion in the constitution.
It is important to mention here that despite attempts by post-1975 military regimes as well as opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) governments under jailed Khaleda Zia to use the Islamic card to go to power gave rise to communal sentiments. The worst was the attacks on the minority Hindus in 2001 soon after the BNP came to power with its ally, the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami.
I met number of Hindu victims and interviewed one girl who narrated how she was gang-raped. She was repeatedly told that Hindu’s should be eliminated as they always voted for the Awami League.
On the other hand, during Awami League’s terms in office meant securer lives for the minority religions, multiplying of Puja mandaps across Bangladesh and staging of large marches to celebrate different religious rites like Roth Jatra.
From Kolkata to Ajmer Sharif, the constant warning was “Be careful, there is trouble” over the NCA or CAB with roads closed amid tight security. This is not the India, the world’s largest democracy and the flag bearer of secularism, I have visited earlier without any fear.
Despite violence in some parts of India, it was life as normal for Indians belonging to different faiths --- including Muslims – which one hopes would remain unchanged in the coming days.
I praised Mr. Modi for his strong leadership to tame Pakistan and strongly counted on him to take Dhaka-New Delhi ties to greater heights after covering the last elections. It was a saffron sweep and I disagreed with many of my Indian friends about what lay ahead that threatened secularism and bilateral ties with Bangladesh. I still want to stick to that argument and win the debate.
Let there be reconsideration, if needed, by the Modi government so that ties with Bangladesh is not affected in any way. As a friend of India, I look forward to a further strengthening of Dhaka-New Delhi ties.
We need peace in South Asia and both Bangladesh and India have a major role to play in this regard with Pakistan always on the wrong footing.
I would like to end this piece with a quote of Ambassador Veena Sikri, who had served in Dhaka under very difficult circumstances.
“There is no dearth of people in Bangladesh who are waiting to muddy the water,” she told the OUTLOOK magazine in reference to anti-India sections who have been marginalized in recent times due to an “upswing” in Bangladesh-India relations.
* Writer: Nadeem Qadir, Consulting Editor of the Daily Sun and UN Dag Hammarskjold Fellow