New Delhi: In what is being seen as a direct international fallout of the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), Bangladesh’s foreign minister A K Abdul Momen and home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal have cancelled their scheduled official visits to India.
Momen was to be in New Delhi from Dec. 12-14 to attend the 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue and the 11th Delhi Dialogue scheduled to begin on Dec. 13, while the home minister was to be in India from Dec. 13-15 and was scheduled to travel to Meghalaya and Shillong to attend an event on the War of Liberation of 1971.
While Bangladeshi diplomats maintain that Momen’s visit has been cancelled as the Delhi event was coinciding with two national events, and the cancellation of Mr Khan’s visit is being put down to law and order situation in Northeast, it is learnt that both the visits have been cancelled by Dhaka to express its unhappiness with Delhi for portraying the country in poor light.
Sources in Dhaka said that the Sheikh Hasina government is unhappy with the mention of Bangladesh, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, by home minister Amit Shah in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday while saying that CAB was necessary because of the atrocities committed on minorities, especially Hindus, in the three Islamic states. Sources in Bangladesh government told this newspaper that Dhaka will protest against this officially through diplomatic channels in the coming days.
Hinduism is the second largest religious affiliation in Bangladesh, with around 14 million people identifying themselves as Hindus. After India and Nepal, Bangladesh has the third-largest Hindu community in the world. However, data also suggests that Bangladesh’s Hindu population has fallen from around 22 or 23 per cent in 1951 to around 8 per cent in 2011. Momen was to reach New Delhi on Thursday evening at 5.20 pm and meet his Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar, on Saturday at 9am at the Hyderabad House over breakfast before leaving the same evening.
“The foreign minister said he had to cancel the trip due to some sudden pressing national events at home. He said he has to participate in two important national events — the observance of Martyred Intellectuals Day on December 14 and the Victory Day on December 16. The events coincide with his planned visit to India,” the Bangladesh high commission said in a statement.
However, sources said that the Bangladesh government feels the atmosphere is not right for its ministers to travel to India. It is learnt that the decision to cancel the visits was taken by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself. She is facing tremendous pressure and criticism domestically on this issue.
Downplaying the cancellation of the visit, India’s external affairs ministry on Thursday said there was no need to over-read the matter.
“The Bangladesh side have conveyed that the minister has changed his programme on account of domestic issues pertaining to the commemoration of the ‘Victory Day’ in Bangladesh on December 16. Any speculation that this development is connected with legislation adopted by Parliament regarding the Citizenship Amendment Bill is unwarranted,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
While Dhaka has been cautious in its reaction to CAB, Bangladesh’s foreign minister on Wednesday rubbished allegations made by Shah in Parliament that minority communities were being tortured in Bangladesh. Momen told media persons in Dhaka that CAB could affect India’s historic character as a secular nation.
“It’s not true that torture of minorities is taking place in Bangladesh. Whoever gave them the information, it is not correct… India is historically a tolerant country which believes in secularism ... their historic position will be weakened if they deviated from that,” Momen said.
He added that Bangladesh and India currently enjoyed close friendly relations, terming it as a “golden chapter” in bilateral ties, and “so, naturally, our people expect that India won’t do anything that could create anxiety”.
The Bangladesh foreign minister had on Wednesday also met envoys from Japan and United States to apprise them of the situation arising out of CAB and express Dhaka’s concerns and unhappiness. “They (USA) are being critical about that ... they believe India weakened its position by doing it (passing the bill),” Momen said.
On Thursday, Bangladesh government officials told this paper that all this could have been avoided in December as it is of special significance to both India and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh celebrates “Victory Day” on December 16 when, in 1971, Indian military forced Pakistan Army to surrender after 13 days of war, thus liberating Bangladesh from Pakistan. India celebrates this day as “Vijay Diwas”.
“Bangaldeshis are hurt from this mentioning of its name in CAB and bracketing it with Pakistan. All this could have been avoided in this month of December which is of great importance to both Bangladesh and India. There is a deep people-to-people connect between India and Bangladesh as we have families on both sides. You cannot compare us with Pakistan and what happened during Khalida Zia’s days is history. The term ‘religious persecution’ is a very wide one. Today Bangaladeshi Hindus are doing so well. Worst is that all this has been put in the CAB, which is India’s legislation, reflecting Bangladesh in poor light,” an official in Bangladesh government said.