'Persecution by Past Govts': MEA's Damage Control After B'desh Minister Cancels India Visit Over CAB


New Delhi: Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has called off his scheduled two-day visit to India, a day after he said the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill could weaken India's historic character as a secular nation and rejected the allegations that minorities are facing religious persecution in his country.

The visit was cancelled just hours before the minister was to arrive in India. According to an earlier advisory issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, Momen was scheduled to arrive here at 5:20 pm on Thursday.

In a statement in Dhaka, Momen said he had to cancel his trip to New Delhi due pressing engagements. "I had to cancel my trip to New Delhi as I have to participate in the 'Buddijibi Debosh' and 'Bijoy Debosh' and more so as our State Minister is out of the country in Madrid and our Foreign Secretary is in The Hague," he said.

But diplomatic sources said Momen cancelled his trip over the situation arising out of the passage of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament.

Ministry of external affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said he would not like to comment on the issue beyond saying that the relationship with Bangladesh is good.

He said the issue of the cancellation of the FM’s visit and the passage of the CAB should not be linked. “We will have to go by the reason stated. As for his comments on CAB, there is some confusion. Religious persecution was in reference to military regime and past governments,” Kumar said.

Parliament on Wednesday had passed the contentious legislation by which members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, after facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants and be given Indian citizenship.

This triggered massive protests in the Northeast region, especially in Tripura and Assam, amid fears that the indigenous identity would be threatened.

Bangladesh has rejected the allegations of persecution, with Momen terming as "untrue the allegations of minority repression in Bangladesh by India's Home Minister Amit Shah, saying whoever gave them the information, it is not correct".

"Many important decisions of our country are taken by persons belonging to different religions...we never judge anybody by their religion," he said, expecting the minority community representatives in the country to echo his remarks.

Momen had said that Bangladesh and India are currently enjoying close friendly relations "that is termed as "golden chapter" of bilateral ties and "so, naturally our people (Bangladeshis) expect that India won't do anything that could create anxiety among them".

While Bangladesh is known to be India’s “good friend”, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has been an irritant in ties. The issue has been discussed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Sheikh Hasina, who has raised the matter with him at least twice.

India's former High Commissioner to Dhaka, Veena Sikri, has said such misunderstandings with a valuable neighbour should immediately be clarified.

She explained that the period being referred to was the regime of Khalida Zia and much was written about it then. Sikri served as India's envoy to Bangladesh entirely under Zia between 2003 and 2006. She said if there were apprehensions in Dhaka, they should be discussed at the highest level or certain elements in Bangladesh could create a negative impression to adversely affect the situation.