Guwahati: Activists of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti raise slogans during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) in Guwahati, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. (PTI Photo)
A day after Parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, two senior Bangladesh ministers — Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan — on Thursday cancelled their visits to India.
Momen, who had said on Wednesday that CAB could weaken India’s character as a secular nation and rejected allegations that minorities were facing religious persecution in Bangladesh, was scheduled to visit India for the 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue from December 12 to 14.
He cancelled his visit hours before he was scheduled to arrive, citing “pressing national events” — the Martyred Intellectuals Day on December 14 and Victory Day on December 16. While these are scheduled events on Bangladesh’s national calendar, Momen would have been back in his country for Victory Day.
Khan was scheduled to travel to Meghalaya on Friday, at the invitation of Chief Minister Conrad Sangma. “The visit has been postponed. The minister will visit Meghalaya at a convenient time later, which may be in January-February,” said Sharif Mahmdud, Bangladesh Home Ministry spokesperson, according to Dhaka Tribune.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said linking the cancellation of Momen’s visit with CAB was “unwarranted”. Just over an hour after the visit was cancelled, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar clarified that there was no religious persecution under the “present government” of Bangladesh led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and it had happened under the “previous government” and “military rule”.
Sources said the back-pedalling by MEA came after Indian diplomats in Dhaka reported that the Hasina government was not happy with the underlying assumption behind CAB.
Express cartoon by E P Unny.
Bangladesh officials told The Indian Express that Momen, in his message to Indian diplomats, said his state minister was in Madrid for the COP25 meeting while the Foreign Secretary was at the Hague for the ICJ hearing on the Rohingya situation. “The Foreign Minister said he had to cancel the trip due to some sudden pressing national events at home,” said a Bangladesh diplomat.
To assuage Dhaka’s concerns, the MEA spokesperson said Home Minister Amit Shah, in his speech in Parliament, had mentioned the positive action by the Hasina government. He quoted Shah, who had said, “As long as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was leading Bangladesh, everything worked very well. But once his government went, minorities began to be oppressed. I can tell you that a large number of Bangladeshi Hindus had to come here to seek refuge... the current government in Bangladesh is also taking care of religious minorities. It is making arrangements for religious minorities, but there has been a long period in the past in between, during which people came to India on account of religious persecution. This Bill is only to give citizenship to those people who came at that time.”
India and Bangladesh have “very strong” and “very healthy” relations, said the MEA spokesperson, and both leaders have said this is the “shonali adhyay (golden era)” between the two countries.
Meanwhile, slamming the passage of CAB, Bangladesh’s leading English newspaper, The Daily Star, said in an editorial on Thursday: “Coming on the heels of the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) policy in Assam, does the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), one wonders, herald the end of a pluralistic and secular India, and the fulfilment of the dream of the RSS and its founders like Savarkar? ... (the Bill) will strike at the very fundamental principles and ethos on which the country’s founding fathers had established it. And it will validate communal politics in India...”