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Subir Bhaumik, Dhaka
Date of Publish: 2015-09-22

Bangladesh ruling party worried over Indian announcement


Subir Bhaumik, Dhaka


Much has written about the agitation in Assam over the Modi administration's fiat on making it easy for minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh to stay in India.

Assamese groups fear -- and not without reason -- that the 1985 accord in letter and spirit has been watered down and diluted , legitimising stay of many migrants who came after 1971.  Non-Hindutva groups like the Left fear the BJP is communalising the poll scenario in Assam and West Bengal .

But very few in India are aware that Bangladesh's ruling Awami League is extremely worried over this announcement.

The Indian government's official release said -- , “the Government of India will exempt Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals belonging to minority communities, who have entered India on or before December 31, 2014, from the relevant provisions of rules and order made under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946 in respect of their entry and stay in India without such documents or after the expiry of those documents, as the case may be.”

The Bengali Hindus in northeast and West Bengal are celebrating -- so are the BJP leaders , because they see consolidation of their 'Hindu votebanks' in West Bengal  and Assam unfolding in the countdown to the state polls in 2016.

But the Awami League fears this may encourage more and more Hindus to leave Bangladesh and settle in India.

"That is most unwelcome. We are keen our Hindus stay in Bangladesh because our government have been extra careful about addressing their security and alienation," says Awami league presidium member Suranjit Sengupta.

Unmindful of how votebank politics plays out in India , Sengupta said a multi-religious and secular Bangladesh is the 'promise and the product of the Great 1971 Liberation war'. .

'If the Hindus leave, it weakens the support base of Awami League and secular parties, it undermines the basis of secularism, it undermines the promise of 1971 in Bangladesh," Sengupta says. " Minorities leaving Pakistan is understandable but why should they leave Bangladesh now."

His friend and industry minister Amir Hussain Amu agrees.

"Our government has ensured Hindus and other minorities are not discriminated against. Just look at our bureaucracy today, see how many senior positions are held by minorities," said Amu.

It is well known to election specialists in Bangladesh that Hindus vote for Awami League or its secular allies unless they are forced to do otherwise under threat.

"They are the decisive factors in one-sixth , if not one-fifth of our 300 parliament constituencies. Here the Awami league and its allies enjoy a huge advantage over their Islamist rivals," said psephologist Shamsul Arefin, author of a  magnum opus on Bangladesh elections .

" Awami league and all those wedded to the spirit of 1971 are opposed to Hindu migration , we dont want anyone to leave Bangladesh for food or fear," said Arefin." That may have happened in the past but now Bangladesh has a strong economy and a strong secular government."

Political analysts say that the Modi administration's decision may encourage Hindus and Buddhists to move away to India .

"That will weaken our secular edifice if large number of minorities migrate ," says historian Muntasir  Mamun.

But his friend and activist Shahriar Kabir does not entertain fears of 'large scale ' Hindu-Buddhist migration."

" Minorities are much more secure in Bangladesh now. Why should they go to India ? Specially those who are well established . Only a few Hindus left the enclaves in Bangladesh for India when the land boundary agreement was implemented," said Shahriar Kabir.

Kabir however saw a good reason behind the Modi decision.

"When the BNP-Jamaat government was in power, Hindus and Buddhists and Chrsitians face huge torture , specially from Islamist radical groups encouraged by Khaleda government. These people who fled to India may need to be resettled there because they are traumatised and dont want to come back," said Kabir.

Kabir said the situation was different now . " Now the Hasina government is hammering these radicals and they are fleeing to India as the Burdwan blasts proved."

Kabir called upon the governments in bordering Indian states to be extra vigilant against these Islamist radical groups who were running away from Bangladesh because of the tough anti-terror campaign of Hasina government.

"We need an all-out war against religious terrorism of all kind  ," Kabir said.

His organisation -- Committee for elimination of killers and collaborators of 1971 -- will soon release a white paper on minorities. This is the organisation that have relentlessly campaigned for war crimes trial of those who collaborated with Pakistan in 1971.

"We will be very critical of the government on cases when minorities were not secured or defended. But I must say one should not be carried away by some isolated incidents ," he said.

But whatever Kabir may say , the secular parties in electoral politics are very worried of possible large scale migration.

" if the Hindus go , our political base will weaken. They have always voted for secular forces ," said Awami league's top youth leader Samiul Arif.

'It is our duty to protect them. And if they leave Bangladesh, we see it as our failure to live upto the ideals of 1971. "

Arif said a wrong message has gone out when three Hindu secular bloggers were killed.

"Dont forget two Muslim secular bloggers were also killed. These bloggers are killed because they are secular and because they politically challenge the Islamist radical politics, not because they are Hindus or Muslims ." said Arif.

"We will fight them as determinedly as we fought the Pakistanis in  1971."

The Awami league government has been celebrating events related to heroes of undivided Bengal's revolutionary legacy to cement the secular atmosphere.

Recently, the centenary of the martyrdom of Jatin Mukherji (Bagha Jatin) was celebrated with much fanfare in his ancestral village in Kushtia, Bangladesh . A 100-member national committee was formed and a 14-member Bangladesh delegation visited Balasore in Odisha where Jatin died fighting the British on 9 Sept 2015 while waiting to receive a German ship loaded with weapons.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman used to say often " What these revolutionaries like Bagha Jatin or Masterda Surjya Sen started, we finished it in 1971."

Mujib used to describe Subhas Bose as his 'main inspiration'.

No wonder , during her daughter Hasina's reign . Netaji's photo finds a place in Awami league rallies alongside Mujib.

In the fight against Islamist radicalism which is seen as 'the unfortunate legacy'  of Pakistan, secular parties like the Awami League in Bangladesh see much value in linking up to the Bengali anti-colonial revolutionary legacy.


(Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC Correspondent and now works as Senior Editor of Dhaka-based bdnews24.com. His books on Northeast " Insurgent Crossfire" and " Troubled Periphery" are well acclaimed. His forthcoming book " Agartala Doctrine" is being published by Oxford University Press.)


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