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Islamist protests cast a shadow over PM Hasina’s planned India visit – Mrit News

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Since 2019, top level visits from both sides were shadowed by India’s “internal” developments

Since 2019, top level visits from both sides were shadowed by India’s “internal” developments

The show of strength by the Islamists of Bangladesh at Baitul Mokarram or the national mosque in Dhaka on Friday against the controversial comments on the Prophet has highlighted the mounting challenge against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who will face an election in 2023.

The protesters heckled and threatened the religious figures associated with the ruling Awami League with the party leaders receiving phone calls from many police stations across the country about public protests against the comments made by two former BJP leaders. Officials and party insiders here maintain that these developments are casting a shadow on PM Hasina’s planned visit to India later this year.

“I went to offer my prayer at the Baitul Mokarram, but the aggressive crowd inconvenienced me and I was forced to offer namaz in a separate enclosure. Pressure is mounting on PM Hasina to take a clear stand on this matter. The budget session of our Parliament is underway and a statement in the Parliament will calm public sentiments,” said Khandakar Golam Maula Nakshbandi, an influential leader of the Awami League.

PM Hasina visited India last time to watch a cricket match in the Eden Gardens in November 2019. Prior to that, she participated in the World Economic Forum in Delhi and met PM Modi in the first week of October. The visits were interpreted as a friendly gesture from the leader as the Indian government had scrapped the special status for Kashmir on August 5, 2019 drawing criticism from Pakistan and China. External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar had visited Dhaka in April and diplomatic sources had informed at that time that Ms. Hasina would visit India in July, however there are signs that Dhaka is considering alternate dates.

Exchange of high-level visits has been a key feature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood first’ policy. In case of Bangladesh, since 2019, top level visits from both sides were shadowed by India’s “internal” developments. In March, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to participate in the centenary celebrations of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The preparation for the mega event in Dhaka coincided with the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act in the Indian Parliament on December 10, 2019.

The act aimed to provide Indian citizenship to members of the persecuted minority communities of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. As Dhaka felt deep discomfort because of the CAA, the Hasina government cancelled the events citing the threat of COVID-19 after reportedly being warned about the pandemic’s ferocity by her intelligence team.

Prime Minister Modi’s rescheduled visit to Dhaka for the Mujib centenary events finally took place in March 2021 and next is the turn of PM Hasina to visit India. Sources here maintain that they are not finding any “hint” of the visit as of now. “She is most likely to club her India-visit with the trip to the United States in September when she will attend the UN General Assembly in New York. Or she may visit India after that,” said an official hinting that Dhaka would prefer to schedule a visit only after the storm over the comments regarding the Prophet blows over.

However, there is a pragmatic reason for the visit as well given the importance of India as a regional player as Bangladesh moves towards the next election. Aiming for the next poll, she will have to reach out to major regional and global stakeholders. Earlier this week, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas urged Dhaka to have transparent election.

As part of the pre-election phase, Ms. Hasina will launch the Padma Setu, a multi-purpose bridge over the Padma on June 25. The bridge is the biggest infrastructure project in the history of Bangladesh and was built by the China Major Bridge Engineering Company Limited.

That apart, there are major airport, railway and road construction projects that are currently underway across the country aimed at impressing the electorate. “PM Hasina will visit India at a time that will be best suited for her,” said an informed source here who hinted that the Bangladesh leader is most probably looking to surprise her electorate with a pre-election agreement with India. Sources here indicated that the long pending Teesta water sharing agreement is expected to stage a return to the top of India-Bangladesh dialogue once the Prophet-controversy blows over.


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