Six months ahead of scheduled elections in Bangladesh, India refused entry to a British lawmaker who is advising lawyers for Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia, saying he did not have an “appropriate visa”. The MP, who had intended to address the media in India, was deported from New Delhi to London Wednesday night.
The deported MP
Alexander Carlile, a member of the House of Lords, has repeatedly questioned the evidence against Khaleda, the former Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who was sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment in February for allegedly embezzling funds meant for a Bangladeshi charity. Carlile had obtained a business visa to travel to India for a meeting of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, and had planned to address the media. “The Indian government should be ashamed to have revoked the visa to a member of the House of Lords; they gave in supinely and slavishly to pressure from the Bangladesh government,” Carlile said Thursday.
The Indian position
MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said Carlile had arrived without the appropriate visa. “His intended activity in India was incompatible with the purpose of his visit as mentioned in his visa application. It was, therefore, decided to deny him entry into India upon arrival,” he said.
India seemingly does not have a problem with the BNP as such — in fact, senior BNP leaders Abdul Awal Mintoo, Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, and Humayun Kabir visited India recently, and Mintoo was reported to have met Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar on June 7. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj have met BNP leaders, including Khaleda, in the past.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque met India’s Deputy High Commissioner in Dhaka Adarsh Swaika, and senior Bangladesh officials conveyed to New Delhi that Carlile’s actions would amount to “anti-Bangladesh activities” that India should be sensitive to. “Bangladesh certainly made it known to the Indian government that we do not like the idea of Indian soil being used for such a press conference. The action against Begum Zia was not political vendetta, it was the culmination of a 10-year judicial process. Bangladesh government would certainly not have allowed something like this against India on Bangladesh soil,” a source in the Bangladesh government said.
During a visit to India last week, H T Imam, Advisor to Hasina, had said: “BNP is pro-Pakistan, pro-Jamaat-e-Islami. I don’t think any sensible government here or in Bangladesh will ever tolerate them. Both countries have to deal with this problem together.”
Contentious press meet
In a statement Thursday, Carlile accused Dhaka of having “behaved dishonestly, with a clear ulterior motive — to keep my client, her son Tarique Rahman and their party, the BNP, out of effective Bangladesh politics and thereby out of the forthcoming election”. He expressed “outrage” at the “political interference” in Khaleda’s case “by two governments” and said he expected “a full explanation from the Indian government”.
The press conference was to be held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia, but the club made itself unavailable three days ago. FCC president S Venkat Narayan told The Indian Express that the club had approached South Korean ambassador Shin Bongkil earlier to deliver a talk. “He had agreed, but said he would get back to us with a time slot. That slot has now been decided for July 13, 1 pm. Tourism Minister K J Alphons is coming on July 12. Both these interactions are more newsy and topical, so we told Lord Carlile that we would not be able to give him the auditorium on those two days,” he said.
The key takeaway
India has been extremely happy with the Hasina government, which has cracked down on anti-India activities. However, given the uncertainties around the coming election, New Delhi would not like to be identified too closely with either of the two main parties. However, the BNP is likely to project the Carlile episode in a way that could stoke anti-India sentiments in Bangladesh, dragging New Delhi into the charged political discourse.