Usually, at least in recent times, the English-language press in Bangladesh has avoided being overtly critical of India. Even as the NRC process unfolded in Assam, both The Daily Star and Dhaka Tribune had, while expressing reservations, continued to state that it is a matter internal to India, and would likely not affect ties between India and Bangladesh. With the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), there is a decisive change in that tone.
The December 12 editorial in The Daily Star opens with a question, which is also a powerful rebuke to the Narendra Modi government: “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 editorial argues that the CAB strikes at the foundation of the Indian republic. And that it will “validate” communal politics, something which the BJP “has no pretensions” about championing. It even addresses the point that as an elected government, the Modi-led dispensation is merely fulfilling its mandate: “Elected leaders do have the right to implement policies which in their wisdom they see as beneficial to the country and its people. But the popular mandate does not allow for the kind of politics where brute majority in parliament is exploited for partisan politics that strikes at the basic ethos of a nation… What we see as even more worrisome is that the CAB directly encourages migration of Hindus from Bangladesh.”
“India’s soul,” says the editorial, “is being jaundiced”. And more’s the pity, because there was a time when the largest country in South Asia served as an example. “Because, India was cited, not only by Bangladesh but also the world, as an example of a pluralistic, inclusive nation with a syncretic culture and eclectic society. What we see now is the retrogression of a nation which once exemplified ‘unity in diversity’ to an exclusively Hindu state where only one religion will prevail.”
The editorial in Dawn on December 11, understandably, grandstands rather eloquently on the end of secularism in India: “Under Narendra Modi’s watch, there is little doubt that the country is being transformed into a Hindu rashtra, where minority communities are relegated to the margins of society, if accepted at all.”
Dawn calls for international condemnation of the CAB as a conclusion to its editorial: “It seems the RSS ideologues that are running India, who are huge fans of Israel and whose ideological forefathers were smitten by Europe’s 20th-century fascists, are now employing the ‘best practices’ of both influences to do away with India’s Muslims. These condemnable actions should be noted by countries around the world. There have always been forces in India struggling to remove the veneer of secularism that previous dispensations there sought to promote. With the BJP’s rise to power, it seems that the communal beast has been set free.”
A basic mistake
An article by Saleem Ahmed in Dhaka Tribune on December 11 takes issue with Rajnath Singh and other members of the Indian government and ruling party characterising Bangladesh (along with Pakistan and Afghanistan) as “theocratic Islamic states” where minorities “are facing harassment” and “the state religion is Islam”. The article responds to what it sees as calumny by the defence minister of India. “The top official of the Indian government must have understood that the state constitution is still secular. Since 2009, Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League and her government strictly believes in a secular polity. Therefore,
it should have been difficult for Rajnath Singh to misread Sheikh Hasina’s government’s pluralist polity. We are not denying that the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Adivasis (indigenous people), and also Ahmadiyya Muslims are sporadically attacked by religious zealots, who often slam the minorities for blasphemy. The AL government promptly took action against the perpetrators.”
The article makes clear that the NRC, along with the CAB and the rhetoric being employed by the government and ruling party in India will have an adverse effect on bilateral relations: “Bangladesh’s government was assured time and again that the controversial NRC, specially made for identification of illegal Muslims from Bangladesh residing in Assam state, would not jeopardise bilateral relations between the two neighbouring countries. The race to table and pass the Non-Muslim Citizenship Bill or Citizenship Amendment Bill by the Indian parliament, allegedly to make a demographic shift, seems to migration experts to be an issue for Bangladesh to be embarrassed about.”
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