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EDITORIAL: Angry protests sparked by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to participate in 50th National Day celebrations of Bangladesh have refused to fizzle out. Five protesters were killed last Friday and another six the next day in clashes with police in several districts across the country. As demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday, chanting anti-government and anti-Modi slogans during a day long strike, demanding investigations into the deadly shootings, two more people died, raising the death toll to 13. Any other leader in his place would have expressed regret over the loss of so many lives. But not the Indian PM. On his return home, he pretended nothing untoward had happened, and wrote this on his Twitter account, “I thank the people of Bangladesh for their affection during my visit. I am sure this visit will lead to further strengthening of bilateral ties between our nations.”

Notably, most of the protesters belong to an Islamic ‘fundamentalist’ group, Hefazat-i-Islam, and hence the demonstrations could be seen as a clash of two fundamentalisms: Bangladesh’s Islamists and India’s Hindutva crusaders. Nonetheless, according to press reports, students affiliated with Left parties were also involved in protest demonstrations in two major cities, Dhaka and Chittagong, where they clashed with the ruling Awami League’s student organisations. This show at issue has been something that ranked not just the Islamists but the general population in that Muslim majority country. What offends them is no secret. It may be recalled that widespread anti-India demonstrations had broken out in Bangladesh when the Modi government came up with two anti-Muslim laws, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and National Registry of Citizens (NRC), which singled out Bangladeshi immigrants for discrimination. And to add insult to injury, Home Minister Amit Shah had called those immigrants ‘termites’. India’s ruling BJP-RSS combine cannot put itself in such an invidious position and expect a warm welcome in Dhaka. In fact, last year Modi had to cancel his visit on the same occasion when those laws provoked large-scale protests by Islamists as well as left wing parties, student organisations, and civil society members. Later, some of his ministers were also compelled to call off visits to Bangladesh.

The BD Prime Minister Sheikh may be indebted to India for its role in the unfortunate events of 1971. But India has not proved to be a trustworthy neighbour for her country. A serious bone of contention remains the Teesta River waters that flow from Sikkim and West Bengal in India into the lower riparian Bangladesh. New Delhi has kept dragging its feet on signing a water sharing treaty since 2011. Also causing antagonism are recurring incidents of Bangladeshi civilians getting killed on the border with India. These are real issues affecting lives of ordinary people. No surprise then if they do not want Narendra Modi to set foot in their country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021