Prevent moves that can fracture historic ties with Bangladesh: Foreign Minister

The Indian government and society have an obligation to prevent any development that can fracture the historic ties with Bangladesh, Dhaka’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said on Sunday.

The statement was in response to the August 5 inauguration of construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya which, according to commentators of Bangladesh, will give a new political opportunity to the hardline opponents of Sheikh Hasina. The Minister also defended last week’s phone conversation between Prime Minister Hasina and her Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan saying there was nothing unusual in that discussion.

“India and Bangladesh share a historic and arterial relationship. We will not allow this [temple construction] to hurt ties but I would still urge that India should not allow any development that can fracture our beautiful and deep relationship. This is valid for both our countries and I would say both sides should work in such a way so that such disruptions can be averted,” said Mr. Momen regarding the position of Bangladesh about the beginning of the temple construction.

The Minister told The Hindu over telephone from Dhaka that every section of India and Bangladesh should play a role in fostering good relationship. “Your society also has an obligation to ensure good relationship with us. Governments alone cannot deliver on such matters. People and media are also part of this endeavour to ensure ties remain on track and the focus remains on development activities,” said Mr. Momen.

Two-nation theory

The comments have added to the concern from the veteran experts of international affairs and the civil society of Bangladesh who have cautioned that the construction though an internal matter of India will have an emotional impact on the people of Bangladesh.

“This will of course give an opportunity to the politics of singularity in Bangladesh which moved away from the two-nation theory in 1971. We are not comfortable with this theory but evidences suggest that India is moving towards the two-nation theory,” said Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed of the University of Dhaka who urged India to prevent any spillover effect of the Ram temple episode from hitting ties with Bangladesh. Barrister Tureen Afroze of the Alliance against Extremism and Terrorism said the fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh will get a new lease of life in the coming weeks because of the planned event in Ayodhya. “Common people of India and Bangladesh suffer whenever fundamentalist forces prosper and this event will dramatically increase the strength of the singularity lobby in Bangladesh.”

Mr. Momen blamed “vested interests” for trying to highlight a series of developments in Dhaka which indicated increasing differences between the neighbours. It was reported in these columns earlier that outgoing High Commissioner Riva Ganguly Das could not meet Sheikh Hasina despite repeated efforts. Diplomatic sources from Dhaka said the meeting did not materialise because of the threat of COVID-19. “Most of the PM’s engagements have shifted to digital platforms as we are prioritising the leader’s safety and health in this time of pandemic,” said a source arguing that the meetings will resume once the pandemic scenario improves.

Pakistan and Bangladesh live in the same world

Dr. Momen said Bangladesh supports regional peace and expects dialogue with all and said last week’s phone call between Sheikh Hasina and Mr. Khan was a matter of courtesy.

“What’s wrong if Pakistan dials us? Why should there be any problem if they make a telephone call? After all we both live in the same world,” said Mr. Momen blaming the media for “spicing up” reports on the call during which both the leaders discussed the COVID-19 scenario. Pakistan said Mr. Khan had raised the Kashmir issue.

Bangladesh however has maintained silence about Kashmir and said the conversation was COVID-19-related. India subsequently appreciated the position as Dhaka considers it an internal matter of India.

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