Delhi should back Hasina against Islamic radicals

Delhi should fully back Hasina against Bangladesh’s Islamic radicals

The recent cycle of violence, which reportedly spread to nearly 23 districts of Bangladesh, is perhaps the worst since Sheikh Hasina came to power 12 years ago

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Credit: PTI File Photo

Attacks on Hindu temples, defilement of places sacred to Hindus, vandalising Durga Pooja celebrations, killing Hindu priests, destroying villages with Hindu majority are all not new in Bangladesh. They have been going on for some years now. The recent cycle of violence, which reportedly spread to nearly 23 districts of Bangladesh, is perhaps the worst since Sheikh Hasina came to power 12 years ago.

Around elections and the Durga Pooja have been particularly bad times for Bangladesh’s more than one crore Hindus who have become easy targets for Islamic fundamentalists in recent years. Durga Pooja is the most popular festival for the Bengali population all over Bangladesh and hence a favourite target of the Islamic radicals. The attacks have become as much an annual ritual as the pooja itself. This time, the riots assumed disturbing proportions and have been more organised and focussed.

The riots started after a rumour circulated that a copy of the Quran had been placed in one of the pooja pandals. The instigators who placed the Quran, said to be two small shop-owners in Comilla, have been arrested.

The Hasina government swung into action and arrested more than 500 people. She has avowed to mete out “such tough and exemplary punishment that none will dare repeat these acts of violence”. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has said the police is investigating the rioters’ links with radical Islamic outfits. The government has also deployed border guard troops and units of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to control the rioting.

It is no secret that Hindu voters strongly back Hasina and her party, the Awami League. On her part, she has assiduously built relationships with the Hindu community at various levels. She even fulfilled the long-pending demand of return of the land belonging to the Dhakeshwari Temple back to the temple committee.

Beside the Hindu support base, Hasina has steadfastly carried on the fight against Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh. This has helped her in more ways than any politician could ask for. The Islamic radical elements are a threat not only to the Hindu community but also to the strong vote-bank of the Awami League which has always accused the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), of hobnobbing with the Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat) and other radical outfits to win elections.

The BNP has rubbished these allegations, but the radical outfits have somehow made deep inroads into the BNP’s cadre base and surface during elections to swing support in favour of BNP. To a very large extent, the core team of the BNP has not been able to pull itself out of the clutches of the radical elements.

Delhi has repeatedly warned Dhaka of the dangers of the revival of radical Islamic movements and the terror threat that such outfits pose to India from the East, just as Pakistan-backed terrorist groups do in the West.

With the resolve to fight Islamic radicalism as the primary objective, the Hasina government is reportedly planning to table a bill in Parliament to take the country back to the 1972 (secular) Constitution enacted by the first government under Hasina’s father and the popular leader of the freedom struggle, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. That Constitution had been junked by Maj Gen Zia ur Rehman, who seized power in a coup after Mujibur Rehman’s assassination on August 15, 1975. Zia, much as his namesake General in Pakistan did, junked the idea of secularism and took Bangladesh on the path of Islamic radicalism. Later, in 1988, Gen Ershad declared Islam as the State religion of Bangladesh.

In this background, the statement by the Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Murad Hassan who said that Bangladesh cannot be a haven for radilcal Islamists and will revert to the 1972 Constitution is heartening. “We have the blood of freedom fighters in our body. At any cost, we have to go back to the Constitution of 1972…I will speak in Parliament to go back to the Constitution …Even if no one speaks, Murad will speak in Parliament”, he said, demonstrating the government’s resolve against Islamic radicalism.

Islamist outfits have, in the meanwhile, threatened to resort to violent protests if such a bill is tabled in Parliament. The radical outfit Hifazat-e-Islam’s secretary-general Nurul Islam Jihadi has asserted, “Islam was the State religion, it is the State religion, it will remain the State religion” and threatened “a bloody campaign” against the proposed bill.

There are reports of close connections between Pakistan’s ISI and some of the radical outfits in Bangladesh, including the Jamaat and the Hifazat-e-Islam, which successfully got removed Bangladesh’s ‘Statue of Liberty’, a saree-clad woman holding a scale signifying justice, placed outside the Supreme Court building in Dhaka.

There are serious indications that Pakistan’s ISI wants Sheikh Hasina out of power and install a puppet regime of radical Islamic outfits that would be supported and controlled by Islamabad. Such a regime would suit China also as it is looking for a Beijing-friendly regime that will keep New Delhi at a safe distance and cancel all economic agreements with it.

Given the highly surcharged atmosphere, it will be tempting for some elements to resort to jingoism and calls for action against Dhaka. A strong and safe Hindu population in Bangladesh is good for India. There is every need to protect them and assure them of all our support. But it is equally important to partner with the Sheikh Hasina government and support its anti-radicalism and counter-terrorism initiatives. It is in New Delhi’s interest to support Hasina in her fight against Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh.

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