The global brouhaha over some perceived insult to the prophet of Islam, Mohammed, by BJP’s suspended spokeswoman Nupur Sharma has met with a less-than-zealous response in Bangladesh, which could well have been the response of Indian diplomats who had been summoned from the respective embassies of India in the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries. It is India’s internal matter, and the government in Dhaka need not respond to it, the Information and Broadcasting Minister of Bangladesh, Dr Hasan Mahmud, said. “First of all, this is an external issue (for Bangladesh). This is the issue of India, not of Bangladesh. We don’t have to say anything,” Mahmud said at an informal interaction with a group of visiting Indian journalists in Dhaka late on Saturday evening.
Mahmud congratulated the Indian authorities for having taken action in the matter and said that he would not “ignite” the issue further.
Asked whether the silence of Dhaka at a time when over a dozen Muslim countries and the OIC have protested or issued statements of condemnation against the remarks about Islam’s prophet by two former spokespersons of the BJP did not compromise the position of the Sheikh Hasina government domestically and in the Islamic world, the Bangladesh minister said, “We are not compromised in any way at all. We strongly condemn any insult to the Holy Prophet whenever and wherever it happens. But the Government of India has taken action, and we thank them for it. We congratulate the Government of India. Now the law will take its course.”
In a statement contrasting the demand from some elements that have announced rewards for Sharma’s head, Mahmud said the ‘insult’ to the prophet was not much of an issue in Bangladesh. “So why should I instigate, why should I ignite the issue? Has it not got enough attention (already)? My job is not to ignite,” he said.
There were some protests by Muslim groups in Dhaka on 10 June. The incidents included one outside the city’s main mosque. Thousands of Muslims protested across several Indian states as well, and two died of bullet injuries in Ranchi, where police fired in the air.
Opposition parties and Islamist groups in Bangladesh are attacking the Sheikh Hasina Wazed government’s ‘failure’ to criticise the Narendra Modi government even when the name of the prophet has been dragged into the controversy. The Bangladesh government has, however, remained firm on its refusal to be provoked. On Friday, Mahmud, who is also a senior office-bearer of the country’s ruling Awami League, had warned in a party meeting in Gaibandha in northern Bangladesh that strict action would be taken against anyone creating “unnecessary confusion or incitement”, local media reported.
“We do not tolerate offending any religion and if anyone tries to create chaos in this country over the incidents of other countries, it will be controlled with iron hands,” The Daily Star quoted the Bangladesh minister as having said.
In Dhaka last evening, Mahmud was asked about the comments made from time to time against alleged Bangladeshi “infiltrators” by senior political figures in India. He replied that those leaders might have their domestic political compulsions and that Bangladesh was not too worried about their statements. “Because of domestic politics, they may have said… Politicians say many things for reasons of domestic politics. We don’t ask for explanations, we understand… We don’t need to give attention to them,” the minister said.
The relationship between Bangladesh and India has reached new heights under the leadership of Prime Ministers Hasina and Modi, the minister said. He expressed his gratitude to the people and the government of India for standing with Bangladesh during the country’s war of liberation in 1971. “The soldiers of India shed their blood for the people of Bangladesh. You (India) opened your doors and your hearts to our people. The relationship between the peoples of Bangladesh and India was born out of the ashes of war and forged in our blood. We are indeed blood brothers,” he said.
While some challenges remain, and there is much ground to be covered still to realise the full potential of trade and communication links between the two countries, the “Modi government has always been supportive of Bangladesh in all respects”, Mahmud said.
Asked about the long-delayed Teesta water-sharing agreement between the two countries, and whether that might impact the planned visit of Prime Minister Hasina to India later this year, the Minister said: “On Teesta, the problem is the provincial government (of West Bengal), not the central government… So the prime minister can visit India even if Teesta is not yet done. But I hope the issue will be resolved. We want the problem to be resolved. That it has not been resolved so far is not because of the central government (of India).”