New Delhi: At a time when ties between India and Bangladesh have been strained due to issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, as well as BJP leaders’ references to Bangladeshi immigrants as “termites” or “intruders”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to smooth things out by highlighting the country’s progress compared to Pakistan.
Lauding Bangladesh’s rapid economic growth, PM Modi said Tuesday: “We are all witnessing that how, making terror and violence weapons of politics and diplomacy destroys a society and a nation. The world is also watching where the supporters of terror and violence are currently placed and in what state they are, while Bangladesh is scaling new heights.”
Modi was addressing Bangladesh through a video link on the launch of the birth centenary celebrations of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, known as ‘Jatir Pita’ or father of that nation. He was earlier scheduled to visit Dhaka for a day, but the visit had to be cancelled as the Bangladesh government withdrew its invitation, ostensibly due to the threat of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Tribute to Mujibur
Mujibur Rahman is revered in Bangladesh for his relentless struggle in freeing Bangladesh from Pakistan, which eventually happened in December 1971. In his speech, Modi also referred to Mujibur’s brutal assassination on 15 August 1975, which was carried out by pro-Pakistan group Jamaat-e-Islami.
Modi noted: “He had devoted every moment of his life towards bringing Bangladesh out of the phase of devastation and genocide and making it into a positive and progressive society. He was absolutely clear that hatred and negativity can never be the foundation of any country’s development.”
“However, these very ideas and efforts were not liked by certain people and they snatched him from us,” Modi said.
He also lauded Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Mujibur’s elder daughter, for her “inclusive and development oriented policies”, which have led the country to “unprecedented progress”.
‘Golden chapter’ amid mounting tensions
Statements by senior members of the government and the BJP hierarchy put a strain the relationship between India and Bangladesh. In 2016, Rajnath Singh, who was then the Union home minister and is now the defence minister, had stated that since Bangladesh was created, “intruders” have been entering India through the India-Bangladesh border. Last year, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, then-BJP president and now Union Home Minister Amit Shah had referred to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as “termites” who should be thrown into the Bay of Bengal.
Prior to Modi’s scheduled visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh had witnessed large-scale protests over the CAA and NRC. The tensions between the countries had risen because of a purported plan to send those rendered “illegal” by the proposed process to Bangladesh.
Some of the protests held in other parts of Bangladesh also criticised the Modi government for the communal riots that took place in Delhi last month.
However, Modi said India and Bangladesh are scripting a “golden chapter” in their bilateral ties.
“The legacy and inspiration of Bangabandhu (Mujibur Rahman) has made our heritage more comprehensive. India has always been attached to his ideals and values. Deep-rooted relations between India and Bangladesh have been laid on the foundation of this shared heritage,” the PM said.
“This heritage of ours, the deep-rooted bond, the path shown by Bangabandhu, are the strong foundation of partnership, progress and prosperity of the two countries in this decade as well.”
“Today, Bangladesh is not only India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia, but also development partner,” Modi said, adding that it is because of the “increasing trust” between the countries that they were able to resolve issues like the land boundary and maritime boundary.