Former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh and president of the Delhi-based research institute Council for Social Development (CSD), Muchkund Dubey recently visited Dhaka to attend a history-related seminar. In an interview with Prothom Alo’s Sohrab Hassan and Iftekhar Mahmud during his visit, he spoke at length on bilateral relations, India’s upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the India-Pakistan conflict and more.
Prothom Alo: You are visiting Dhaka after quite some time. How do you find things?
Muchkund Dubey: I’m here after around three years. I’ve noticed more high-rise buildings and more traffic congestion.
Prothom Alo: Last time at a Prothom Alo event you spoke on Lalon. It’s quite amazing that you, as a non-Bengali Indian diplomat, have worked on Lalon and have even translated his songs.
Muchkund Dubey: I haven’t just translated Lalon. I have translated many poems of Rabindranath and Shamsur Rahman into Hindi. When I was a student in 1953, I translated Rabindranath’s Geetanjali. When I was the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka in the eighties, Farida Parveen would come to the high commission to sing. That’s when I was drawn to Lalon. I have written a book in Hindi based on my research of Lalon. I have translated many of his poems too. Shamsur Rahman was a good friend of mine. I’ve translated many of his poems, including the one written in the ‘kutti’ language of Old Dhaka, ‘Ei matwala rait’. I have translated Nirmalendu Goon’s poetry too.
Prothom Alo: India’s Lok Sabha elections are ahead. Which way do you think public support is leaning?
Muchkund Dubey: I think Narendra Modi is somewhat ahead. The recent Kashmir incident has served to increase BJP’s popularity. Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are in the fray now, but BJP is still ahead in its campaign.
Prothom Alo: But the Indian fighter aircraft being destroyed and pilot Abhinandan Varthaman being captured is seen as a feather in Imran Khan’s cap.
Muchkund Dubey: Yes, it has served to brighten Imran Khan’s image in the outside world. In India, Modi’s popularity has increased. The patience and courage that Abhinandan Varthaman displayed in captivity has been a boost to Modi’s popularity. Abhinandan was greeted as a hero upon his return. Congress has criticised Modi on the Kashmir issue, but they still lag behind in their campaign.
Prothom Alo: What was the Indian media’s role in the country’s conflict with Pakistan? Where they playing to the government’s tune?
Muchkund Dubey: The Indian media often supports adverse actions, publish stories that boost circulation. But it this case, they crossed the limit. The language they used to castigate Pakistan is not acceptable.
Prothom Alo: Has this arisen from an extreme nationalist mindset?
Muchkund Dubey: You can say so. After all, the media expresses whatever is within the society. On the other hand, those who express divergent views, come under all sorts of attack. They are either called urban Maoists or Pakistan ‘dalals’(collaborators). Many intellectuals have even been arrested.
Prothom Alo: What is the solution to the Kashmir problem?
Muchkund Dubey: It has to be a political solution. However, the Modi government isn’t taking any initiative in that direction. They are taking an even harder line, making a solution all the more difficult. Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was foreign minister when Parvez Mosharraf was the president of Pakistan. Kasuri’s autobiography has a guideline to a good solution to the problem and that is talks. A diplomat during Manmohan’s government also came up with such a solution.
Prothom Alo: Why is the Modi government taking such a hard line about Kashmir and other issues? Is India’s pluralistic democracy at stake?
Muchkund Dubey: Modi rose through extremism and became the prime minister of India. That is why he can never leave this path. India’s long-standing tradition of tolerance, non-communalism and a strong civil society is now at stake.
Prothom Alo: Bangladesh and India’s friendship sets an example in South Asia, but even so, problems linger. There is the matter of sharing the water of Teesta, for example.
Muchkund Dubey: There is a group of journalists, politicians and intellectuals in Bangladesh who blame everything on India. This is because of political reasons. This was more so before and has lessened now. Take the Teesta agreement for example. Manmohan Singh had finalised everything, but you all are aware of why that didn’t happen. Mamata refused. Narendra Modi also tried to convince her, but in vain. But despite the problem not being resolved, there are many areas for the two countries to reach a consensus. Focus must be placed on these areas to go ahead. If any decision is beneficial for both countries, it should be adopted.
Prothom Alo: There is a lot of talk about China’s role in South Asia. Is there a possibility of Bangladesh bearing the brunt of any possible Indo-China conflict?
Muchkund Dubey: The China issue has been over exaggerated. After Trump came to power in the US, he spoke volumes against China. China has even been accused of stealing technology from the West. China has its One Belt One Road plans. Then again, the US, Japan, Australia and India also have sea route plans. However, I don’t think Bangladesh will be impacted. The days of one state attacking another are over. An elite middle class section of India society and the media are overdoing things about China. Some are magnifying China’s strength. I do not think China has reached the position for which it aspires. It has a long way to go.
Prothom Alo: Bangladesh is politically very close to India, but when it comes to trade, commerce and mega projects, it turns to China. How do you view that?
Muchkund Dubey: I see no problem with that. Every country has its own preference when it comes to economic development and commerce. It is very natural to be close to China from the economic perspective. India cannot give Bangladesh what China can. India has to accept that. Then again, China will not be able to have the same cooperation with Bangladesh as India has when it comes to trade and energy. But India won’t be able to provide the cooperation that China does when it comes to mega infrastructure projects.
Prothom Alo: Is the India-Pakistan war stance just a staged drama?
Muchkund Dubey: Narendra Modi is aware that Pakistan has nuclear power, so he surely also knows where to draw the line when it comes to conflict with Pakistan.
Prothom Alo: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, SAARC, has virtually died, but hasn’t been given a formal funeral as yet!
Muchkund Dubey: It may have died, but we will have to bear its body for a long time to come. It must not be buried because it may arise again at any time.
Prothom Alo: Western countries have made all sorts of observations about the Bangladesh 2018 election, many maintaining that it was not fair. In fact, many think-tanks and analysts of India have held the same view.
Muchkund Dubey: A country adopts a stand concerning the election or any other issue of another country depending on its own interests. For example, the UK and the US have a lot of business interests in Bangladesh. And so they take a stand related to their own interests and will do so in the future too.
Prothom Alo: You carry out research on India socio-economic issues and are critical of the government on various matters. Do you come under pressure?
Muchkund Dubey: We work for the poor. We criticise various polices of the government. We evaluate whether any decision of the government goes in favour of the poor or against them. In a recent write-up I mentioned that 45 million children of India are deprived of education. Children’s school enrolment in South Asian countries is 100 per cent, but there are drop-outs. We point these things out.
Prothom Alo: Is there any difference in the policies of BJP and Congress when it comes to the poor?
Muchkund Dubey: Very little. Congress has some policies in favour of the poor, but the corporates now have a hold over them too. And they have an enormous influence over BJP. Most of their policies and plans are in favour of the corporate powers.
Prothom Alo: In a press conference Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina remarked that India would have to keep in mind for many days to come what Bangladesh has given it.
Muchkund Dubey: Yes, Bangladesh has wiped out India’s insurgent camps and sent back the top insurgent leaders to India. This was a big step in alleviating India’s security threat.
Prothom Alo: What is the main crisis that India faces at present?
Muchkund Dubey: India’s pluralistic society is under attack. That is the biggest problem. But there is also protest and reaction against BJP’s Hindutva policy. They lost in the Vidhan Sabha elections in certain states. Then the recent Kashmir conflict increased BJP’s popularity once again.
Prothom Alo: Thank you
Muchkund Dubey: Thank you