Thanks to our honourable foreign minister for giving a befitting response to unwarranted comments made by the Indian home minister Amit Shah. From time to time, negative and offensive remarks made by Amit Shah and other Indian leaders have caught our attention. The people of Bangladesh have been infuriated at such comments, though there has hardly ever been any official protest by the government.
For 30 years now, a favourite topic of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their allied hardliner Hindutva allies, has been about “large numbers of illegal infiltrators” into India from Bangladesh who are altering the demography of India. The imaginary figure of such ‘infiltrators’ had initially been said to be 3 million (30 lakh). But at the start of this century, BJP’s top leader Lal Krishna Advani put this number at 23 million (2 crore 30 lakh).
In recent times we observe that after the rise of Amit Shah in BJP’s politics, comments on such issues have crossed the boundaries of civility. On one side prime minister Narendra Modi is talking about his love for the neighboring countries, and on the other, the second most powerful man of his government is comparing ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ to termites, expressing his determination to identify them and drown them in the Bay of Bengal.
The Vidhan Sabha elections are on in West Bengal and while campaigning, Amit Shah recently said that the poor people of Bangladesh did not get enough to eat and so throng to West Bengal for food. He also pledged that if they won the election, he would ensure that Bangladeshis would no longer be able to ‘infiltrate’.
Responding in a very civil manner to these words, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said that such remarks were unacceptable especially when relations between Bangladesh and India are so deep. He said, “There are many wise people in the world who do not see even after looking, and do not understand, even after knowing. But when he (Amit Shah) says something like that, I would say his knowledge about Bangladesh is very limited. No one dies of hunger in our country now. There’s no 'monga' (seasonal poverty and hunger in northern districts of Bangladesh) either.” (Prothom Alo, 14 April 2021).
Bangladesh is ahead of India in many social indices, Momen said. He also pointed out that over 100,000 Indians work in Bangladesh [many put the actual figure at 500,000].
If ignorance is the source of such comments by Amit Shah, then it must be said his knowledge is very limited not only of Bangladesh, but of India too. He may imagine that his party has made India into paradise, but the fact remains that, according to the Global Hunger Index of 2020, India ranks at 94 among 107 countries, with a score of 27.2. Bangladesh’s ranking is nothing to be proud of because we do not want a single hungry person in our country, but we rank at 75 on the index, faring a bit better than India.
Leaders like Amit Shah must be restrained from speaking in this manner. It will be possible on the part of prime minister Narendra Modi to put an end to this and we hope he does so. If he fails to do so, then his repeated exhortations about love for Bangladesh will lose credibility and prove to be hollow rhetoric
In the powerful country India, armed with nuclear power, every day 190 million (19 crore) people to sleep hungry (India Today, 19 October 2020 and other newspapers). Surely no Bangladeshi with a least bit of intelligence would go there to add to the list of the hungry. Amit Shah is an intelligent man and surely is aware of this. It is as the foreign minister rightly said about people who “do not see even after looking, and do not understand, even after knowing.” It is not difficult to understand why they do not see or do not understand.
Amit Shah is the stronghold of the BJP hardliner ilk. In order to grab power in West Bengal, BJP has taken up the strategy of fanning embers of communalism that may lie latent in the minds of some quarters there. Unfortunately, this strategy has yielded positive results for BJP over the past 15 years. The party was completely marginalised in West Bengal 15 years ago. In 2016 BJP for the first time managed to win three seats in the state’s 295-seat Vidhan Sabha. Yet in 2019, BJP managed to secure 18 of the state’s 48 Lok Sabha seats. It is only natural for them to dream to taking over the helm in West Bengal.
They have all the right to have such dreams, that is India’s internal matter. But in order to reach their target in such internal matters, it is totally unacceptable to make insulting remarks about Bangladesh and the people of Bangladesh.
If India aims at good relations with Bangladesh, then such comments must not be made and leaders like Amit Shah must be restrained from speaking in this manner. It will be possible on the part of prime minister Narendra Modi to put an end to this and we hope he does so. If he fails to do so, then his repeated exhortations about love for Bangladesh will lose credibility and prove to be hollow rhetoric.
* Md Touhid Hossain is a former foreign secretary of Bangladesh.
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir