It has more to do with political situation in Bangladesh than with India, says Foreign Minister

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni has termed “unfortunate” Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia’s cancellation of her appointment with the visiting President Pranab Mukherjee.

At a press conference here on Tuesday, Ms. Moni was responding to a question whether the cancellation amounted to a breach of protocol and smacked of discourtesy. Pressed to elaborate on her statement, she said: “As a Bangali, we take pride in being hospitable and gracious — this was a departure from that.”

Asked whether it showed lack of democratic tradition, the Foreign Minister opened up, choosing her words carefully. “Not all parties are similarly democratic in their attitude. People tend to equate all parties… This definitely demonstrated that it was a departure from the democratic tradition… But the relationship between the two countries is based on solid ground, and that won’t suffer,” she said.

Ms. Moni made it clear that Begum Khaleda Zia’s act of discourtesy had more to do with the current political situation in Bangladesh than with India.

Asked whether the ruling Awami League’s prospects in the general election, scheduled for year-end, could be affected if the pending land boundary agreement and the Teesta waters accord were not pushed through soon by India, Ms. Moni said the party had promised to promote comprehensive and close relations with India, but not mentioned any specific issue.

President Pranab Mukherjee, during his just-concluded visit here, had emphasised India’s commitment to these two key agreements, and this was enough for the Awami League. But she added that she understood that the Indian government’s ability to deliver on its promises depended on domestic politics. This came on a day when the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party president said his party would oppose the land boundary agreement in Parliament.

To a question on accusations that the Awami League was “politically” using the Shahbag Square Movement (which is demanding the death penalty for the 1971 war criminals and the banning of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami), Ms. Moni gave a carefully calibrated answer. When Jamaat leader Qader Mollah was given life imprisonment rather than the death sentence, she said, that “didn’t fulfil the people’s expectations. The movement is now no longer limited to youngsters, but people from all over the country have joined it.”

The Awami League, she continued, was a “political party” and what it said and thought was “political.” Shahbag represented the “aspirations” of the people and the Awami League government. “As a people’s government that came to power with an overwhelming majority in a fair and free election in 2008, it is only natural that our aspirations are completely aligned to the aspirations of the people.”

Stressing that the Shahbag protests were peaceful and serious, she emphasised that they had shown not just the country and the political parties but the world that a non-violent agitation was possible. “We appreciated that,” she said, adding: “and we encouraged it. We appreciate this more than the protests of violence, of clandestine attacks, destruction of public property, and attacks on religious minorities, all of which have the hallmark of the attacks in 1971.”