In the official discussions President Pranab Mukherjee held here on Sunday, there were reportedly no references to the current political situation in Bangladesh, and the social network-driven demonstrations here. But, in an interview that Mr. Mukherjee gave to a Bangladesh news outlet on the eve of his visit, he referred to the situation obliquely: “Earlier, we used to distribute leaflets to campaign. Now an SMS does the trick. It can mobilise more people easily. A knife can be used both by a doctor and a goon to save a life or to kill someone.”
At his meetings on Sunday, Mr. Mukherjee was accompanied by five Bengali-speaking MPs — Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), Chandan Mitra (BJP), Bhuvaneshwar Kalita (Congress) and Mukul Roy (Trinamool Congress) — and officials.
The meetings were marked by light-hearted exchanges on the fact that though India had managed to have a Bengali President, a certain political party (ie. the CPI-M) had prevented a Bengali becoming Prime Minister — the reference was to the late Jyoti Basu. But, in an indirect reference to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee, who had effectively blocked the resolution of the Teesta waters accord in 2011 — when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Bangladesh — there was a reference to the cooperation between the former Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral, and the then West Bengal Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu, on the same issue.
Amid all this, Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Begum Khaleda Zia’s cancellation of a scheduled meeting with Mr. Mukherjee has cast a shadow on the visit. In fact, Begum Zia, in an email message to Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, had informed Mr. Mukherjee that in the wake of the hartal the current timetable would not be suitable. It was quite clearly an expression of displeasure by Begum Zia and her party, which, along with the Jamaat-e-Islami, is hoping to dislodge the Awami League government from power in the general elections slated for later this year.
Mr. Mathai pointed out that Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid met Begum Zia on February 17 in Dhaka, and that last November, the BNP chairperson called on Mr. Mukherjee when she visited Delhi — she had met him earlier on more than one occasion, when he had held the External Affairs and Finance portfolios.
The cancellation of the meeting comes just two days after Begum Zia made a speech that made waves here: she urged the government on the floor of Parliament to stop “mass killings” forthwith, or else, she warned, the government would have to face dire consequences.
Rally to defy strike
Haroon Habib reports:
Thousands joined a procession at Shahbagh Projonmo Chottor here to defy Sunday’s strike by the Jamaat, which has virtually declared a war against the Bangladesh state. Slogans demanding maximum punishment for all Razakars (Pakistani cohorts in 1971 war) and an immediate ban on the Jamaat and their student wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), rent the air in many major towns.
While Dhaka and major towns remained largely peaceful during the first day of the shutdown, the volatile northern districts saw another spate of violence.
Nineteen people, including a policeman, died and scores were badly injured when activists of the Jamaat, the ICS and supporters of the convicted Delawar Hossain Sayedee clashed with law-enforcers in 5 northern and western districts. The local authorities had to call in the army to control the situation when a mob attacked police stations and government and private offices, uprooted railway tracks, blocked highways and attacked the ruling Awami League’s offices.
Bangladesh Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir has castigated the Jamaat and the BNP for instigating violence when the Indian President was in the capital and said they did not really want relations between the two nations to develop.
After the party’s contradictory stance on the youth uprising in Shahbagh, Begum Zia has hit out at the young generation, branding their protest as ‘provocative’ and ‘illegal’. She also had harsh words for the government for supporting the demands raised from the Shahbagh Projonma Chottor, the epicentre of the nearly four-week-long unprecedented mass uprising.
The Jamaat had issued the threat of ‘civil war’ if their leaders are punished in the war crimes tribunals.
Provide security: court
The High Court on Sunday directed the government to immediately provide security to the religious minority attacked by Jamaat and BNP activists in Noakhali and other places. Justice AHM Shamsuddin Choudhury Manik and Justice Mahmudul Hoque, in a suo motu rule, ordered the authorities to submit a report in 10 days about the government’s measures as the Hindus at Begumganj in Noakhali and other districts remain in fear of further attacks after Jamaat activists torched, vandalised and looted their temples and houses. The court also directed the authorities concerned to repair the damaged houses and temple.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern over the ongoing violence in Bangladesh. “While recognising that the war crime tribunal is a national process, the Secretary-General calls on all those concerned to act with respect for the rule of law, to stop the violence and to express their views peacefully,” said Mr. Ban’s spokesman.
Mistake in copy has been corrected