No place for “anti-Indians” in Bangladesh!
It is surprising but true, according to a BSS news item of June 5, 2015, veteran Awami League leader Suranjit Sengupta while terming BNP as an "anti-Indian" party asserted: "There will be no place for any 'anti-Indian' in Bangladesh". As believers in the freedom of expression, we must not have any qualms with his portrayal of BNP as "anti-Indian", but we can never condone his undemocratic assertion, which is tantamount to justifying proscription of a political party, and expelling "anti-Indians" from Bangladesh. We do not know what Mr Sengupta meant by "no place for any 'anti-Indian' in Bangladesh", but we know the ominous implications of such irresponsible remarks. He sounded undemocratic, and promoter of one-party rule.
Blaming the victim could be an easy option, but not always. Victims and aggrieved people – for genuine reasons or because of perceived victimization by others – often resort to undemocratic methods of protest, including violence and terrorism. We have many examples of violent protests by perceived or real victims of oppression in the history of ethno-national uprisings, revolutions, and failed rebellions. The ongoing violence and terrorism in the world in the name of Islam may be cited in this regard.
I am not sure if Mr Sengupta, his party people and followers have even thought of the implications of kicking out all so-called "anti-Indian" people from Bangladesh. The nation is already fractured and over-polarized; people having very little tolerance, mutual trust and respect for each other. Bangladesh can no longer afford further polarization of people between "patriots" and "enemies". Drawing the synonymy between "anti-Bangladeshi" and "anti-Indian" is not different from dogmatic Islamists' drawing a parallel between secular Muslims and "enemies of Islam".
We have so many examples of divisive lines between "good" and "evil", drawn arbitrarily by ruling elites, colonial powers, religious extremists, throughout history: between Patricians and Plebeians; Aryans and non-Aryans; Christians and pagans; Europeans and "Natives"; White and Black; Germans and Jews; Pakistanis and anti-Pakistanis; Muslims and non-Muslims, etc. And Bangladesh is already polarized between "pro-" and "anti-Liberation" people. Unfortunately, Mr Sengupta's rhetoric is not different from what Hindu extremists in India say publicly about Indian Muslims, who they believe should either go to Pakistan or be sent to the Qabarstan (graveyard).
Before considering all "anti-Indians" in Bangladesh as "anti-Bangladeshis", Mr Sengupta should have done some homework to find out as to why and how many Bangladeshis started harbouring anti-Indian sentiment soon after the creation of their country with direct help and support from India. Not only pro-Pakistanis but many pro-Liberation Bangladeshis started swelling the ranks of anti-Indian people and organizations under the leadership of Maulana Bhashani. One wonders as to why the young, popular, and charismatic Sengupta, who was an MP in the 1970s, never ever portrayed Bhashani and other avowedly anti-Indian people as "enemies of Bangladesh"! One may recall Bhashani's leading the historic Farakka March in 1976, demanding Bangladesh's due share in the Ganges water.
Since India has problematic relations with all its immediate neighbours (except tiny Maldives), people in the neighbouring countries love to hate India. Bangladesh is not an exception in this regard. For all the right and wrong reasons, many pro-independence, liberal, secular and left-oriented Bangladeshis turned anti-Indian, not long after the Liberation. They imputed the post-Liberation socio-economic and political crises to India's "colonial designs and ambitions".
There are so many other issues besides the Farakka, Teesta and Tipaimukh that embittered the Indo-Bangladesh relations. One cannot just sweep them under the carpet. One knows how India harboured, armed and sent dissidents to destabilize Bangladesh following the August 1975 coup. The whole world knows who armed, trained and sheltered thousands of Shanti Bahini guerrillas to bleed Bangladesh, almost for two decades up to the late 1990s. One may mention Indian Border Security Force's (BSF) incursions in 2001, and the killing of scores of unarmed Bangladeshis (presumably smugglers) by BSF troops at the border, till the recent past.
Thus there is nothing surprising about the rise and growth of anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh. Similarly, one cannot blame Indian nationals for harbouring anti-Bangladeshi sentiment for various reasons. The BNP Government's controversial role in harbouring, arming and promoting ULFA militants to bleed India, may be mentioned in this regard.
In view of this, nobody has the right to force Bangladeshis to shun sentiments that question India's role and actions, let alone consider them "anti-Bangladeshi" or even worse, personae non grata, as Mr Sengupta has done, hopefully unwittingly. We know there are people almost everywhere who harbor serious suspicions against their neighbours across the border. There are even people who hate their own countries. Some Americans are publicly anti-American; many Scottish and Quebecers want independence; and they do so with impunity. This is what democracy and freedom of expression are all about.
Last but not least, despite Prime Minister Modi's promises to Bangladesh – especially during his recent state visit to the country – about the latter's right to its due share of water in the common rivers, the way India has been dillydallying to implement the over-promised and overdue Teesta Agreement for the last four years, and took 41 years to ratify the LBA, many Bangladeshis neither trust India nor expect any fair deal from it in the foreseeable future. In this backdrop and if nothing changes dramatically, it will be difficult to stop Bangladeshis from turning "anti-Indian", and it is absurd to portray them as "enemies of Bangladesh", hence personae non grata.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.