Dhaka: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday reached Bangladesh to take part in its 50-years of independence celebration and the birth centenary of its founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who is also the father of current PM Sheikh Hasina.
Modi’s visit in the country sparked violent protests at Dhaka’s main mosque which was controlled by police using tear gas and rubber bullets – injuring hundreds of people. Angered by Modi’s visit the demonstrators were seen shouting slogans like, “Sheikh Mujib fought for a secular nation whereas Modi is inherently communal.”
President of the Bangladesh Students’ Union, Foez Ullah, said Modi’s policies go against the basic tenets of Bangladesh’s founding principles.
“Inviting India’s riotous, communal prime minister Narendra Modi to the golden jubilee of independence is against the spirit of the liberation war,” the group said in a statement.
As per reports, hundreds of protesters had gathered outside Dhaka’s Baitul Mokarram mosque after the Friday prayers. Witnesses said violent clashes broke out after one faction of protesters began waving their shoes as a sign of disrespect to Modi, and another group tried to stop them.
Meanwhile, sources say demonstrators who tried to stop the shoe-waving are aligned with the governing Awami League party, which criticised the other protest faction for attempting to create chaos during Modi’s visit.
Local media showed agitators throwing stones at the police, who were heavily present on the streets near the mosque. As the media reports, at least 40 people were injured, including journalists, and were taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital for treatment.
PM Modi’s two-day visit to the neighbouring country– his first foreign tour since the coronavirus pandemic began last year – will cap Dhaka’s 10-day celebrations already attended by leaders from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives.
Bangladesh PM Hasina, a key partner for India in maintaining regional stability, welcomed Modi at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on Friday morning.
Friday’s protest was supposedly staged against Modi for allegedly stoking religious tensions and persecuting Muslims in India. It was the latest in a series of protests held across Bangladesh to oppose the visit by Modi.
On Thursday, police in Dhaka had also tried to dispersed the student demonstrators by firing rubber bullets and tear gas as they were protesting against the Hindu nationalist leader’s visit and criticising the government for inviting him.
Thursday protest, as per Police officials, got out of hand as nearly 2,000 demonstrators marched in Dhaka, with many throwing rocks and stones at officers. Dozens were wounded, with at least 18 sent to hospitals in the city.
“We fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them… We have also arrested 33 people for violence,” police official Syed Nurul Islam told media on Thursday.
Meanwhile, at another protest outside Baitul Mokarram mosque last Friday, protesters said more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was the chief minister of the state.
“His government has passed several laws which make Muslims a second-class citizen in India. We don’t want him here in Bangladesh,” Maulana Mamunul Haque, secretary-general of Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamist political organisation, told media.
“A leader like him should not be allowed to attend the 50th Independence Day event.”
Even though Hefazat-e-Islam calls itself “non-political”, the Islamist organisation has gained eminence after the fall of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist political party.
At the protest outside Baitul Mukarram mosque, Hefazat-e-Islam, a self proclaimed “non-political” party, supporters slammed Modi for “killing Muslims in Gujarat, Kashmir, Delhi and other parts of India”. They took their shoes in their hands to show disrespect to the Indian leader.
Some of them also accused Modi’s government of passing several laws to make Muslims a second-class citizen in India.
It is to be mentioned that India had helped Bangladesh gain independence from Pakistan through a nine-month bloody war in 1971 and since then Dhaka and New Delhi share close ties.
Referring to the same fact in his statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Affairs Minister AK Abdul Momen, earlier this week told media that since India helped Bangladesh achieve its independence, “so it is very natural that the Indian prime minister will be asked to become Bangladesh’s Golden Jubilee celebration’s main guest”.
“We are not concerned what the fundamentalists are saying about Modi’s visit. They do not represent the voice of the country’s people,” he said, adding that “only a small fraction of people” were protesting.
“They are making an issue out of it without any valid reason,” he further said.
However, Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, feels inviting Modi for the celebrations was “not a good choice”.
“Along with the Golden Jubilee, we are also celebrating the birth centenary of father of the nation. Sheikh Mujib fought for a secular nation whereas Modi is inherently communal. He [Modi] is criticised in his own country for his hardliner Hindu nationalist stance,” Ahmed said during his media interaction.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a head of his visit to the country had dropped a tweet late on Thursday which read, “Our partnership with Bangladesh is an important pillar of our Neighbourhood First policy, and we are committed to further deepen and diversify it. We will continue to support Bangladesh’s remarkable development journey, under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s dynamic leadership.”