India should speak out against rights’ violations, says B’desh opposition party

  • Jayanth Jacob, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 16, 2016 14:34 IST
Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia. A small delegation representing the party is visiting Delhi in a bid to improve ties with India. (AP File Photo)

India should broaden its ties beyond the ruling party and speak up against rights’ violations in Bangladesh, the neighbouring country’s main opposition party, the BNP, has said.

The Modi government seemed to be following the UPA’s Bangladesh policy of focusing on the ruling party which amounted to ignoring other outfits, said Amir Khosru Chowdhury, adviser to Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reached out to the BNP leader and it was a very welcome step. But since then, not much has happened that would give us the feeling that present government in Delhi looks beyond the ruling Awami League,” he said.

Chowdhury is visiting India with BNP’s international affairs secretary Humaiun Kobir to reach out to political parties and think tanks.

The outreach is an effort by Zia to improve ties with India as suspicion between the two sides grew when she was in power.

New Delhi felt that the BNP government was not sensitive to its security concerns such as insurgents in the Northeast getting help from across the border.

In contrast, India and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League share warm ties. The two countries have built a strong relationship in the years the League has been in power.

The 2014 elections that returned Hasina to power were not fair as most seats went uncontested, the BNP leader said. The press was being muzzled and opposition leaders threatened into submission.

“India, the world’s largest democracy, which has built strong democratic institutions, is not even taking a moral position on these human rights violations,” Chowdhury, a former commerce minister, said.

The government was in denial about the presence of Islamic State to show opposition parties in bad light, he said.

“Islamic State doesn’t mean some Arab fighters on the street. We believe there is enough evidence to suggest their presence,” he said.

A spate of hacking incidents targeting bloggers and activists has been claimed by Islamic State only to be denied by the Hasina government.

Concern is also growing over the rise of radical elements in Bangladesh and July’s attack on a Dhaka café that left 22 people dead have only added to the worries.

Chowdhury defended as tactical his party’s ties with the controversial Jamaat-e-Islami. “When the house is on the fire, anybody who rushes in with a bucket of water is welcome,” he said but insisted they were two different parties with different ideologies.

Jamaat-e-Islami had campaigned against Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 and formed a militia to help the Pakistani army crush the uprising.

Last week, a former Jamaat lawmaker was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity during the 1971 war.

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