The Jamaat-e-Islami — Bangladesh’s right-wing Islamist party — has said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is “welcome” to visit the country, despite his remark that 25% of Bangladeshis, including the Jamaat, were “very anti-India”.
“Manmohan Singh is an honourable politician and economist. But his advisers are misleading him,” Abdul Razzak, the Jamaat’s deputy secretary-general, a barrister, told HT from Dhaka.
The party had slammed Singh’s off-the-cuff comments, posted accidentally on his website and later withdrawn. After the diplomatic snafu, Singh spoke to Bangladeshi premier Shiekh Hasina on Monday, announcing his upcoming trip in September.
“We’ll never be shy of criticising India, but the Jamaat is not philosophically opposed to engaging with India,” Razzak said, pointing to unresolved issues, such as water-sharing rows.
“Look at China and the US… don’t they treat each other on equal terms? We’ll praise Singh if he treats Bangladesh on equal terms,” Razzak said.
The Jamaat and its main ally, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Khaleda Zia, have often accused India of trying to get a grip on Dhaka. They like to tell their voters how the current regime s friendly towards India — is turning “Bangladesh into an Indian state” by letting India use Bangladeshi ports and roads without any access tariff.
According to the Dhaka-based Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, economic integration with India could help raise Bangladesh’s growth from 6% to 8% but the Jamaat and BNP have hobbled such efforts from India.
India’s worries are equally deep-rooted: the Jamaat is seen to be in the grip of Pakistani spy agency, the ISI. Jamaat’s chief spokesperson Tasneem Alam says Singh should make Bangladesh feel “comfortable”.
The Jamaat’s top leaders, including its chief, Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, are currently in prison, after the current government charged them with joining Pakistani forces to kill thousands during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan. Rooted in extremist politics, the Jamaat advocates an Islamic state, though a democratic one.