Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina welcomed Indian prime minister Modi with a puzzling degree of warmth this past week to celebrate Bangladesh’s independent from Pakistan. For some time, Modi has worked to increase the tensions between Pakistan and Bangladesh, disparaging Pakistan and thereby making it easier for him to remain close to Bangladesh. This appears to be working. After all, it’s no coincidence that he went to celebrate the day of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan.
Those who protested Modi’s visit, understanding the danger of Modi to Muslims and angered by Sheikh Hasina’s willingness to work with him, were fought off by the government.
That the protests spurred violence between rival protestors as well as between protestors and the government is no secret. What deserves to be highlighted, though, is why protestors would feel compelled to take on this cause.
Modi and his bigoted BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party, or India’s People Party] have implemented policies that have harmed India’s Muslim population for some time now. They’ve also made it clear to the Rohingya that they would provide no help to them, although Burma and India share a border.
In 2019, Modi and his hindutva BJP party proposed a citizenship amendment law, which passed into their supposedly secular-based system of law. This law allows for Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain, and Parsi people from either Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan to come to India and to be eligible for citizenship after only six years in the country (instead of the typical 11 required).
India under Modi also implemented a National Registry of Citizens (NRC), which required residents of the state of Assam (bordering Bangladesh) to prove that they arrived by March 24, 1971, one day before Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan. This made 1.9 million people, most of whom were Muslim, stateless.
Beyond all this, Modi’s long history of crimes against Muslims, including his role in inciting and condoning the 2002 Gujarat Riots which left hundreds of Muslims dead, is well known.
Why is Sheikh Hasina so willing to stand by Modi?
The best analysis perhaps comes from this piece in Outlook India, which explains why Sheikh Hasina is standing by Modi:
“Indo-Bangladesh relations have developed significantly under the leadership of Modi and Hasina. Bangladesh not only plays a crucial role in providing a secured eastern sector, it plays an exemplary role in India’s ‘neighborhood first’ policy. For Hasina too, Modi is the best bet as India remains her biggest backer in her fight against Islamic fundamentalists and extremists in her country. Therefore, neither side wants to jeopardise the stable, good relations they enjoy. But disparaging remarks, describing “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, have become an issue in Dhaka, which has often put Sheikh Hasina in an awkward position in describing her strong ties with Delhi.”
Thus far, at least ten are dead, with many more injured in the protests. The government has appeared to take quite extreme measures against ‘extremist’ protestors, making the contradictions in Sheikh Hasina’s secular approach even clearer. In working towards secularism, which she has expressed as the right for everyone to practice his or her faith, in her own Muslim-majority country, she has aligned with a Hindu nationalist, who has used religion as a point of division in his own country, all the while doing so under the supposed secular constitution of India.
Who are the extremists involved in these protests? Are they Hifazat-e-Islam, a group of teachers and students from madrasas who take issue with their country’s ties with Modi? Many of them have been involved in the protests in Chittagong. Where is the evidence of their extremism? Have they carried out violent plots against civilians? We already have the evidence of Modi’s extremism, of his fomenting of mob violence against Muslims in his own country.
One thing is for sure, it’s a dark day when the government of a Muslim-majority country chooses to stand against its own people and with Modi and his bigoted, violent agenda against Muslims.
Ultimately, the Quran gives us the reason:
“They punished them for nothing but that they believed in Allah, the All-Mighty, the Worthy of All Praise.” [85:8]