Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in recent months been criticized for many things. There is, however, one matter on which he has been criticized quite unjustly.
In his recent interaction with newspaper editors, one of the subjects the Prime Minister touched was Bangladesh’s internal politics. The comments, which were later removed, dealt with the influence of a radical Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and its influence on that country’s electorate. The Prime Minister said that at least 25% of the population of Bangladesh swears by the Jamaat-e-Islami and they are very anti-Indian. He also said that Jamaat-e-Islami members are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI—the Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan—so the political landscape in Bangladesh can change at any time. These comments were later removed from the official website.
They led to a furore in India and Bangladesh alike. Indian diplomats hinted darkly how minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna’s forthcoming visit to Dhaka could be in jeopardy. The Indian high commissioner to that country was “summoned” by its foreign office—something denied later on. Crisis management on both sides has, so far, ensured that matters did not get out of hand.
Singh’s statement has also been criticized that the numbers he mentions under the Jamaat-e-Islami’s influence and the seats the party managed to win in parliamentary elections do not tally and hence he is factually wrong. This is pettifogging. It is well known that political influence and electoral arithmetic often don’t tally. The influence of that party is well known and does not require elaboration.
It is also clear from the course of Bangladesh’s politics that anti-India feelings are strong in certain sections and there is a broad overlap between the parties that espouse such politics and a significant mass of the population there. Otherwise, there would be no explanation for why anti-India feelings remain strong. India is not, to borrow a Marxist phrase, a country with “neo-colonial” ambitions. Bangladesh’s problems are its own and not of India’s making. When there is a friendly government in power in Dhaka, India should do all it can to help: economically and politically. That help, however, should be contingent on Bangladeshi soil not being used for activities against India.
What the Prime Minister said is true. It’s just that it was best kept secret. Are some statements best kept secret? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org