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BJP secret meeting on Bangladesh

Written By: Devadeep Purohit and Radhika Ramaseshan
05/03/2016 11:38

Date of first Publish: 03/03/2016

Source: The Telegraph India
Neighbours and Borders

- Session at resort near Calcutta to gauge minority situation

March 2: Ram Lal, a joint national general secretary of the BJP, held a secret meeting with some opinion-makers from Bangladesh at a resort near Calcutta last week as part of the party's attempts to understand the ground reality in the aftermath of alleged attacks on minorities across the border.

No one wanted to go on record confirming the meeting but a source in Delhi said: "Dattatreya Hosabale, the RSS's joint general secretary, had played a role in the meeting, organised as part of the Sangh's plan of firming up linkages with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives."

Sangh sources said Hosabale was keen on sending BJP general secretary Ram Madhav but he opted out by citing his preoccupation with the Assam elections, of which he is in charge.

"During our meeting, we gave details of the situation of the minority community in Bangladesh. There were also discussions on how to develop stronger bonds between the BJP and our party," said an Awami League leader who had attended the meeting.

"I came to India after getting the necessary clearance from my party bosses," the leader added, making it clear that the ruling party in Bangladesh did not have problems in engaging with the BJP or the RSS. Muslim-majority Bangladesh has around 2 crore Hindus.

Traditionally, the rise of the BJP in India has coincided with the surge of the Awami League's main enemy, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami combine. That problem has subsided in recent years as the BNP has weakened organisationally.

Though the Sheikh Hasina regime in Dhaka - which had got used to dealing with the Congress - was wary of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, the initial apprehensions do not exist any more and diplomats on both sides think that the bilateral relationship "has never been this good".

The eagerness to engage more with the ruling party in the neighbouring country was visible in the capital today when Madhav, an RSS pracharak-turned-BJP national general secretary, hosted a lunch for Bangladesh foreign minister Abu Hassan Mahmud Ali.

The India Foundation, a think-tank with Sangh leanings, had organised the lunch for Ali and delegates from Bangladesh who were accompanying him. Later this week, Madhav is leading an India Foundation delegation to Dhaka.

"A lot of things seem to be happening on the Delhi-Dhaka front.... The meeting held in Bengal might be on a different track, but it is very significant," said a source in Delhi.

Politicians, civil society members, journalists and other professionals from different parts of Bangladesh - around 10 of them - had attended the sessions chaired by Ram Lal and some home department officials on two consecutive days.

The exact reason behind the presence of the officials - whether for security purposes or for an assessment of the situation in the neighbouring country - could not be confirmed.

The meeting, at a picturesque resort around an hour-and-a-half's drive from Calcutta, was held days after a priest was killed and a devotee injured in northern Bangladesh in the latest attack on minority religious figures there.

In October, a Christian pastor was attacked in the country, and the following month, an Italian Catholic priest was attacked. The same month, a Shia mosque was attacked in northern Bangladesh.

All these developments, against the backdrop of killing of six secular writers and publishers since 2013, have brought the focus on the status of minorities in Bangladesh under the Sheikh Hasina regime.

Sources aware of the discussions during the meetings said that most of the speakers from Bangladesh hailed Hasina's commitment to offer safety and security to the minority community. But the alleged involvement of Awami League leaders in usurping properties belonging to the minority community in Bangladesh was also mentioned in detail during the sessions.

"We don't know what exactly transpired at the meeting and so we cannot speculate on it.... My only wish is that this meeting is not looked at as an intervention by India in the neighbour's internal affairs," said a retired diplomat.

Asked whether the meeting amounted to indirect intervention in a sovereign nation's internal affairs, especially because in the past the RSS refused to countenance remarks made on India's minorities by other countries, a source said: "Don't read too much into it."


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