India’s Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, the Shankarcharya of Puri, has recently made remarks that if land in Ayodhya is given to Muslims, the members of the community from Bangladesh and other Muslim majority countries will turn it into Mecca and “it will encourage terrorism in the name of teaching, training and worshipping at the allotted space.”
In the light of the Shankarcharya’s comment, The Business Standard asked Dr. Nurul Amin Bepari, for his opinion about such remarks. In response, the professor spoke about different scopes of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh in retrospect of the Shankarcharya’s comment
European countries develop diplomatic relations with other countries – no matter how big or small – on the basis of mutual respect for each other's sovereignty. But the scope of Bangladesh-India relations in the light of such a European example of diplomatic relations is questionable. When we find ministerial level remarks that Bangladesh-India relations are like that of "husband and wife," our concerns only spiral.
Outrageous remarks such as the one the Shankarcharya made can only come forth when the foreign policy of a country becomes weak. They now find traces of terrorism in everything about Muslims. They used to relate things about terrorism to Pakistan in the past, now they have begun to relate Bangladesh with terrorism.
If you notice the recent controversial citizen laws of India, you will see that in most of the controversial Indian moves, they somehow end up relating to Bangladesh. With regard to the National Register for Citizens (NRC), the Indian leadership repeatedly threatened to send back the so called illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has been far too enthusiast about developing bilateral relations with India even if it means giving them far too much. Not long ago, the prime minister of Bangladesh remarked that "India will remember forever what Bangladesh gave it." Now is that how India remembers us? If so, what did we give India? Did those offerings go in favour of India or of Bangladesh? The current Indian policies cannot help us. They can only make us ask such questions.
Thanks to our foreign policy with a larger neighbour that is all taking and not giving at all, the odds that we face were unavoidable. For example, we have been asking them for a Teesta River treaty for years. But instead of getting a fair share of Teesta water, we ended up giving them the water of the Feni River. They have been taking it like this all the way – thanks to our weak policies.
The continuation of such scenarios can only go on when the government is not based on public mandate. And such governments cannot take democratic decisions based on the interest of the people, and India has been utilising this opportunity to extract their interests in terms of Bangladesh-India relations.
I recall what Mohammad Asafuddowla, a former secretary and the founding editor of The Bangladesh Today newspaper, said from the time of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. When Bangabandhu was leading the country, he had a meeting in India about a water sharing treaty – where Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister of India and Sardar Swaran Singh, the then foreign minister of India were present.
Mohammad Asafuddowla said, when we asked India for a fair share of water, the Indian foreign minister Swaran Singh asked Bangabandhu why he joined the OIC conference in Lahore. In reply, Bangabandhu said with full assertiveness that India and Bangladesh's relations are on the basis of coordination but based on subordination.
Coordination means friendship. But when that friendship is defined in a way that it means we will keep giving, only then can such remarks come forth from religious and political leaders of India.
As the Shankarcharya of Puri referred to Bangladeshi Muslims in his remarks about terrorism, he needs to be reminded of that our culture does not support terrorism. Most of those in this land who became Muslims were influenced by Sufism.
Muslims in Bangladesh practise a sustainable level of tolerance which is not usually seen in Muslims in countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan or in some Middle Eastern countries. Many people in those countries practise extremism and fundamentalism.
Religious leaders like the Shankarcharya of Puri are intolerant against Muslims, and they utilise some sections of extreme groups from Afghanistan and of some Middle Eastern countries to justify their hatred and intolerance.
Dr. Nurul Amin Bepari is a professor of Political Science at the University of Dhaka