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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 14, March 28, 2015

Tedious Neighbours

Monday 30 March 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Our neighbouring countries are getting curiouser and curiouser. Pakistan is determined to free Zia-ur Rahman Lakhvi who had masterminded the Mumbai attack in 2008 when some 165 people were killed at Hotel Taj through the sea, near the Gateway of India. The court has released him due to lack of evidence. This is despite the clinching proof that India has provided against him.

Either Pakistan is whetting the evidence that New Delhi provides or the judge hearing the case has been under pressure. Whatever the fact, the ends of justice are not being served. So far India’s uproar on the freeing of Lakhvi has forced Islamabad to keep him inside the prison. But how long can the government do so? When there is no evidence against him he is bound to come out of the jail.

Islamabad does not seem to care for the sensitivity of India. Naturally, this attitude has disappointed New Delhi and has become one more point of friction between the two countries. The tenacity and persistence with which Islamabad is protecting Lakhvi make one suspect that he is not a non-state actor but very much part of Pakistan’s nefarious plans. On the one hand, Islamabad wants good relations with us and, on the other, it is all the time fomenting trouble on one pretext or the other.

Things in Bangladesh are not improving either, because of the continuing militancy in the public and political affairs. But here vengeance takes top place, without any realisation that the ultimate harm comes to the country. People’s interest is sacrificed daily at the altar of political wrangling. Unimaginable things are affecting peace.

Take the case of Dr Kamal Hossain who may reportedly be tried for sedition. He was the first Foreign Minister of Bangladesh. Even otherwise, his name evokes respect and admiration. He brings back the memory of the days when the people in East Pakistan struggled and wrested freedom from the distant and despotic rule of West Pakistan to establish Bangladesh. Yet, he is suspected of treason.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina knows no bounds when it comes to wreaking vengeance against her critics. She harassed and hounded Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Laureate for the Grameen Bank devoted to micro-financing. He had dared to find an alternative to the two Begums, Sheikh Hasina and Khalida Zia of the Bangladesh National Party.

Dr Kamal Hossain was not hassled. His dignified response was that to be told now in 2015 that a sedition charge would be brought against him is a matter of shame not only for him but also for the nation as well as the person who said this.

When in the wilderness at Delhi, I once asked Sheikh Hasina why she was opposed to Dr Hossain. “He has stabbed me in the back,” she replied. His only fault was that he had criticised her as an elderly statesman and a colleague of her father, Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh.

Dr Hossain was the person who was flown to London when the defeated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of West Pakistan, released the Sheikh. Bhutto did not want him to go directly to New Delhi which had helped the Sheikh in his liberation struggle. In fact, when Bhutto offered to release the Sheikh, the latter reportedly asked: “What about Kamal Hossain?” Bhutto said that he too would fly with him. Dr Hossain told me that since the destination was not known to him, he did not carry warm clothes and felt uncomfortable when the Pakistan International Airlines landed at London, carrying just the Sheikh and Dr Hossain, the only two passengers.

That the Sheikh flew to Delhi to thank Mrs Indira Gandhi personally for her help is another story. Dr Hossain stayed back at London to discuss with the British leaders the challenges before the newly-born state of Bangladesh. He could speak on behalf of the Sheikh.

That Sheikh Hasina has gone to the extent of denigrating Dr Hossain does not surprise me. This is her way of functioning. She should learn from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who does not run down the Opposition but follows the policies he has devised. He quietly carries out instructions from the RSS to spread the Hindutva philosophy without making it obvious.

What is happening to vandalise churches is the fallout of the ghar wapsi campaign of the RSS. Two important churches have been destroyed in Delhi itself. But there is not a word of condemnation by Home Minister Rajnath Singh or any action by the Home Ministry which is in charge of the Capital’s law and order. One feels that the BJP Government is conniving at what the perpetrators are doing.

The churches are also a target in Lahore. I cannot say that there is a nexus between the governments on either side. But the coincidence is remarkable. Pakistan is a theocratic state, but what about India which has democratic credentials? It means that the Christians are a dispensable minority on both sides.

Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, said that if he had not been a Hindu he would have liked to be a Christian. At his prayer meetings, the Bible was read before the Gita. What is most disconcerting is that there is no protest from the Hindu community. Some Christians staged a march in the Capital. But the Hindus kept themselves away. Being a majority community it was their duty to have reached out to the Christians. Liberal voices are fewer and muter than before. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that Christians are coming back to the Hindu fold because they were converted by the British after the first national uprising in 1857.

Sheikh Hasina is petty and brooks no opposition. Yet, the plus point in her favour is the commitment she has to secularism. Even Dr Hossain would admit that. But that does not hide her autocratic ways. And to go to the extent of proposing a sedition charge against Dr Hossain is committing a crime which is no less heinous than treason.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com