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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 29 New Delhi July 9, 2016

Terror in Dhaka, Ministerial Changes in Delhi

Saturday 9 July 2016, by SC


The terror attack on a Spanish restaurant in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone of Gulshan late on July 1 has caused consternation not just in Bangladesh but South Asia as a whole and neighbouring India in particular. It resulted in the death of 28 persons, including six gunmen, who had stormed into the Holey Artisan Restaurant to hold all those present there as hostage. Those killed included nine Italians, seven Japanese, one American, a 19-year-old Indian student and two Bangladeshis (one of whom refused to leave his friends even though he was allowed to exit the cafe). The Islamist State has claimed responsibility for the terror strike, although the Hasina Government has till date dismissed all reports of the presence of the IS and its affiliates in the country.

Regardless of whether the Hasina Government changes its stance and acknowledges the IS role in Bangladesh, it has been pointed out in The Hindu that “IS-style rhetoric against minorities and foreigners and the use of horrifying violence are influencing Bangladeshi militants”. In the last two years 49 persons—bloggers, writers, publishers, Hindus, Christians, two foreign citizens and secular Muslims—have been killed in targeted attacks by Islamists.

However, the July 1 terror attack on the restaurant in Gulshan has led to a qualitative change in the situation with regard to Bangladesh’s threat perception which has now increased substantially. And the recurrence of such a terror attack at the country’s largest Id congregation at Kishoreganj, 80 km from Dhaka, today, the sacred day of Id-ul-Fitr, has further enhanced that threat perception even though only two persons, including one of the attackers, were killed in this operation. But this latest attack has cautioned the authorities that they cannot lower their guard under any pretext.

It is also important to note that the speeches of some Muslim clerics based in India, like Dr Zakir Naik, in the social media had influenced young Islamists as the ones who attacked the restaurant in Gulshan.

Some commentators are laying stress on uniting the entire polity of Bangladesh forgetting the values which Bangladeshis held aloft when they opted for liberation from Pakistani yoke in 1971. No doubt the unity of the polity is essential in the face of the crisis the country confronts today. But that does not mean that the values of 1971, so dear to the hearts of the secular nationalists of the nation, need to be jettisoned in order to unite with elements allied to the Islamic fundamentalists who have never been reconciled to the birth of independent Bangladesh.

On July 5 the Narendra Modi Government carried out major changes in the Council of Ministers. The most significant development in this exercise was the elevation of Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to the Cabinet with charge of the Human Resources Development Ministry which was held by Smriti Irani who is now relegated to Textiles; the new Environment Minister is the new entrant, river conservationist Anil Madhav Dave.

With 19 new Ministers of State the strength of the Council of Ministers has risen to 80—an eloquent commentary on Narendra Modi’s catchy slogan: “minimum government and maximum governance”.

Also significant is the RSS role in the changes—because of stiff opposition from the RSS Modi could not drop a high-profile Cabinet Minister he had planned to remove. Moreover of the 20 Ministers upgraded as many as nine are from the RSS.

The whole exercise was undertaken with an eye on the impending UP Assembly polls which the BJP is desperate to win after its humiliating defeat in Bihar.

July 7 S.C.

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