Making Sense Of New Delhi’s Restrained Response To Bangladesh’s Anti-Hindu Violence

Making Sense Of New Delhi’s Restrained Response To Bangladesh’s Anti-Hindu Violence

The recent widespread anti-Hindu violence will not make any difference to the bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh, said Dinesh K Patnaik, Director General, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), calling the recent events “small incidents”. At least five people have been killed and over 100 Hindu temples and religious sites, 180 shops, and homes belonging to the minority community have been vandalized or burned in several districts since last week. 

While the attacks drew condemnation--and in some cases protests--from across the world, including civil society in Bangladesh and India, fingers were also pointed to the Bangladesh authorities’ failure to protect Hindus, their properties and temples. Around nine percent of Bangladesh's 160 million people are Hindus.  

“Our diplomatic relations are very strong. Small incidents do not make a difference in a larger picture of diplomatic relations,” Patnaik was quoted as saying by ANI news agency. The leadership in both countries, he said, is mature enough to deal with the situation.

In India, especially in West Bengal--a state that shares boundary with Bangladesh - there were fierce protests. ISKCON society, a spiritual organization devoted to Lord Krishna, protested across the world, drawing attention to the repeated targeting of Hindus in Bangladesh. One of their temples was vandalized by Islamists and a 25-year devotee was also killed. 

The BJP, India’s main ruling party, is a principal opposition party in West Bengal. Needless to say, some of these protests were politically motivated keeping the domestic audience in mind. However, the response from the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a known Hindu nationalist leader of the same party, was restrained,  keeping the good relations between the countries in mind. 

Arindam Bagchi, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, termed the attacks “unfortunate” and said the Government of India noted the “prompt response” by the authority in Bangladesh to safeguard the minority there.

It must be noted here that the Hasina government did indeed quickly contain the situation. She also spoke to the representatives of the community, and warned those who vandalized temples and Puja pandals would be “hunted down”. The government made nearly 500 arrests and stepped up investigation in hundreds of cases.    

Despite requests from several groups in India, including those close to the BJP, the Indian government refrained from making any remark that could be seen as either critical of the Hasina government’s handling of the situation or pressure tactics. The Indian High Commission in Bangladesh was in constant touch with the representative of the community and law enforcement officials. 

The bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh are at their best--and the two countries are mindful of the fact. Once part of the undivided subcontinent, the two countries share a lot of common cultural linkages. However, these similarities don’t come without the baggage of contrasting majoritarian religious sensitivities--a product of the 1947 partition. 

While talking to the representatives of the Hindu community last week, Prime Minister Hasina didn’t forget to mention the aforementioned dilemma. “Nothing is done there [India] that affects our country [Bangladesh],” she hoped.  

There were fears among responsible leaders in both countries that retaliatory violence in India might precipitate a wider conflagration - something what the instigators being the targeted killings of Hindus in Kashmir or Bangladesh may just be looking for. 

Lastly, the lessons from our experiences with Sri Lankan Tamils and Nepali Madheshis aren’t yet lost on India. Going overboard while propagating the rights of specific groups in any foreign country just based on shared cultural or ethnic connections will ultimately result in the isolation and marginalization of the community itself.   

— Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar

(The writer is researcher-writer at South Asia Monitor)

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