Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary of independence could scarcely have been more bitter when the grandstanding in Dhaka and further afield in Kolkata is contextualized with the Hindu-Muslim flare-up during the Pujas in Comilla district.
There is little doubt that the Prime Minister, Begum Hasina Wajed, has countenanced the crisis with finesse, if not necessarily with firmness. Equally, her bête noire, Begum Khaleda Zia of the pro-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party would have exploited the crisis to the hilt had she been in power.
As much is the fineprint of Thursday’s statement in Kolkata by the country’s information and broadcasting minister, Hasan Mahmud who has been suitably forthright with certain home-truths. Specifically, he has blamed the BNP and Jamaat for the recent violence.
Nay more, he has claimed that the Awami League government has exposed those who “brought ignominy to a nation celebrating the golden jubilee of its liberation from the stranglehold of Pakistan”.
His statement and the sniper attacks on the pro-Islamist segment coincides with the arrest of 400 BNP supporters, many of whom have been charged with vandalism and rioting at Durga Puja pandals. BNP leaders have, however, described the police action as a “ploy of the ruling party” to target its opponents.
More than 3,000 Durga Pujas are organized throughout Bangladesh and only a few pandals suffered vandalism. “This is unfortunate,” the minister said, adding that “within three days we exposed the criminals. It is clear who had perpetrated the mischief and placed the Quran in a pandal”.
It is no disrespect to any community to aver that the episode relating to the Quran was driven by malice aforethought. Bangladesh generally takes pride in the fact that it is a peaceful home to Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.
Underlining the fact as a way of life, the minister said: “It is a shame that even today we identify people as Hindus and Muslims, instead of Bengalis.” This reaffirms the religious divides in Bangladesh 50 years after freedom was won (16 December 1971). It is the communal amity that urgently needs to be restored and not the least to shore up the international credibility of Bangladesh.
Persecution of minorities has been a distressing feature of the narrative, as often as not exacerbated by Islamist militants, whose periodic aberrations have been tacitly condoned by the BNP, most particularly when the party was in power. It is profoundly unfortunate that the tension that bubbled over during this year’s Durga Puja still persists.
The country cries out for peace, even as the communal tension lingers. “From the beginning, we were sure that no Hindu can place a Quran at a puja pandal,” the minister said. “The agencies are probing the case and what happened thereafter and stern action will be taken.” Not to put too fine a point on it, it has been a backlash against provocation.