By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Bangladesh’s Islamic political parties urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday to cancel Indian leader Narendra Modi’s visit next month, alleging his government had stoked tensions between Hindus and Muslims that exploded into deadly riots in New Delhi this week.
The leaders of six Islamic parties issued their appeal to Hasina after thousands of Muslims marched from Dhaka’s main mosque, during which they chanted slogans, carried signs that said “Stop killing Muslims” and battered Modi’s portraits with stones.
“He [Modi] must shoulder the responsibility for the deaths of so many civilian Muslims,” Maulana Mujibur Rahman Hamidi, vice president of the Khelafat Andolon party, told BenarNews.
“We have been living in peace with all faiths. We do not want Narendra Modi visiting Bangladesh. If he visits Bangladesh, we fear that our communal harmony would be hampered,” he added.
At least 42 people were killed and hundreds more injured during a 72-hour outburst of intercommunal violence in the Indian capital this week, reports said. A heavy deployment of security forces in New Delhi brought an uneasy calm to the city on Thursday.
The riots stemmed from tensions over amendments to a citizenship law that were passed by Modi’s government but seen by critics as discriminating against Muslims. The religious community forms the largest minority group in Hindu-majority India, which is one of Bangladesh’s closest allies.
Hamidi was one of the organizers of Friday’s protest rally in the Bangladeshi capital.
If the government pushes through with its plan to welcome Modi, he said, party members and its supporters would “seize the airport,” blocking the Indian leader’s arrival. He did not elaborate.
Modi was expected to visit Dhaka for two days, starting March 16, during celebrations marking the 100th birthday of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina’s father and the founding leader of the 49-year-old nation. Rahman was killed during a coup in 1975.
The left-leaning party Gono Sanghati Andolon also urged the government to cancel the invitation to Modi. A day earlier, Hefazat-e-Islam, a conservative Islamic group, made a similar plea.
But Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told BenarNews on Friday that Modi’s visit would push through, despite the protests and threats from Islamic parties.
“The government’s position has not changed,” he said. “If anyone tries to challenge the government [during Modi’s visit], we will deal [with them]. We will be tough.”
New Delhi authorities have not explained what whipped up an explosion of violence starting Sunday night, in which Hindu rioters set several mosques ablaze and engaged Muslims in street fights. The two sides attacked each other in pitched battles using swords, sticks, guns and axes on the eve of U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to India.
Religious tension had been rising since Modi’s Hindu nationalist government introduced in December amendments to a citizenship law that provide a fast-tracked route to Indian citizenship for non-Muslims from some neighboring countries.
Muslim leaders had described the citizenship law as discriminatory and least 30 people died in clashes between protesters and security forces last year, mostly in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, police said.
New Delhi authorities told reporters on Friday that they had detained hundreds of people and were keeping a heavy presence northeast of the capital following India’s worst bout of sectarian violence in decades.
Local reports, quoting hospitals, said the death toll was likely to increase as hundreds were injured, including many who suffered serious wounds.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told reporters in India that the law was needed to protect minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan – all Muslim-majority countries.
Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for India’s external affairs ministry, told reporters in New Delhi that the Modi government had not inflamed religious tensions, as alleged by the prime minister’s critics.
In Dhaka, Noor Hussain Qasemi, secretary-general of the Islamic party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said Hasina’s government should respect the sentiment of Muslims.
“We do not want to see Narendra Modi in Bangladesh,” he told BenarNews.