OPINION: Oh, these misunderstanding Bangladeshis!

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - Living next to a big and powerful neighbour is a blessing, but may also turn into a curse. Bangladeshis have always assumed the first, and fervently hopes that it never becomes the second.

Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla's visit to Bangladesh was a breath of fresh air. We should all be grateful to him for the explanations and elucidations he kindly provided to address various "misunderstandings" regarding India today.     

It appears to be sad but true that no one really "understood" the tenderness, compassion and open-mindedness of the current Indian leadership. Those Indian Muslims (who are determined to misunderstand everything), those ungrateful few in Bangladesh (who have apparently forgotten 1971), those progressive forces in India (who are all self-loathing Indians anyway), those people of the world including the UN, human rights activists, civil libertarians (who are confused)—they ALL "misunderstood" India's sensitive and enlightened spirit reflected in the policies and initiatives pursued by this administration. 

For example, the CAA and NRC are obviously meant only to help the persecuted and marginalised, not to discriminate and exclude. These Bangladeshi Muslims living in India are being encouraged to leave only so that they may participate in the economic development of Bangladesh. Furthermore, they do not send back any money through remittances to Bangladesh, while just a handful of Indians working in Bangladesh remit billions of dollars to India (the fourth or fifth largest source of its foreign remittances). Therefore, the current regime is encouraging these people to return only with the best interests of Bangladesh in mind.

There are other non-issues that clutter this relationship. For example, the Babri Masjid actions were necessary to right a historic wrong. It is part of India's efforts to liberate all these architectural sites supposedly constructed by the Muslim foreign invaders, which were actually either built by Hindus, or on Hindu sacred places to desecrate their religion. Do Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Ashutosh Varshney, Shashi Tharoor and all those so-called intellectuals know more about India's history than RSS Pracharaks? Those who want to visit these sites should go there promptly before the Taj Mahal becomes Rani Bhabani Mandir, although if President Trump decides to develop this property into a five-star hotel with a golf course, it may be called the Trump Mahal.

And Kashmir is the MOTHER of all "misunderstandings". India HAS to protect Kashmiris from themselves, to save them from those evil fundamentalists of Pakistan. The government is even willing to change the country's constitution and its secular tradition which may perhaps cause a little inconvenience to a few Muslims, but it is being done to serve a higher cause. Didn't Lincoln suspend some rights during the Civil War in the US?  Why don't these self-righteous human rights activists complain about THAT?

There are some other "issues" that are brought up which should be clarified with reference to context. For example, river water is not being shared but only to protect Bangladesh from floods; there are trade imbalances but only to make Bangladesh more competitive; there are border killings but only to save Bangladesh from terrorists and smugglers (as Mr Shringla pointed out, there are more Indians than Bangladeshis who are killed by their security forces); coal-fired plants which would not be allowed to be built in India are being constructed by Indians in Bangladesh but only to ensure that India's environmental laws do not jeopardise the economic growth of Bangladesh; India's response to the Rohingya crisis is tepid, but only because of its conviction that Muslims should go to Muslim countries where they can be more comfortable, and also to demonstrate India's confidence that Bangladesh can handle all this without depending on the "big brother".

It is sometimes suggested that India may betray a slightly superior tone when dealing with Bangladesh. What India would like to point out is that respect has to be EARNED. India's condescension is not an insult, it is an incentive to Bangladesh, and a message that it must develop greater maturity and self-confidence in order to be taken seriously. It is also worth mentioning that India could treat Bangladesh like Bhutan or Sikkim, but doesn't. There is insufficient appreciation in Bangladesh of this graciousness.

It is abundantly clear that everything that India does is meant to help Bangladesh. The constant carping and criticism in Bangladesh are merely the selfish rants of some who have never heard of "tough love", nor have they read Shakespeare, when in Act 3, Scene 4, Hamlet says, "I must be cruel only to be kind" (though the setting is a bit awkward because he had just mistakenly killed his uncle Polonius). 

As President Trump pointed out when neo-Nazi white supremacists rampaged through Charlottesville in 2017, that there were "very fine people on both sides". Bangladeshis have not properly understood that there may be some "very fine people" who may preach hatred and violence against Muslims in India. Incidentally, it should be pointed out that Mr Trump, with his great soul and subtle wit, "understands" Prime Minister Modi and therefore embraced him physically, as well as politically and spiritually. 

Everyone must realise that this is a new India, a "rising" India, climbing out of the Gandhian/Nehruvian/Congress shadows which perverted its democracy through blatant coddling of minorities, particularly the Muslims. Today, if a Muslim even looks at a cow with longing eyes, appropriate action will be taken. This is only fair. Yes, they have been called "termites", but Hindus believe in the sacredness of ALL life, and hence no disrespect should be taken. 

Of course, Mr Shringla did not necessarily say all of these things, but it is this narrative that formed the backdrop to his justifiable frustrations during his commanding (at times, perhaps a bit TOO commanding) performance at the public discussion that had been arranged.  

The Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz is supposed to have said that living next to a big and powerful neighbour is a blessing, but may also turn into a curse. Bangladeshis have always assumed the first, and fervently hopes that it never becomes the second.

 
Dingbat is from Erewhon, Samuel Butler's imagined country which, if spelled backward, becomes Nowhere. S/he may be reached at dingbat@satire.com (though net services are not very reliable).

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