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India stands beside Bangladesh for holding a free, fair election: Hasan

Dhaka, Feb 08: Foreign minister Hasan Mahmud on Thursday thanked the people and government of India for standing beside Bangladesh for holding a free, fair and transparent election in the country to protect democracy.

‘It is a fact that the Indian people and government stood beside us like in 1971 during our War of Liberation to protect our democracy although there were many ploys to destabilise the election process,’ he said.

The minister, who is now in New Delhi on a three-day bilateral visit at the invitation of his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar, made the comments at a media interaction at Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi based think tank, in the afternoon.

Director of VIF Arvind Gupta moderated the event when Bangladesh high commissioner to India Md Mustafizur Rahman was on the dais. Diplomats, research fellows, academics and journalists were present on the occasion.

He said that the recently held election in Bangladesh was good, vibrant and participatory and was held in a festive mood. ‘I would say our election was a good election in the history of Bangladesh and in the context of Indian sub continent …Election was ours and our people had exercised their rights of franchise freely,’ he said.

 

 

Responding to another question, he welcomed the letter of US president Joe Biden and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak to prime minister Sheikh Hasina. ‘We welcome them as both the leaders have expressed their willingness to work with the new government led by prime minister Sheikh Hasina,’ he said.

In this connection, he said that Bangladesh and US had been enjoying excellent bond of friendship and ‘we are looking forward to further strengthen our present relationship in future for the benefit of our people’. ‘The US is our major development partner and we celebrated our ties last year,’ he said.

On minority issues in Bangladesh, he replied that the minority communities in Bangladesh had been enjoying their rights as our party Bangladesh Awami League was a secular party and secularism was the main pillar of our party.  But, side by side there are some fanatic forces, they even don’t vote for Awami League and time to time they are trying to destabilise our society, he said.

He however, added that the present government in Bangladesh under the leadership of prime minister Sheikh Hasina has taken firm action against those elements who are out to destabilise the society in the name of religion.

Showing a comparative data, he said that in Bangladesh one Durga Puja mandap was set up for less than 300 people last year, but in West Bengal (India) one mandap was set up for every 1,000 people and that proved that how the community was enjoying religious freedom in their country.

The minister refuted the allegation that the people belonging to religious minorities were declining day by day in Bangladesh. ‘I don’t agree with the data provided to you in this regard. Rather percentage of minority people is increasing gradually in Bangladesh like the majority people,’ he added.

About increase of anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, he said that when election was progressing some quarter was trying to play the card of anti-India sentiment, but this technique did not work in the present days. ‘Now the tablets/ anti-India capsule do not work. It is ineffective…BNP-Jamaat elements want to play the card before election, but, it does not work now,’ he added.

Asked on increasing people to people contact, the minister said that connectivity, easing the hurdle of visa process and cultural exchange would immensely help strengthen the people to people contact between Bangladesh and India.

In this connection, he referred that still people had to wait on a long queue in front of Indian visa centres in Dhaka, Chittagong and other parts of the country for getting their visas.

‘I have raised the issue in the meeting with external affairs minister S Jaishankar…The hurdle of getting visa is eased more and more people will travel between the two countries and that will strengthen people to people contact,’ he added.

About visa-free travel, he said that he was looking forward for those days when someone would come to border and show his/her passport to get access to the destination country.

Later, the foreign minister joined another media interaction at Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia on ‘Bangladesh-India Relations Today’ in the evening.

This is Hasan’s first official visit to India and his first bilateral visit to any country after assuming office as the new foreign minister of Bangladesh in January 2024.

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