August 25, 2022
NEW DELHI – The Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. AK. Abdul Momen caused embarrassment of titanic proportions by his public statement in the port city of Chittagong on August 18 that he had told India, on his last visit, to ensure at any cost, continuation of Sheikh Hasina in power. The statement has naturally kicked up a storm which was completely avoidable given the sensitivity of existing ties between India and Bangladesh. More so because of the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi. Meanwhile, there have been adverse and acrimonious reactions galore in the Bangladesh media, intelligentsia, civil rights groups and more importantly amongst the opposition parties and ultra-religious groups especially those who are opposed to a cordial IndiaBangladesh relationship.
Now that the elections are not so far away, the opposition parties particularly the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jatiya Party (JP) have started demanding resignation of the Foreign Minister. Undoubtedly, this uncalled-for statement has embarrassed even Prime Minister Hasina. It would be interesting to see how she handles this development. If she gets rid of her Foreign Minister, the opposition and her detractors’ stand gets vindicated and if she overlooks the statement, it may mean that the Foreign Minister’s statement had the endorsement of the Prime Minister. It is a piquant situation needing deft and delicate handling. Also, within the ruling Awami League (AL), party leaders down the line have started questioning the wisdom of the Foreign Minister, which could be easily interpreted as prevailing mood being that he should go.
The party General Secretary and Minister for Surface transport, Obaidul Quader in a statement (August 20) has distanced himself from his colleague clarifying that neither the Foreign Minister nor the Bangladesh government had entrusted any responsibility to Momen to make such a request to India. In the same vein, veteran journalist Mahfuz Anam questioned the Foreign Minister’s statement: “How could he say that? Does he not have an iota of national pride, political sense and self-respect? Did he think he has helped our Prime Minister or the government of which he is a part by making such a statement?” He further alleged that only someone naive will fail to understand that he was seeking India’s help in the coming election. Anam felt that the Foreign Minister’s plea implies that he has lost all confidence that Sheikh Hasina can win the coming election on her own.
“Does he understand the implication of his statement? What reply will he give if critics say that now it is known how the coming election will play out?” This apart, a section of the Bangladesh diplomatic community reckons that the Foreign Minister, by this reckless statement, has brought into question who brings the governments to power? The people or a foreign power? This perception is shared by many in the Bangladesh establishment. An early damage control seems the need of the hour so that India and Bangladesh warmth remains as both are today each other’s staunchest allies.
Also, this should not give any opportunity to the anti-India and communal elements to impair the existing bilateral cordial ties. Such a gaffe from Dr. Momen, during the ongoing Mujib centenary celebrations, and 51st year of Bangladesh’s independence, certainly does not augur well. Stirringly, Momen’s latest statement comes within days of his declaration that in comparison with other nations, Bangladesh’s people happen to be living in paradise. In the meantime, many knowledgeable thinkers also say that the remarks of the Foreign Minister tend to signal to the global community that Bangladesh’s diplomatic corps is professionally below par and not capable of setting out foreign policy plans and vision. The controversial statement also aims to belittle Bangladesh’s electoral practices as the world at large might be led to think that elections in Bangladesh are not fair.
It is clearly a very wrong signal and completely incredible. Many have also started demanding that the Bangladesh government issue a clarification in unambiguous terms. Further, according to a leading columnist, the decent thing would be for the Foreign Minister to resign. If that does not happen, it should be for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to ask him to resign so that she is free to appoint his successor. If that too does not work, the prime minister should dispense with his services. This thought looks acceptable to many. This said, it is hoped that the imbroglio caused by the Foreign Minister is diffused before Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sets her foot on Indian soil to further strengthen bilateral relations.