In the process, the CEC chief rescinded the verdict announced on January 16 by the Dhaka High Court, which had dismissed a petition from the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad (the joint Unity Council of the minority religious groups in Bangladesh). Petitioner Ashok Ghosh had prayed for a change in the poll schedule. Hindu leader Rana Dasgupta had argued that if polling booths were to be set up in schools etc for voting, the annual puja could not be held there.

In the context of the muted tensions and uneasiness between Delhi and Dhaka over the regional fallout in Bangladesh of the CAA, NRC and other legislation/decisions, Huda’s announcement is a big step forward in bilateral relations.

As usual, this remarkably positive intervention by the ruling dispensation in Bangladesh — the outcome of an aforethought coordination involving its highest political, judicial and executive authorities on a communally sensitive issue – remained largely ignored in India’s mainstream media.

Political analyst Subir Bhaumik says, ’this decision lives up to the recent words of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The other day she had said that ‘the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) in India was not really necessary,’ while emphasizing it was India’s internal affair. Her message was that the minority Hindus, numbering around 1.7 crore had, no reason whatsoever to flee for their lives to India, in the context of the prevailing communal harmony. Such things had happened when the country was East Pakistan.’

Interestingly, some Hindu leaders in Bangladesh agreed with her. Referring to recently emerging patterns in the new millennium emigration, they said that as with the Muslims, Hindus too were emigrating mostly to the US, the EU, Singapore or Japan, some eventually settling down there.

A Kolkata-based analyst said, ’Huda’s decision is a slap in the face of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Bengal, as well as a reproach for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose leaders offended Dhaka’s sentiments in calling Bangladeshis ‘termites’. In Bengal under the TMC’s rule, the Saraswati puja cannot be observed in some schools because of opposition from Islamic extremists in south 24 Parganas and elsewhere. And the BJP, despite its repeated assurances since 2014 to Dhaka, has not released Teesta river waters for Bangladesh to which the lower riparian country is legally entitled. Mamata Banerjee is the biggest problem in Indo-Bangla bilateral relations. To protect her Bengal Muslim vote bank, she has put Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League under great pressure from Islamic Jihadists. They accuse both the BJP and the TMC of cheating Bangladesh of its due share.’

According to details reported sketchily in a Silchar-based daily, the CEC in Bangladesh held an emergency meeting on January 18 to discuss the issue. Minority leaders had gone on appeal against the dismissal of their petition in Dhaka High Court. What augurs well for the Bangladesh minorities is that there were numerous statements issued supporting their demand from the ruling Awami League, and even the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) its main opposition, despite its known ties with Islamic extremists and the Jamat-e-Islami — not to mention other youth, student and cultural organisations. The decision to accommodate the Hindus had an across-the-board support, which speaks volumes for the communal harmony in Bangladesh.

Explaining the rejection of the petition, the court had said in the presence of EC officials that originally January 29 and 30 had been fixed for polling. The education department had been kept in the loop. January 30 was a holiday on its calendar on account of the Puja. For the EC, too January 30 was an official holiday.

The problem was, only 48 hours after the polling was due to end on January 30, major SSC examinations were scheduled to begin. As things stood, there was hardly time to reset such major programmes, finalised long ago, and work out a mutually acceptable arrangement. Other than January 30, there remained no scope to arrange for the civic polls on a different day.

Hindu leaders protested as their writ petition was dismissed, on January 16. Ghosh, the petitioner and Dasgupta, leader of the Minority Oikya Parishad (Unity Council), were quoted as saying, if the minority Hindus could not observe their major religious festivals, what would be their future, to whom in Bangladesh would they appeal for a fair consideration of their legitimate demands? The Constitution guaranteed the right of every community in Bangladesh to observe its festivals and rituals.

While such words did not arouse mass passions or evokes harp reactions, there could be no mistaking their unspoken implication: if they were further sidelined, the Hindus might be tempted to accept the new life line on offer in India, now that the CAA had become law.

It was a measure of statesmanship on part of Bangladesh administration to ensure that the matter was resolved amicably.

It needs stressing that in Dhaka there is a growing perception that the smaller country had been making too many concessions to India over the years. While India had not released Teesta waters, Bangladesh had released some water from the river Atreyi to serve the lean season requirements of Tripura, as a special gesture from Prime Minister Hasina. Considering that Afghanistan and Bangladesh were the only regional allies which support India consistently on the question of Islamic terrorism exported from Pakistan, Dhaka feels it is time the bigger neighbour also stepped forward and reciprocated with some positive gestures of its own. Senior ministers from Bangladesh had avoided attending scheduled bilateral meetings with India in recent days, giving various reasons.

The fact, as everybody understood, was that the common people and leaders in Bangladesh were extremely upset, if not offended, by repeated assertions from the BJP that the Hindus were facing problems. In official Indian statements, the automatic bracketing of Bangladesh with Pakistan as a country where minorities did not feel safe, was seen as a provocation. Of late, the tone of such references from the Indian establishment to Bangladesh had been muted somewhat, but surely Delhi would need to do much more to keep Dhaka happy. The ball is in India’s court. (IPA Service)