By Jennifer Hicks
The recent disturbing surge in the ‘India Out’ movement in Bangladesh, spearheaded by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is reminiscent of the Maldives’ analogous campaign that strained relations with India. As the largest opposition party in Bangladesh, the BNP’s decision to launch such a movement, coupled with its historical roots in anti-India sentiments, raises serious concerns about the potential consequences.
The Maldives’ recent ‘India Out’ movement, driven by a desire for closer ties with China and a perceived infringement on the nation’s independence, has set a concerning precedent. President Mohamed Muizzu’s anti-India sentiment and the derogatory comments made by Maldivian government ministers about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have strained diplomatic relations. The Maldives’ actions serve as a backdrop to the emerging ‘India Out’ movement initiated by the BNP.
In the wake of global accusations branding the BNP as ultra-Islamist and designating it a Tier-III terrorist organization by US courts, the party launched the ‘India Out’ movement. Slogans such as “India is not a friend of Bangladesh” and “India is destroying Bangladesh” have emerged, with online activists attempting to incite anti-India sentiment not only within Bangladesh but also extending their reach to Nepal through social media platforms.
Reports suggest that the orchestrator of the ‘India Out’ movement is Tarique Rahman, the convicted terrorist and acting chairman of the BNP, who operates from London. Rahman allegedly instructed party members to replicate the anti-India movement observed in the Maldives, further fueling anti-Hindu and anti-Indian sentiments in Bangladesh. The cyber wing of the BNP has begun spreading hatred through social media, with specific instances identified on platforms like Twitter.
Commenting on BNP’s fresh move promoting anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, a section of Dhaka-based newspapers says:
Sitting in London, a convicted terrorist and acting chairman of BNP Tarique Rahman has instructed BNP leaders and activists to launch an anti-India movement in Bangladesh, xeroxing that of Maldives and inciting anti-Hindu and anti-India sentiment in the country. Accordingly, members of the cyber wing of the party have started spreading anti-Hindu and anti-India hatred through social media platforms. One such notorious act of a BNP activist has been identified on X (former Twitter) platform, where the account is continuously spreading anti-Hindu and anti-India hatred.
Commenting on the tweet in the above-mentioned account, BNP activists are saying – “India has never been a friend of Bangladesh; not even in 1971, when they looted the valuables and taken away across the border”, “Indian products boycott should be announced as soon as possible,” etcetera, while some of the commentators are indirectly indicating arson attack on Hindus and those trading houses dealing in Indian products.
In one post, a BNP activist on X wrote: “There you go – anyone criticizing or boycotting India is tagged as Jihadists or Islamic extremists whereas India is the hotspot for Hindu extremists. For ages, India has applied this policy to their critics in the subcontinent, and at present, Maldives is no different”.
It further said, “As part of its anti-India notoriety, BNP leader Tarique Rahman has reportedly instructed several members of the party to establish contacts with Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi, chief of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and provide them financial support in exchange for terrorist attacks inside India targeting key-point installations, media houses and offices of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”
It may be mentioned here that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party was founded in 1978 by military ruler Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman in the aftermath of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in 1975. Trained in Pakistan and harboring deep hostility towards India, Gen Zia aimed to advance anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiment in Bangladesh, aligning the nation with a pseudo-Pakistani identity.
Gen Ziaur Rahman, trained in the Pakistan Military Academy, was decorated for his role in the Second Kashmir War against the Indian Army. As a diehard opponent of India, he steered Bangladesh’s foreign policy away from India and the Soviet bloc, strengthening ties with the United States, Western Europe, and Islamic nations.
Zia pursued an agenda of Islamization, amending the constitution to emphasize Islamic solidarity among Muslim countries and introducing Islamic religious education as a compulsory subject.
Ziaur Rahman believed that a significant portion of Bangladesh’s population was grappling with an identity crisis and sought to address this through re-Islamization. He amended the constitution, introducing Islamic salutations and emphasizing trust in Almighty Allah. The introduction of Islamic religious education as a compulsory subject further reflected Zia’s move toward an Islamic state policy.
Ziaur Rahman’s policies had lasting effects on Bangladesh’s identity and foreign relations. The BNP, founded under his influence, continued to harbor anti-India sentiments and actively worked towards advancing an anti-Hindu narrative. The party’s recent ‘India Out’ movement is seen as a manifestation of these deep-seated sentiments.
The foundation of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in 1978 was a response to the political landscape shaped by the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman, the military ruler at the time, was trained in Pakistan and harbored a deep-seated hostility towards India. His goal in establishing the BNP was to advance an anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiment in Bangladesh, aligning the nation with a pseudo-Pakistani identity.
Military ruler Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman began reorienting Bangladesh’s foreign policy, addressing concerns among right-wing factions that believed the country was overly reliant on Indian economic and military aid. He moved away from India and the Soviet bloc, developing closer relations with the United States, Western Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Gen Zia also sought to normalize relations with Pakistan, against which Bangladesh fought its liberation war.
Ziaur Rahman believed that a significant portion of the population in Bangladesh was grappling with an identity crisis and aimed to remedy this through re-Islamization. He issued a proclamation order amending the constitution, emphasizing Islamic solidarity among Muslim countries and introducing Islamic religious education as a compulsory subject for Muslim schoolchildren.
In public speeches and policies, Gen Zia began expounding ultra-Islamist and anti-India “Bangladesh Nationalism.” He amended the constitution to change the nationality of citizens from Bengali, an ethnic identity, to Bangladeshi. Notably, Bangladeshi nationalism under Zia excluded the country’s non-Muslim minorities, particularly the Hindu community.
The recent ‘India Out’ movement initiated by the BNP should be viewed as a continuation of historical sentiments deeply embedded in the party’s foundation. With roots in anti-India and anti-Hindu ideologies, the BNP has consistently worked towards nurturing these sentiments in Bangladesh. The current movement represents a manifestation of these deep-seated animosities.
The ‘India Out’ movement, driven by millions of BNP supporters inclined towards jihadism and anti-Hindu sentiments, poses a serious security threat to the entire region. The historical alignment of the BNP with anti-India ideologies and its potential to mobilize supporters warrant immediate attention from key policymakers in Dhaka and New Delhi.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s ‘India Out’ movement is not merely a contemporary development but is deeply rooted in the historical narrative of the party’s foundation and its subsequent alignment with anti-India sentiments. As the BNP seeks to replicate the Maldives’ approach, key policymakers must not underestimate the potential consequences. The movement, driven by historical animosity and ideological underpinnings, could escalate tensions in the region and jeopardize diplomatic relations.
Understanding the historical context is crucial for policymakers to formulate an effective response that addresses the root causes and mitigates the potential fallout of the ‘India Out’ movement. In a world where regional stability is paramount, addressing these historical sentiments is essential for fostering lasting peace and cooperation.
The launch of the ‘India Out’ movement by the BNP holds significant implications for the region. With millions of BNP supporters inclined towards jihadism and anti-Hindu sentiments, the movement could pose a serious security threat to the region – particularly India. BNP’s historical alignment with anti-India ideologies, coupled with the potential mobilization of its supporters, warrants serious consideration by key policymakers in Dhaka and New Delhi.
- Jennifer Hicks is a columnist and political commentator writing on a large range of topics. She has worked for over 15 years with the now-defunct Hong Kong Free Press.
- GUEST POST. Views personal of the author.