Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Thursday cancelled his three-day India visit, citing other commitments, ANI reported.
The decision came a day after the Indian Parliament approved amendments to a 1955 law. It will now grant citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Sikhs from the Muslim majority nations of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, provided they have resided in India for six years. The cut-off date is December 31, 2014.
Momen said: “I had to cancel my trip to New Delhi as I have to participate in the Buddhijibi Dibosh and Bijoy Dibosh, and more so as our state minister is out of the country in Madrid and our foreign secretary is in The Hague.”
However, India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded to the development, denying that the country had ever said there was religious persecution in Bangladesh during the current government’s tenure. “We’ve explained that religious persecution is not happening under present [Bangladesh] government,” ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. “Migrants who have sought refuge in India from Bangladesh have faced persecution and abuse on religious grounds during the military rule and also during the previous governments in Bangladesh.” He added that the current Bangladesh government has taken steps to substantially address concerns of minorities as per Constitutional provisions.
Bangladesh celebrates December 14 as Buddhijibi Dibosh, or Martyred Intellectuals’ Day, and December 16 as Bijoy Dibosh, or Victory Day, to commemorate its liberation from Pakistan in 1971.
“Given increasing demand at home, I have decided to cancel the visit,” Momen said. “However, I am looking forward to attending the next meeting in January. I am sending our DG to attend the event.”
On Wednesday, Momen had said the proposed amendments could weaken India’s character as a secular nation. “India is historically a tolerant country which believes in secularism [but] their historic position will be weakened if they deviate from that,” he added.
The foreign minister also rejected claims that minorities in Bangladesh were persecuted. “Many important decisions of our country are taken by persons belonging to different religions...we never judge anybody by their religion.”