Not just Pakistan’s deep state but growing radicalism in neighboring Bangladesh should be turning into a big worry for the Indian authorities. And it isn’t only limited to thousands of Islamic extremists who have rallied against France on the roads of Dhaka over the past few weeks. Earlier today, after facing death threat from a jihadist, top Bangladeshi all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan was forced to issue a public apology for attending a Kali Pujo inauguration in Kolkata last week.
The Facebook live of a man named Mohsin Talukder, from South Sunamganj in Sylhet, in which he was seen brandishing a machete and threatening to cut Shakib “into pieces for blasphemy” has gone viral on social media since Sunday. Talukder said in the video that the former Bangladeshi skipper, who is also currently the top-ranked all-rounder in ICC ODI rankings, had hurt the “Muslim sentiments” by participating in a Hindu ceremony.
Shakib had availed India’s recently signed air bubble travel arrangement with Bangladesh, which came into effect from October 28, to travel to Kolkata. During his stay, he had also attended the Shyama Puja of Amra Shobai Club at Kankurgachi. Even though the Sylhet Metropolitan Police (SMP) had booked Talukder Monday night under Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act, the star player apologized to fans today, assuring them that he was a devout Muslim who “should not have gone there.”
“Being a practicing Muslim, I always try to follow the religious customs. Please forgive me if I have done anything wrong. I was on the stage for barely two minutes. I did not inaugurate puja, it wasn’t the reason behind my visit to Kolkata. But, maybe, I should not have gone there. I am sorry for this and apologize,” said Shakib in his address to the fans.
Bigoted Bangladeshi Muslims going overboard with their attack on Indian cricketers isn’t new—remember the photoshopped image of pacer Taskin Ahmed carrying the severed head of Indian captain M.S. Dhoni before the Asia Cup final in 2016 which had caused a great furor? However, fans getting enraged with their own heroes—and the star bowing and apologizing to radicals—is a new low.
If former India skipper and the current Indian cricket board chief Sourav Ganguly is deservedly revered in Dhaka, then Bangladeshi cricketers have also always felt at home in Kolkata. Unlike the Pakistanis, who have literally been begging for an invitation to play in the Indian Premier League, cricketers from Bangladesh have always been welcomed with open arms. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had in fact also attended India’s first Day-Night Test match at the Eden Gardens last year.
While cricket diplomacy has for long been used as a tool to bolster ties, India has been helping Bangladesh big time even during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, thus further strengthening the “rock-solid and historic” Dhaka-Delhi relationship. Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen will also be visiting Delhi ahead of the virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina next month.
“Keeping Mujib Borsho, the Golden Jubilee of Liberation, and the 50th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic ties, both sides hope to add more success stories like peaceful settlement of land boundary agreement and maritime boundary. The two countries are giving much emphasis on enhancing trade and commerce through utilizing river and road communication, exploring opportunities in blue economy and other areas,” Dhaka Tribune quoted a diplomatic source as saying.
Besides air bubble agreement, the Sheikh Hasina government had earlier this month also signed a trilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited for priority delivery of three crore doses of Covid-19 vaccines.
With buzz of Beijing desperately trying to woo Dhaka doing the rounds, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen has maintained that the relationship with India is going through a golden phase. The local media quoted him being hopeful of signing the Teesta water-sharing deal with India soon and also holding of a Joint River Commission meeting in the coming weeks to work on 54 common rivers.
Last month, the second edition of bilateral exercise Bongosagar was held in Northern Bay of Bengal by Indian and Bangladesh Navies to develop interoperability and joint operational skills through conduct of a wide spectrum of maritime exercises and operations. A few days ago, in an endeavor to further strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries in general and between the two Armies in particular, the Indian Army gifted 20 fully trained military horses and 10 mine detection dogs to Bangladesh Army.
If such has been the level of partnership and camaraderie between both the nations, then one surely wonders that must a Bangladeshi cricketer apologize for attending a Hindu cultural event? Or, in spite of trying hard, is Dhaka badly struggling to stop the spread of Islamic fundamentalism at home?
“The religious conservatives in Bangladesh are no different; whenever a global conversation about Islamophobia arises, it is used as an opportunity to play on the sentiments of believers and promote certain intolerant agendas. This is where the authorities in Bangladesh have to navigate a slippery slope. We have already seen them give in to these intolerant voices, culminating in the removal of sculptures from public spaces and the removal of secular writers from our education curriculum. But once you give an inch, they are bound to take a mile, and we are now faced with demands that range from the distressing to the downright ridiculous,” Shuprova Tasneem, wrote in an editorial for The Daily Star.
A “slippery slope” it indeed is, and Bangladesh needs to act fast or else it won’t be too long before it would turn into another Pakistan—a country gone downhill.