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On a low key

On a low key

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: November 6, 2001

Seeing a problem in its right perspective is often half solving it. There is no point denying, as officials at Writers' Buildings and the Bangladesh deputy high commission in Calcutta initially did, that some Hindu families had actually fled their homes in that country and crossed over to West Bengal.. There is enough reason to suspect that they were forced to do this after suffering attacks on their lives and property in the aftermath of the October 1 general elections in Bangladesh. But to suggest that the migrations amount to another wave of refugee influx across the border would be blowing things out of proportion. Equally misleading would be the insinuation that the forced migrations reflect a widespread communal backlash by the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies against the Hindus, the majority of whom traditionally vote for the Awami League. There are credible reports that supporters of the BNP and the Jamat-e-Islami were involved inmost of the attacks on the Hindus. But to suggest that these criminal acts represent a tool of state policy for Ms Khaleda Zia's new dispensation is to grossly overreact to the situation. Since the issue is communal, it is absolutely necessary that reactions be restrained and responsible. Fortunately, most public responses in both countries have been encouragingly positive. There have been protests in Dhaka by civil liberty groups and others against isolated attacks on the Hindus. Despite attempts by the odd Hindutva outfit to foment communal passions, public disapproval in India has also been measured.

West Bengal's chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, may have stated only the official position when he said that these refugees would have to go back home. Although the state unit of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress have appealed to the government not to "push back" the refugees across the border, it is unlikely that, this will be done without India and Bangladesh officially acknowledging the problem. The recent meeting of the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee's emissary, Mr Brajesh Mishra, with Ms Zia in Dhaka suggested that the two sides were unwilling to highlight the matter at least for the moment. Obviously, New Delhi does not want to begin its engagement of the new regime in Dhaka with a communally sensitive issue. But the diplomatic back channels have to take it up before the problem gets worse and becomes an opportunity for communal elements in both countries to exploit. Unless checked in time, the trickles of refugee migrations may spread to other eastern states like Assam, Tripura and even Bihar. Dhaka cannot want Hindu-baiting by some elements to stall the progress on important bilateral issues with India. But it remains the bounden duty of Ms Zia's government to ensure the security of the minority population in her country. If she achieves that, she will send out positive signals to India for future dialogue on substantive issues.

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