Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will visit India from September 5 to 8. As per his itinerary, he will reach New Delhi on the evening of September 5. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to hold a meeting with him on September 6. On the same day, he will pay a courtesy call on the President of India, Draupadi Murmu.
On the eve of this visit, the Indian media ANI aired an interview of Sheikh Hasina at 10:30 am on Sunday. Smita Prakash, editor of ANI, came to Dhaka and conducted this interview.
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The English interview has been translated and presented to the readers of The Daily Star Bengali.
ANI: You recently said to minority Hindus, ‘You have as much rights as I have.’ This is a great guarantee for minorities in a democratic country. Still Indians see various videos of idols being vandalized, attacked, etc. in temples. Although its number is less. Do you think that minorities are as safe as the majority in Bangladesh?
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina: We tried to ensure this while in power. I have always told them, you are our citizens, you have to consider Bangladesh as your own. Sometimes things happen. These are expected. However, we do not immediately take action against them. It is not only in Bangladesh but also in India many times minorities suffer.
Bangladesh is a secular state. People of many religions live in this country. There is religious harmony here. My government and party leaders are always aware of this. If any kind of incident happens, we do not take action against it immediately. I think there is a need for more mutual cooperation in this regard from both India and Bangladesh.
ANI: You are working tirelessly to ensure a secular state. But the Bangladeshi blogger community writes a lot on social media that Islamic extremists are now trying to turn Bangladesh towards extremism.
Sheikh Hasina: Look, extremists exist in every country. Even in India or many other countries of the world you will see that. Since social media is readily available, many people are writing many things there. Not only bloggers, many times people of other religions are also writing. But we are trying our best to control extremism. We never support them.
Everyone has an equal right to practice their religion. No one should say such things that hurt people of other religions. Festivals of every religion should be celebrated by everyone like cultural festivals. During Durga Puja in Bangladesh, you will see that the whole country is in a festive mood. Everyone celebrates together. So, religious harmony is here.
ANI: Bangladesh and India have mutual cooperation in border management, counter terrorism. Still the issue of cattle smuggling from India remains. Need more cooperation on this matter?
Sheikh Hasina: Already discussions are going on about this and such incidents have reduced a lot. Still, many times such incidents are happening.
Bangladesh is no longer dependent on Indian cattle. We are producing enough cattle in our country because we need it. Still, the border guards of the two countries are discussing to solve this border problem. We are getting assurances from them that it is decreasing. Surely this needs to stop.
ANI: Another issue is Rohingya. There are Rohingya refugees in India, there are hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh. As there is a humanitarian issue here, there are also increasing demands to return them to their own land, ensuring security of course. How do you see this matter?
Sheikh Hasina: It is a big burden for us now. India is a big country, you can give them space. But we don’t have that much space. There are 1.1 million Rohingya in Bangladesh. We are talking about this in the international arena, talking to the neighboring countries, so that they take measures to return the Rohingyas.
We have sheltered them on humanitarian grounds and are arranging everything for them. I gave them all corona vaccination. But how long will they be here? In the camp where they are staying, the environment is getting damaged. Many of them are involved in drug trafficking, women trafficking, armed conflicts. Day by day they are increasing. So, the sooner they go back, the better for us and for Myanmar. We are trying our best in this regard, discussing with them.
At that time (during the persecution of the military junta in Rakhine) the Rohingya were in terrible danger. We have extended our support to them. Now they should go back to their country. As a neighboring country, India can play a major role in this regard.
ANI: There is a lot of talk about family politics in India now. It is called harmful. Do you think it is not an issue in Bangladesh?
Sheikh Hasina: Yes, it’s not an issue.
ANI: Do you want your son (Sajeeb Wazed Joy) to enter politics?
Sheikh Hasina: He is a grown man. This decision is entirely up to him. But he is working for the country. We have done Digital Bangladesh. Satellites, submarine cables, computer training — digital systems are all in his plans and he’s helping me. But he never thought of taking any post in the party or ministry. Many demanded for him in the party conference. Then I told him, take the microphone and tell them what you want. He did that. He said I don’t want any post in the party now. Rather those who are working should get these posts. Why should I occupy a post? I am working with my mother, working for the country, I will do it.
That’s how he thinks. It is not that I will bring him into politics. It depends on the people.
ANI: The condition of the people of Bangladesh has improved more than before. Another thing is that there is no strong opposition party in Bangladesh in the discussion of the western world. Why is there no strong opposition in your country?
Sheikh Hasina: Our opponents are strong enough, not weak.
ANI: The powerful opposition only wants to see that Sheikh Hasina does not become the prime minister. I am talking about the opposition parties, whose demand is not only to oust Sheikh Hasina.
Sheikh Hasina: Rightly said. They tried to kill me again and again, but I survived. I was attacked with a grenade in broad daylight. I don’t know how I survived. The leaders and workers of our party surrounded me and formed a human shield. Shots were fired at my rally, I survived. A bomb was placed under the stage of my public meeting, luckily a tea seller saw it. Allah is helping me. Maybe Allah has given me a chance to do something.
In our country 2 opposition parties, BNP and Jatiya Party, have started military dictatorship. First they seized power, then they changed clothes and became politicians. They formed the government when they were in power. When someone in power forms a party, the common people do not have much contact with them. But Awami League is the oldest political party in this subcontinent. Our prey and power are our people. People see that if this party is in power, they get help in shaping their future. Bangladesh has become self-sufficient in food in the last 10 years. We are distributing free food; Created social safety nets for widows, seniors, disabled, providing financial assistance to them; The landless got houses; Getting free primary health care. We are working on education. I have opened up every sector for private business and am giving all sorts of incentives. Because I want everyone to have employment.
ANI: If there is no opposition, who else would want to do the things you are doing? Is this the case?
Sheikh Hasina: If you look at our history, you will see what was the state of the country when other parties were in power. They have killed the leaders and workers of our party just to come to power and keep the power axed. They killed people, bombed, set fire to buses-trains-private cars-autorickshaws. If they are in the opposition party, this is a sample of their movement. Why should people support them when they see that if they are in the opposition they are killing people. From power they have committed corruption, have become the owners of a lot of money. Terrorism happened in their time. You can imagine that there are 500 bomb blasts in one hour in one day in this country. Their abuse of power, terrorist activities, corruption, nepotism—everything has led people to reject them. That is the main point.
When Awami League came back to power, we worked for the development of the country. We did not retaliate. We have given all our ability only for the development of the country.
Internal communication of the country is very important. You were telling me about the situation in Sri Lanka, while Bangladesh built the Padma Bridge with its own money. We have not received any money from anyone for this. I have shown people that we can do it if we want to.