Ahead of her visit to India, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday discussed several issues stating that her country believes in secularism and the protection of minorities. PM Hasina called India a ‘tested friend’ and hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for providing COVID-19 vaccines and rescuing Bangladeshi students from war-hit Ukraine. The Bangladesh Prime Minister also got emotional as she shared the story behind the chilling assassination of her family members in 1975.
In an interview with news agency ANI, Sheikh Hasina asserted India is Bangladesh’s ‘tested friend’ as the country remembers New Delhi’s contribution during the 1971 war. She said, “Both the countries are very close neighbours and I always give priority to friendship with our neighbouring countries. This visit will focus on our business, trade and our bonding that is important”.
Balancing trade with India and China
Sheikh Hasina asserted that her country chooses a balanced approach regarding the India-China relationship and added she does not put her nose between the two countries. She stressed that her foreign policy is quite clear: “Friendship to all, malice to none”. When asked about the way she balances trade between the world’s most populous countries, Hasina said she does not want to interfere in the matter and underscored that her main agenda has always been focused on the development of Dhaka.
“Our foreign policy is very clear- friendship to all, malice to none. If there’s a problem, it’s between China and India. I don’t want to put my nose there. When you are living just side-by-side some problem will come up or remain or you can solve it. So yeah, we still have a little bit of issues but I think that we will continue our dialogue and we should solve it ourselves. And for our development we need cooperation from any country who offers it us, which is of course suitable for our country,” said PM Hasina.
#SheikhHasinaInterview | India is our neighbour. We’ve a very good relationship. We’ve problems but we’ve solved many. Both India & China, I feel that we shouldn’t fight: Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina
Watch- https://t.co/fyBXoahycc pic.twitter.com/V1KUABYjoa — Republic (@republic) September 4, 2022
Sheikh Hasina recalls horror of family’s massacre
PM Sheikh Hasina also recounted the horror of her family’s assassination in the interview. She recalled how she changed her identity and became a resident in Delhi’s posh Pandara Road in a bid to escape the killer of her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. She hailed the then-Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, for providing her with shelter and security in Delhi. Notably, PM Hasina’s father and family members were killed in cold blood on August 15, 1975, by senior army officers which pushed Bangladesh into political chaos and resulted in a military regime.
“On August 15, I heard this news and it was unbelievable that someone who is a Bengali can do this. Still, my husband and I didn’t know what exactly had happened. We only knew that there was a coup and then we heard my father was assassinated. But we didn’t know all family members were assassinated”, said Sheikh Hasina.
“It was a very difficult time. For a few moments, I didn’t know where I was. But I thought about my sister, she is, actually, she’s 10 years younger than me. So, I thought about how she will take it. It is so difficult for her. Then when we returned to Delhi, at first they put us in a house with all security, because they were also worried about us”.
Till 1981, Hasina lived in Delhi under a different name, with a pseudo-identity. However, irrespective of every atrocity, the Indian government was supportive of the War of Liberation. Discussing if she herself was a possible target, Hasina said that the miscreants had also carried out attacks at the houses of other relatives and killed some of her kin. With moist eyes and fighting back tears, Sheikh Hasina said, “Almost 18 members and some, mostly my relatives and then some maid servants and their children and then some guests, my uncle were among those killed.”
#SheikhHasinaInterview | It was really unbelievable. Unbelievable that any Bengali could do it. And we still didn’t know what really happened: Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina fights back tears, recalls 1975 assassination
Watch here – https://t.co/fyBXoahycc pic.twitter.com/3cwUsXHkJh — Republic (@republic) September 4, 2022
Bangladesh won’t plunge into economic crisis like Sri Lanka
Amid reports of Bangladesh plunging into an economic crisis like Sri Lanka, PM Sheikh Hasina rebutted the claims and said her country is proceeding as per the blueprint designed for development. She underscored that like other countries, Bangladesh was also hit by several external factors such as the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and asserted the country’s economy continues to maintain a robust shape despite significant hurdles.
“Our economy, still is very strong. Though, we faced this COVID-19 pandemic, now the Ukraine-Russia war. That has its effect here. But in debt rate, Bangladesh always pays all its debts timely. So our debt rate is very low. In the context of Sri Lanka, our economic trajectory and the development, it is very much planned and calculative,” the Bangladesh Premiere told ANI News Editor Smita Prakash on Sunday.
#LIVE | Our economy is still very strong.Though we faced COVID, Ukraine-Russia war, Bangladesh repays debts on time. I assure it won’t happen: Sheikh Hasina on observers who say Bangladesh can face a situation similar to Sri Lankahttps://t.co/ti6iX3Qbbr pic.twitter.com/YT8Ok7mggc — Republic (@republic) September 4, 2022
“I think the whole world is facing an economic problem. We are also. But yes, some people raise this issue. Oh, Bangladesh will be Sri Lanka. But I can assure you, no, that will not happen. Because all our development plans, what we prepare and we implement, are based on the return. How would people be the beneficiary? Otherwise, I don’t take any project (for) just spending money,” Hasina said.
Sheikh Hasina thanks PM Modi for Vaccine Maitri, evacuating Bangladeshis from Ukraine
Talking about India’s Vaccine Maitri programme, Bangladesh’s PM said that the programme was a very prudent initiative by PM Modi. “I really thank Prime Minister Modi for this initiative, and that way he… you know, contributed vaccines to not only Bangladesh but also some south Asian countries, and it’s really very helpful. And it’s a really prudent initiative he has taken, and besides that, we bought vaccines with our own money, and many other countries also contributed,” Sheikh Hasina said.
She also lauded PM Modi for evacuating Bangladeshi students, who like many Indians, were stuck in Ukraine and its neighbouring countries after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine War. “I really would like to express my thanks to Prime Minister that during this war between Russia and Ukraine, many of our students were just stuck and they came to Poland to shelter. But when you evacuate your students, Indian students, they also brought our students back home. So it is really… You have shown a clearly friendly gesture. I thank Prime Minister for this initiative,” Sheikh Hasina said.
#SheikhHasinaInterview | Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina thanks PM Modi for India’s Vaccine Maitri program, terms evacuation of Bangladesh nationals from war-torn Ukraine by India as a ”friendly gesture”
Watch here – https://t.co/Xg952KhaqN pic.twitter.com/itwr2wnGfK — Republic (@republic) September 4, 2022
Concerns over safety of minorities
PM Hasina also assured the predominantly Hindu minorities in her country and the global community at large that her government strongly supports secularism and that any attempts to disturb communal harmony are immediately dealt with. She, however, contended that extremism was not limited to Bangladesh as many countries including India were witnessing it. She said one of the reasons for the rise in extremism was social media.
The Bangladeshi PM said, “As long as we are in power, we always give importance to the minorities and I always tell them that you are our citizens. You should own our country. Some incidents do take place at times but we take immediate action. Sometimes unwanted situations are created but you know very well it is not only Bangladesh, even in India sometimes minorities suffer.”
Commenting on the role of radicals and others on social media, Hasina said that it is not desirable that people write things to hurt each other and added that her government tries to curb any such activity. “Look extremism is everywhere, even in India or other parts of the world. Social media has become very very bad nowadays. Some people write inciteful things about other religions. We never support that. Everyone has the right to practice their religion and one should not make hurtful comments about another religion,” she said.
On relations with Rohingyas
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina termed the Rohingya Muslims taking refuge in the nation as a ‘big burden’ on her country and asserted India could play a major role in resolving the issue. She said that her country is reaching out to the international community to ensure the return of the refugees to their homeland.
“For us, it’s a big burden. India is a vast country, you can accommodate, but you don’t have much. But in our country. We have 1.1 million Rohingya. We are consulting with the international community and also our neighbouring countries. They should also take some steps so that they can go back home,” Hasina said.
#SheikhHasinaInterview | For us, it’s a big burden. On humanitarian grounds, we give Rohingyas shelter but how long will they stay here?: Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina on Rohingyashttps://t.co/ti6iX3Qbbr pic.twitter.com/78LjWCOgj3 — Republic (@republic) September 4, 2022
Sheikh Hasina on assassination attempt & Opposition
On assassination attempts against her, Sheikh Hasina said, “They tried to kill me, several times, yeah, but I survived. Even though in the broad daylight there was a grenade attack. I don’t know how I survived. Our party leaders, workers they just covered me, made human shields so they received all the splinters but I… I was totally safe. Then there was an open fire in my meeting, but I survived. They placed a huge bomb in my meeting place. Somehow it was discovered. So I survived”.
She further said, “If you go through our history you will see that when the other party was in power, what was the situation in the country. Just to remain in power, keeping or grabbing the power, they killed our party leaders, and workers. They kill people, they throw bombs or they set fire to trains or private cars or rails. Everywhere they killed people. That is their, you know… movement in Opposition. So when people see that they’re killing innocent people in the name of the movement, then why they should support them and during their time, the corruption, all through their corruption, they made lots of money.”