Asansol: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday iterated her commitment to building her country on the principles of secularism in a message that was significant as it came at a university named after poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, a secularist himself.
“We are trying to build Bangladesh on the principles of secularism,” Hasina told a special convocation at the fledgling Kazi Nazrul University where she was given an honorary DLitt.
The Bangladesh Premier, who has ignored constant criticism from a section of the domestic media and the Opposition that she is pro-India, also took care to explain why she considered Delhi her closest ally.
“India has always stood by us…. They took care of over one crore refugees during the 1971 war of independence…. In 1975, after the assassination of my father and other family members, I and Rehana (her sister) got refuge in India along with many others. We will always remain grateful to India.”
Hasina hailed India’s progress and linked it to its democratic system, which Bangladesh did not have for “21 long years” between 1975 and 1996 when the country was ruled by successive army regimes.
A Bangladeshi official said Hasina’s message was commendable. “She faces an election later this year and the radical forces will unite against her. She knows fully well that she may have to face a backlash for these comments, but still she sent out a firm message.”
The official said a controversy over her India trip had already started brewing after reports that she had lunch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the inauguration of Bangladesh Bhavana at Visva-Bharati on Friday.
“Some radicals have asked how she could have lunch during the holy month of Ramazan and that too on a Friday. Our PM is a religious person, but that doesn’t mean she would insult the PM of a neighbouring country,” he said. “Today’s comments indicate that such criticism doesn’t perturb her.”
In her 25-minute speech at the varsity, Hasina dwelt extensively on Nazrul, who is also the national poet of Bangladesh.
“He had the great ability to convey Islam’s message to common people in simple language… He also reached out to Hindus with his Shyama Sangeet and Vaishnava kirtans. He was, indeed, a rare talent,” she said in her address.
A day after paying tributes to Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan, Hasina made it clear that Nazrul, who was born in Churulia, 20km from the varsity, had a special place in her heart because of the liberal and pluralistic approach he had in his life and literature.
“I have had the honour of receiving awards in different countries. I have some invitations pending even now…. But the moment I was approached by Kazi Nazrul Islam University, I decided to come and I came running,” Hasina said.
The stress on Nazrul and his philosophy is significant in the context of present-day Bangladesh as radical Islam is gaining ground in different parts of the country. #While Hasina has always tried to uphold the spirit of secularism, she has often had to buy peace with Islamist pressure groups like the Hefazat-e-Islam.
With the repeated stress on Nazrul, Hasina probably sent out a message to the hardliners in her country that she would not bow down to these forces any more.