Bangladesh Foreign Minister cancels India trip, MEA rules out CAB connection

New Delhi: Bangladesh's Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen has cancelled his three-day visit to India beginning Thursday, a day after terming as "untrue" Home Minister Amit Shah's comments on persecution of minorities in Bangladesh.

The External Affairs Ministry said Momen has conveyed to India about postponement of his visit from December 12-14 due to scheduling issues, and asserted that Shah never said religious persecution took place in Bangladesh during the tenure of the current government.

Diplomatic sources said Momen decided not to go ahead with the visit due to prevailing situation arising out of passage of controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament.

"The Bangladesh side has conveyed that the minister has changed his programme on account of domestic issues pertaining to the commemoration of the 'Victory Day' in Bangladesh on December 16," MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said at a media briefing.

"Any speculation that this development is connected with legislation adopted by Parliament on Wednesday regarding the Citizenship Amendment Bill is unwarranted," he said, adding ties between the two countries were going through a "golden phase".

In a statement in Dhaka, Momen said he had to cancel his trip to India due to pressing engagement in Bangladesh and that he was looking forward to visiting India in January.

"I had to cancel my trip to New Delhi as I have to participate in the 'Buddijibi Debosh' and 'Bijoy Debosh' and more so as our State Minister is out of the country in Madrid and our Foreign Secretary is in the Hague," he said.

The citizenship bill seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim persecuted religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha on Monday while Rajya Sabha cleared it on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Momen said in Dhaka that the Citizenship Bill could weaken India's historic character as a secular nation and rejected the allegations that the minorities faced religious persecution in his country.

He also termed as "untrue" comments of Shah that minorities were persecuted in that country.

At present, Momen noted, the two countries were enjoying close ties which he said is termed as "golden chapter" of bilateral ties, adding "so, naturally our people (Bangladeshis) expect that India won't do anything that could create anxiety among them".

Kumar said, during debate on the bill in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, Shah talked about persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh during the Army rule after the tenure of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

"As long as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was leading Bangladesh, everything worked very well. But once his government went, minorities began to be oppressed. I can tell you that a large number of Bangladeshi Hindus had to come here to seek refuge...," according to transcript of Shah's comments shared by the MEA.

"The current government in Bangladesh is also taking care of religious minorities. It is making arrangements also for religious minorities, but there has been a long period in the past in between, during which people came to India on account of religious persecution," it said.

There have been massive protests in Assam and several Northeastern states against the proposed legislation.

According to the bill, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, following religious persecution will be given Indian citizenship.

The Bangladesh foreign minister was scheduled to address a combined session of Delhi Dialogue XI and India Ocean Dialogue VI in New Delhi besides holding talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

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