The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Border cloud on bhasha movement anniversary

Calcutta, Feb. 20: Bangla bhasha, it seems, has lost its power to bridge the international boundary and the gap between the two Bengals, which now appear on opposite sides in most political debates.

A cultural programme to mark the February-21 language movement, staged by two organisations perceived to be sympathetic to the cause of Bangladeshi refugees who continue to pour into India, was given the miss by one of the key participants — Bangladeshi deputy high commissioner Mohammad Tauhid Hossain — this evening.

The programme on the eve of the anniversary of the Bhasha Andolan, which was (with the movement to save the Bengali language) also a war-cry for freedom from the Pakistani rulers, was organised by the Bharat-Bangladesh Maitri Samiti (chaired by veteran freedom-fighter Phulrenu Guha) and the Suchetana Akademi at Sisir Mancha.

There was no explanation for Hossain’s absence with the organisers.

Head of chancery of the Bangladeshi mission in the city Mahbub Hassan Saleh said the deputy high commissioner “should be busy in some other programme”. He had no idea what that programme was about. “I don’t know whether that one, too, is about ekushe (21st) February,” Saleh admitted.

The head of chancery, however, added that Hossain would “definitely” be present at another programme to be held at the same venue tomorrow. “The deputy high commission is behind that programme and he (the deputy high commissioner) will not give it a miss,” he said.

But the organisers were left red-faced. “He was supposed to come here,” mumbled the general secretary of the samiti, Ajay De.

“We have no idea what has held up Janab Hossain,” said the general secretary of the Akademi, Bidyut Debnath.

Some, however, felt the deputy high commissioner’s absence — and the head of chancery’s standing in — was not “totally unexpected”. Since the last general election in Bangladesh (in October 2001), which saw Khaleda Zia wrest power with the help of assorted fundamentalist organisations, and the consequent influx of refugees, overwhelmingly from the minority Hindu community, relations had not been “exactly cordial”, they said.

Relations reached the nadir during the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Rifles a few weeks ago over the status of 213 Bangladeshi snake-charmers staying illegally off the Cooch Behar border.

“In diplomatic customs, deputing someone — even if he is just a rank below in the pecking order — is a loud message,” one of the organisers admitted.

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