The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Funds freeze on Bangla listening post

Calcutta, Dec. 15: The Union governments’ decision to withdraw funding to one of its more important eyes on Bangladesh, the Centre for Research in Indo-Bangladesh Relations, in the midst of an army and fundamentalist crackdown on India-friendly “dissidents” there has surprised official circles here.

The withdrawal of government help to the research centre, coinciding with the war of words between Delhi and Dhaka after deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani accused Bangladesh of hosting forces “inimical to Indian interests” and emphatic denials from the Khaleda Zia government, could not have been timed worse, said sources in the research centre.

Without government aid, the Calcutta-based centre — set up in 1991 with direct help from the ministry of external affairs — is unlikely to pull through for long, said officials. It has already been forced to whittle down the number of employees from 12 to half that figure.

“We are not being able to pay even the salary of those we are forced to engage for day-to-day work,” centre director Bimal Pramanik told The Telegraph.

Of the 10-12 researches the centre used to conduct every year, many were of “vital importance” to the government, officials said. The intelligence agencies’ focus on the curriculum and goings-on inside unrecognised madarsas close to the border — an issue over which chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had voiced concern — was a result of feedbacks from the centre, they said.

The projects it handled provided “eye-openers” to successive Central governments and agencies. The growing Islamisation of the Bangladeshi society and polity and the spurt in anti-India opinion following Khaleda Zia’s election in 2001 were among the recent issues the researches addressed.

The research centre, particularly around this time, could help Indian interests immensely by working without the encumbrances that other government agencies (like the RAW) would face, officials said. The rationale behind the government notification was “very difficult to explain”, they added.

The centre used to get Rs 5 lakh as grants from the ministry of external affairs when it was set up. Financial constraints brought that figure down but it still got anything between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 4 lakh.

Things, however, nose-dived after the mass migration of minorities and dissidents from the neighbouring country following the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s ascendancy to power with the help of “assorted fundamentalist organisations like the Jamaat”, officials here said.

The centre, besides a lot of work on the spate in the refugee influx, had organised a seminar that discussed the problem “in its entirety”.

The reaction was on expected lines. Dhaka told the Indian high commission there that the centre was promoting “anti-Bangladesh activities”, officials said today.

Soon after that protest, the foreign ministry sent a team to the research centre for an “inspection”. It went back “satisfied” but the funds were not released in April.

The official intimation — of the withdrawal of grants — was routed through a deputy secretary (in charge of Bangladesh affairs) in the ministry of external affairs, S.K. Reddy. Protests and appeals, including those to Advani, have elicited no response, said centre officials.

“We are now looking forward to some of our remaining projects to pull us through for some time,” said Pramanik. “But, this way, the centre will not survive too long.”

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