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India battles deportation perception

Khaleda Zia

New Delhi: India denied entry to Bangladesh National Party leader Khaleda Zia's British lawyer hours before he was to brief the media in New Delhi on Thursday on her case, but sought to dispel the perception that it was picking sides in Bangladesh politics ahead of parliamentary elections due there early next year.

Lord Alexander Carlile had picked India for his media briefing since Bangladesh has been sitting on his visa application.

Fielding questions from the media at the weekly briefing soon after Lord Carlile accused India of being "supine and slavish" to the Sheikh Hasina government's agenda, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar pointed out that India engages with all sides of Bangladesh's political spectrum and cited meetings with the BNP leadership during official visits.

This is not the first time India has been dragged into the domestic politics of other countries. Members of the Maldivian Opposition are frequent visitors and have addressed news conferences here but the difference, according to external affairs ministry officials, is that they clearly state their intent in their visa applications.

Lord Carlile, who is Khaleda's lead lawyer and a parliamentarian, was not allowed to enter India late on Thursday night as he did not have an "appropriate Indian visa".

Sheikh Hasina

In a post-midnight statement, the external affairs ministry said: "His intended activity in India was incompatible with the purpose of his visit as mentioned in his visa application."

Lord Carlile - a member of the Queen's Counsel and also the House of Lords - returned to London on a British Airways flight two hours later and addressed the media in Delhi on Thursday as scheduled through video conferencing where he said the revocation of visa without providing any reason had "wounded" his confidence in Indian democracy.

India's contention is that Lord Carlile did not state his intention to address a media conference in New Delhi in his visa application.

"His stated purpose did not match his intent for the visit, so the business e-visa issued to him was revoked. We had informed him in advance that his visa is no longer valid, and he came with a return boarding pass for a flight that left for London within two hours of his arrival," spokesperson Kumar said, contesting Lord Carlile's claim that he got to know of the revocation only on arrival.

Kumar sidestepped questions on how Lord Carlile managed to clear immigration at Heathrow if his passport had been revoked. The Englishman said his visa was checked through the automatic system twice at Heathrow before he emplaned.

Officials in New Delhi said it was possible the revocation of the visa did not show up on the system but laboured the point about the return boarding pass for a flight leaving soon after arrival.

Questioning Lord Carlile's motive, Kumar said: "He was trying to create problems between India and the Bangladesh government, and misunderstanding between India and the Opposition party in Bangladesh."

The spokesperson, however, did not confirm reports in the Bangladeshi media that India's mission in charge in Dhaka had been summoned to the foreign office there and told that Khaleda's lawyer should not be allowed to hold a media conference in Delhi.

Earlier, Lord Carlile had said in response to a question that the Indian government "knew perfectly well before I travelled what I was coming here for".

He said the media conference to highlight details of the case against Khaleda, who is in jail on corruption charges, had originally been scheduled to be held at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) but was called off three days ago.

FCC president S. Venkat Narayan told The Telegraph that no confirmation had been given to Lord Carlile as an invitation had already been extended to the South Korean ambassador to meet and brief ahead or before President Moon Jae-in's visit.

The FCC was expecting a confirmation from a Union minister and it was not possible to accommodate Lord Carlile on his preferred dates of Thursday or Friday. "We did facilitate by WhatsApping information about his briefing through video-conferencing to all our members," Narayan added.

Bangladesh high commission officials said the original plan was to also have some BNP members in New Delhi to be at the briefing with him.

"We would never have allowed this had the roles been reversed," is how one diplomat put it.

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