Indian Decade

Singh Upsets Bangladesh

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh upsets Bangladesh after suggesting many are anti-Indian in an off-the-record interview.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already tied himself up in knots with his media outreach programme – so much so, that one ones wonders if he’ll have already abandoned his recent idea of weekly meetings with leading editors.

The problem stems from some off-the-record comments he made tied to his meeting with five print editors on June 29. In that meeting, he reportedly gave his assessment of the situation in Bangladesh, and stated that at least 25 percent of the population ‘swear by the Jamiat-e-Islami, and they are very anti-Indian, and they are in the clutches, many times, of (Pakistan’s) ISI.’

Compounding the problem, the Prime Minister’s Office posted his remarks on its official website on Wednesday, only to remove them a day later when leading Bangladeshi dailies went to town with his comments.

The Bangladeshi media reported that the country’s foreign office summoned the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka on July 3 to protest Singh’s gaffe. India’s External Affairs Ministry, for its part, denied that the Indian envoy in Dhaka, Ranjeet Mitter, had been ‘summoned’ and described such reports as ‘speculative.’ MEA spokesman Vishnu Prakash tweeted: ‘Our HC (High commissioner) in Dhaka 2 (to) meet BD (Bangladesh) FS (foreign secretary) 2day (today) to discuss forthcoming official visit of EAM (External Affairs Minister) to BD.’

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This latest embarrassment has something of a déjà vu feeling to it, with Singh having drawn criticism last year when his off-the-record remarks on the threat China posed to India ended up being splashed across mainstream media. 

This latest gaffe comes just ahead of an official visit to Bangladesh by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, who is scheduled to travel there on July 6. Singh himself, meanwhile, plans to visit Dhaka in September.

It’s a troubling sign when the government can’t even properly handle the prime minister’s encounters with the media. Is it losing control?