Coronavirus, CAA put a pause on high-level visits

Coronavirus, CAA put a pause on high-level visits

PM Modi’s visit to Dhaka on March 17 is under way despite concerns over security

Planning for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka on March 17 is under way without any changes, said officials, despite concerns over security after several Islamist groups threatened major protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the Delhi violence.

On Friday, thousands of protesters, including those belonging to the influential Islamist coalitions “Hefazat e Islam” and “Jamiat Ulama e Islam”, demanded that the Bangladesh government cancel Mr. Modi’s visit for the centenary celebrations of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman there this month. When asked, government sources said they have already confirmed Mr. Modi would be visiting Bangladesh and there is no rethink. However, it is understood that the security teams in both capitals are monitoring all the protests held there since February 28 closely, including one expected on March 12 where clerics have called for a nationwide “human chain”, and have even threatened to block PM Modi’s airport route if the visit goes ahead.

A Bangladeshi official told The Hindu that all arrangements would be in place for the visit, and that protests “by a few groups” would not derail it.

The PM’s visit to Bangladesh, which would be his first trip abroad in 2020, marks the latest of high-level visits to face hiccups over the CAA protests, the COVID-19 scare and other issues. The scare that began in China has caused cancellations of nearly all major multilateral conferences and bilateral visits globally.

For PM Modi, a visit to Brussels for the E.U.-India summit and to Cairo, both scheduled for next week, have been put off due to the spread of the virus. Officials said no other visits have been scheduled now until a trip to Moscow on May 10 to attend the Victory Day anniversary celebrations there.

The troubles have also cast a shadow over some incoming visits. Since December, Bangladesh has cancelled four Minister-level visits including that of the Foreign and Deputy Foreign Ministers, the Home Minister and the Parliament Speaker’s last week, ostensibly due to upset over the CAA, which names Bangladesh among the three countries from where persecuted minorities will be granted fast-track citizenship. Also in March, four other high-level incoming visits expected to be scheduled were put off including those of leaders from Bhutan, Kazakhstan and Chile. Officials said the postponements all took place due to “domestic issues” in their own countries but with the virus scare, it is unlikely they can be rescheduled in the near future. Another visit looked forward to in April was that of Australian PM Scott Morrison, who was unable to visit in January because of the bushfires crisis there.

The visit of Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe who had to cancel his visit to Delhi and Guwahati due to the anti-CAA violence in Assam in December, is also unlikely to happen in April, as officials had been planning. Ties between India and Japan were strained this week over Tokyo’s demarche to Delhi over the government’s decision to cancel visas for Japanese travellers because of the COVID-19 cases there.

“The demarche said the situation in Japan is totally different from that of other countries [India suspended all visas granted to the nationals of Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan on or before March 3], on parameters including per capita incidence of the virus, rate of increase in patients etc, and this should have been considered before the decision,” a diplomatic source said.

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