NEW DELHI has exchanged notes with Dhaka on the attacks on Hindu temples and Durga Puja venues in Bangladesh on Thursday, including the possibility of extremist elements trying to stir up communal tension. In a speech on the occasion of Durga Puja Thursday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hoped that India would take steps against any reaction at home, as it could have a fallout in Bangladesh.

Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami as well as the four consulates in Bangladesh have been in touch with officials, sources said.

According to officials, there was an alleged blasphemous incident at a Durga Puja pandal in Cumilla, about 100 km south-east of Dhaka, which has led to attacks on temples and pandals. In the resultant violence, four people have died and several have been left injured, including police personnel.

Associated Press reported that on Friday, thousands of people protesting against the alleged blasphemy clashed with police in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. Police said the protests began after the main Friday prayers. Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Sajjad Hossain said several people were injured as police used lathicharge and tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The protesters shouted anti-India slogans and accused Hasina of “being close with New Delhi”.

A preliminary assessment indicates the role of home-grown elements, with external support, in the attacks on the temples and Durga Puja pandals, given how the attacks these were carried out in a coordinated manner and at multiple locations. “The Bangladesh authorities are looking at the Jamaat-e-Islami’s involvement,” an official told The Indian Express.

In a speech delivered virtually to devotees at Dhakeshwari National Temple Thursday, Hasina said: “We expect that nothing happens there (in India) which could influence any situation in Bangladesh, affecting our Hindu community here… The incidents… are being thoroughly investigated. Nobody will be spared. It doesn’t matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished.”

The PM added that her government had never dithered from taking action against criminal elements irrespective of religion. “They must be found out. We did so in the past and will do it in the future as well. They must face appropriate punishment. We want such a punishment that no one dares do this in the future.”

Calling upon people to be vigilant against such elements, she said: “If we all work together, they will not be able to cause any harm.”

Hasina has reassured representatives of the Hindu community — who form about 10% of Bangladesh’s 169 million population — that they were taking all precautions to ensure there was no violence during immersion of idols of Goddess Durga.

The PM has asked Hindu community leaders, particularly those of the Bangladesh Puja Udjapon (Celebration) Committee, for details regarding the Puja mandaps across the country “keeping in mind the constraint of security personnel to ensure their safety and security”.

She urged the community to not consider themselves a minority and to perform their religious rituals with the same freedom as the others, saying they had fought as hard for the country’s liberation in 1971. “We believe that those who are born on the soil of this country and who are its children should practise their religion freely,” Hasina said, adding that she was determined to build Bangladesh as a peaceful country with no room for militancy or terrorism.

The government has deployed Border Guards Bangladesh troops in 22 of the 64 administrative districts across the country, and put the elite Rapid Action Battalion and armed police on alert.

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