PM makes `off-the-record` Bangladesh swipe

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JULY 2: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has claimed many Bangladeshis are “very anti-Indian”, in controversial remarks posted on his official website and then removed for being “off the record”.

The comments, splashed in Bangladeshi newspapers on Saturday, could ruffle relations between the South Asian neighbours whose ties have been chequered in the past.

Singh`s statements to newspaper editors in New Delhi earlier in the week come just ahead of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna`s official visit to the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, from July 6 to 8.

Singh`s claim, posted on the prime minister`s website on Wednesday, said “we must reckon that at least 25 percent of the population of Bangladesh swear by the Jamaat-e-Islami and they are very anti-Indian”.

The Jamaat-e-Islami is Bangladesh`s largest Islamist party and was part of the four-party Islamist-allied government between 2001 and 2006.

Singh added Jamaat-e-Islami members “are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI so the political landscape in Bangladesh can change at any time.”

India has long suspected members of the ISI, Pakistan`s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, of planning attacks on India, including the deadly 2008 assault on Mumbai by Pakistan-based guerrillas.

The prime minister`s office removed the remarks from his website on Friday, saying they were “off the record”.

“We put it out by mistake,” the Indian Express quoted the prime minister`s media adviser, Harish Kharem, as saying.

But Singh`s comments were headline news on Saturday in Bangladesh`s mass-circulation daily Samakal, which titled its lead article: “Uproar over Manmohan`s comments”.

The paper quoted Bangladesh agriculture minister Motia Chowdhury saying his claim was “not based on fact”.

Chowdhury noted the Jamaat-e-Islami got just four percent of votes in the last parliamentary elections, two-and-a-half years ago.

Jamaat-e-Islami also condemned the Indian`s prime minister`s comments, denying in a statement that it was anti-India and saying that the party “believes in the principle of having a good relationship with India.”

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