Blood Rel­a­tives

The affin­ity be­tween In­dia and Bangladesh was fur­ther em­pha­sised re­cently.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

In­dian prime min­is­ter, Naren­dra Damodar Modi’s thirty-six hour maiden visit to Bangladesh on June 5 was his­toric in many re­spects. He was vis­it­ing a coun­try that In­dia had mid­wifed and must have heaved a long sigh of sat­is­fac­tion at his coun­try’s “achieve­ment,” even though it had been fa­cil­i­tated by Pak­istan’s own de­fault, be­cause the sit­u­a­tion would have been quite dif­fer­ent had the lat­ter not blun­dered the way it did.

It was also to rein­vig­o­rate In­dia’s sen­ti­men­tal re­la­tion­ship with Bangladesh Prime Min­is­ter, Sheikh

Hasina Wa­jed be­cause, Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi had taken along with her sis­ter, Rai­hana, un­der her moth­erly care when her en­tire fam­ily - fa­ther, mother and three broth­ers were mowed down by as­sas­sins at home. Sub­se­quently, In­dia’s suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have been treat­ing her as In­dia’s foster child.

The oc­ca­sion was mem­o­rable be­cause of a sheaf of 22 agree­ments that the prime min­is­ters of Bangladesh and In­dia inked. Among them were

Ex­change of In­stru­ments of Rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the1974 Land Bound­ary Agree­ment and its 2011 pro­to­col, a Bi­lat­eral Trade Agree­ment, a Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing on Blue Econ­omy and Mar­itime Co­op­er­a­tion in the Bay of Ben­gal and the In­dian Ocean and many oth­ers.

The agree­ments were rounded off with a Joint Dec­la­ra­tion is­sued on the last day of Modi's visit and reaf­firmed the "un­equiv­o­cal and un­com­pro­mis­ing po­si­tion against ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism in all forms and man­i­fes­ta­tions” of the two coun­tries.

The most im­por­tant among these agree­ments was the one re­lat­ing to the land bound­ary. It was first signed by founder of Bangladesh and Hasina’s fa­ther, Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man, in 1974. Since then, for 41 years it had been lan­guish­ing be­cause In­dia dragged its feet on the is­sue of im­ple­ment­ing it, ob­vi­ously, be­cause the re­sul­tant ex­change of en­claves be­tween the two coun­tries would give more land to Bangladesh.

Now, armed with Lok Sabha ap­proval Modi, signed the his­toric doc­u­ment un­der which 111 en­claves stretch­ing over 17,160 acres would go to Bangladesh and 51 en­claves com­pris­ing 7,110 acres would go to In­dia. The only ir­ri­tat­ing prob­lem that still re­mained to be re­solved re­lated to the shar­ing of wa­ters of the Teesta and Feni rivers flow­ing be­tween Bangladesh and West Ben­gal over which the In­dian state chief min­is­ter, Ma­mata Ban­er­jee had reser­va­tions. But given the new ca­ma­raderie, it was be­ing hoped that the is­sue would be am­i­ca­bly re­solved soon.

In fact Ma­mata Ban­er­jee, whom Naren­dra Modi in­cluded in his en­tourage, must have been de­lighted to join Modi and Hasina flag off the new Dhaka-Gwa­hati-Shil­long and Kolkata Dhaka-Agar­tala bus ser­vices. These are happy au­guries. The day may not be far when the old prepar­ti­tion rail ser­vice be­tween Kolkata and Silig­uri (Dar­jeel­ing) and be­tween Kolkata and Amin­gaon across Bangladesh would be re­vived.

Apart from these for­mal ac­tiv­i­ties the In­dian prime min­is­ter also took time to visit the In­dian chancery in Dhaka. He prayed at the Ram Kr­ishna Mis­sion tem­ple and ad­dressed a se­lect gath­er­ing of media per­sons, busi­ness­men, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, aca­demi­cians, artistes and stu­dents of the Dhaka Univer­sity. In his speech he com­pli­mented his host for her ac­tions to com­bat ter­ror­ism. "I am happy that Bangladesh Prime Min­is­ter, de­spite be­ing a woman, has de­clared zero tol­er­ance for ter­ror­ism, he said.

“De­spite be­ing a woman” was an in­no­cent re­mark made in all sin­cer­ity. It ac­knowl­edged the hur­dles in the way of a woman in a con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety like Bangladesh to take such bold steps as Hasina has done. But some peo­ple made it a gen­der is­sue and de­plored it as sex­ist and deroga­tory. Even Washington Post splashed the story un­der the head­line, "In­dia’s Modi just de­liv­ered the world’s worst com­pli­ment.”

Modi also took a pot shot at Pak­istan, lament­ing that it was a cause of per­pet­ual an­noy­ance "Pak­istan aaye din (con­stantly) dis­turbs In­dia, jo naako dum la deta hai ( cre­ates nui­sance), ter­ror­ism ko bad­hawa deta ghat­naayein ghatthi re­hti hain (pro­motes ter­ror­ism so in­ci­dents con­tinue to oc­cur),” he said.

In the same con­text, he re­called that 90,000 Pak­istani pris­on­ers of war were in In­dia's cap­tiv­ity dur­ing the 1971 Bangladesh Lib­er­a­tion War and proudly ob­served, “If we had a di­a­bolic mind­set, we don't know then what de­ci­sion we would have taken.” The claim, how­ever, ex­posed the small­ness of his mind in­stead of adding to his stature be­cause those who do a noble deed do not trum­pet about it.

Em­pha­siz­ing In­dia’s con­ti­gu­ity with Bangladesh, Modi said that while peo­ple thought we were just paas-paas (side by side), now the world will have to ac­knowl­edge that we are not just paas-paas but also sath-sath(to­gether).

Modi also made a ref­er­ence to In­dia’s role in the in­de­pen­dence of Bangladesh say­ing that when Bangladesh pro­gresses, In­dia feels proud be­cause In­dian sol­diers too have shed their blood for the birth of this coun­try.

How­ever, the state­ment, at best, was in­tended to bring home to the peo­ple of Bangladesh how much they owe to In­dia for their in­de­pen­dence and what they should do to re­pay the debt. Modi was not mak­ing any rev­e­la­tion about In­dia’s role in the dis­mem­ber­ment of Pak­istan. That role is well-known and well-doc­u­mented. In fact, Pak­istan, by declar­ing war on In­dia, it­self opened the way for the In­dian army to en­ter East Pak­istan openly by land and air.

Yet, Modi’s re­marks sent the Pak­istani lead­er­ship into a com­mo­tion. The speech was treated as provoca­tive and drew flak from the civil and mil­i­tary lead­er­ship, alike from for­eign af­fairs ad­viser Sar­taj Aziz, to for­ma­tion com­man­ders of the army, while the For­eign Of­fice came out with its own “re­grets.”

Lost in the brouhaha, though, was Modi’s cru­cial ref­er­ence to con­nec­tiv­ity among In­dia, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. He plans to cre­ate a “mini-SAARC” which would be ge­o­graph­i­cally com­pact and mu­tu­ally co­op­er­a­tive.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to a Times of In­dia re­port, the path has been al­ready bro­ken. “In­dia, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh have inked a Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Agree­ment for the reg­u­la­tion of pas­sen­ger, per­son­nel and cargo ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic in Thimpu, Bhutan. The agree­ment will en­able seam­less move­ment of peo­ple and goods across the borders for the eco­nomic ben­e­fit of the en­tire re­gion.”

It is this that other SAARC coun­tries should re­flect upon.

Modi’s re­marks sent the Pak­istani lead­er­ship into a com­mo­tion.

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