Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently returned home from India after a very important four-day state visit to India. About 32 agreements, non-binding MOUs and protocols were inked or concluded, covering a wide range of areas — defence cooperation, energy and power sector, civilian use of nuclear power, road, rail and waterway communication, science and technology, trade and commerce. By rolling out the red carpet and extending an unprecedented warm reception to the PM and her entourage, India has honoured Bangladesh.
One may say that not concluding the long awaited Teesta river sharing agreement is a setback. But to say that Sheikh Hasina has returned to Bangladesh empty-handed or by selling out Bangladesh for nothing sounds ridiculous and childish. She is the daughter of the founding father of Bangladesh. She has taken Bangladesh to an enviable position of self-reliance in many aspects. She has successfully resolved many outstanding issues with India. No one would believe that she would do anything that would harm Bangladesh.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given his unqualified commitment that a Teesta River agreement will be definitely concluded during the tenure of both the governments of India and Bangladesh. This he said in the presence of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, who like trade union leaders continues bargaining over it. The top level policy makers of both governments have been committed to a deal on the Teesta since 2011. The framework of the agreement has been agreed. It is only because of the stubborn attitude of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, that the agreement is getting delayed.
Prime Minister Hasina made it crystal clear that good relations between the two friendly neighbours in the future are now very much contingent upon India agreeing to a legitimate share of the waters of all common rivers, including the Teesta. The Indian government is aware of the issue and even the leading India media carried articles from senior Indian political analysts in favour of an early conclusion of the agreement. Let us continue relying on Hasina and Modi regarding a deal on Teesta water sharing soon.
Beyond that, India has committed about 5 billion US$ soft term loan principally for energy & power infrastructure development. US$500 million is committed as loan for purchase of defence equipment as per requirements and choice of Bangladesh. The Indian government is committed to support internationally Bangladesh’s initiative for a recognition of March 25 as International Genocide Day. All freedom fighters of Bangladesh will get 5 years’ multiple entry visas for visiting India, 100 freedom fighters will get free medical treatment through Indian facilities every year and 10,000 scholarships will be given to the children of freedom fighters.
Additionally, Indian industrial entertainers will invest in Bangladesh. All erstwhile railway links that existed on the Assam-Bengal railway will be gradually restored. The two prime ministers inaugurated direct rail and road linkages between Khulna and Kolkata and railway transportation of diesel from India. Are these to be termed as returning home empty handed?
Some very responsible leaders of the opposition and their aligned intellectuals are terming the inking of non-binding MOUs for defence cooperation as a sell-out for Bangladesh. First, these are no binding agreements. Then they mostly relate to training of armed personnel in each other’s institutions, sharing experience and intelligence information for battling terrorism, engaging injoint military exercises, etc. These are very common among neighbouring countries and cannot be termed as selling Bangladesh’s interests.
Bangladesh under similar agreements has been buying military hardware from China, Russia, Italy and a few other countries. Only a few weeks back Bangladesh bought submarines from China. Bangladesh has bought combat aircraft from Russia and will buy modern helicopters from Russia again soon. In modern days if responsible politicians say buying weapons from a certain country goes against the country’s interest, they must be living in a fool’s paradise.
India is Bangladesh’s major neighbour. It is one of the fastest growing global economies. Moreover, India provided all out assistance to Bangladesh during the liberation war. Both countries can only benefit from mutual collaboration. Gone are the days of cheap anti-Indian politics and sentiments. In this time of media boom people can easily understand who is doing what and what has been the past proven record. Did not Hasina conclude the Ganges water sharing agreement with India, the Chittagong Hill Tracts peace treaty, border enclave exchange, maritime boundary resolution one by one? Did not she successfully manage investments from China, Japan, Russia, Korea, Malaysia and India to flow into Bangladesh at the same time? Did not she successfully have the war crimes trials and Bangabandhu murder trial take place?
Massive development works, including Padma Multipurpose Bridge construction. Payera sea port construction, Metro Railway project, four-lane highways all over the country, river tunnel below the Karnaphuly river, 100 special economic zones, development of power and energy hub at Matarbari/Maheskhali, Rooppur nuclear power plant are only because of the dynamism of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Because of her “Zero Tolerance” of terrorism the hideouts of subversive elements are getting wiped out.
Yes, there are still many unresolved issues. Yes, we need a legitimate share of the waters of all common rivers. We want credible action regarding appropriate tariff structures for removing the huge trade imbalance we have with India. And India now realises that Sheikh Hasina’s government has opened up all avenues for long lasting friendship based on respect for sovereign equality. The Indian government will only make a fool of itself before the world community if it does not reciprocate Bangladesh’s gesture.
In the circumstances, all patriotic citizens must call a spade a spade. The political leadership in the opposition must come forward with better programmes in order to earn people’s confidence. Otherwise their hollow statements of the country being sold off for nothing or the prime minister returning home empty handed will earn them nothing more than pity.