Feature Img

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has left Dhaka after witnessing the exchange of land boundary agreement documents, and the launch of two new bus services that kickstart a new era of connectivity between India and Bangladesh. Pictured (L to R): Indian PM Narendra Modi, PM Sheikh Hasina, Indian WB CM Mamata Banerjee.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has left Dhaka after witnessing the exchange of land boundary agreement documents, and the launch of two new bus services that kickstart a new era of connectivity between India and Bangladesh. Pictured (L to R): Indian PM Narendra Modi, PM Sheikh Hasina, Indian WB CM Mamata Banerjee.

There were the realities that were not to be missed about Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh. Not a single cabinet minister accompanied him. A political tradition which dictates that the foreign minister of a country accompany its head of government abroad simply went missing here. Sushma Swaraj, no fan of Modi but suitably caged as India’s foreign minister, was not with her leader in Dhaka. There was a phalanx of bureaucrats and businessmen, along with a large group of India’s media people, who descended on Bangladesh’s capital to see their prime minister in action.

And Narendra Modi was indeed in hyperactive mode. His trip was a powerful reassertion of contemporary political thought that only Modi matters in India. Save for Arun Jaitley, no cabinet minister speaks out of turn. Indeed, no minister speaks. It is always Modi. He has been to eighteen countries since taking charge of India more than a year ago. In those lands and at home, he has carefully developed and cultivated, in all the subtlety he can muster, a cult of personality that surely cannot be missed. That Modi speaks for India, that at this point in time he seeks to symbolise the spirit of India, is what comes through. And it came through in Dhaka in all its vibrancy.

And Bangladesh went out on a limb to welcome him with effusiveness not seen in a very long time. Back in March 1972, tens of thousands of grateful Bengalis turned out to welcome Indira Gandhi and for good reason here in Dhaka. Had she not been around in 1971 or had she adopted a hands-off position on the Bangladesh question, history may well have turned out differently. But she was there, speaking for a struggling people in the councils of the world. On 16 December 1971, she informed a cheering Indian parliament, “Dhaka is today the free capital of a free country.”

In 1972, it was a true friend in times of need we welcomed here in Dhaka. Forty three years on, it was Narendra Modi on whom Bengalis showered their affection and, to a certain extent, their gratitude. The affection and the gratitude were directly linked to the Modi government’s swift, decisive action in having the Land Boundary Agreement, negotiated by Indira Gandhi and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1974, ratified by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The ratification came a little late in the day, the delay altogether amounting to forty-one years. But where none of his predecessors could convince India’s politicians down the years that morality demanded a full, unqualified adoption of the LBA, Modi went ahead and did the job. And so Bangladesh’s people were on standby to welcome him with open arms on Saturday.

And yet that mood of welcome was also linked to the expectation that Prime Minister Modi might just spring a surprise around the Teesta question in the course of his stay in Dhaka. Realism of course dictated that hopes need not be raised to a level where a failure to meet them would result in grave disappointment. And, yes, there were the pragmatists in Bangladesh circles who readily comprehended the truth that Modi would not deliver Teesta to us on this trip. Miracles, they said, did not happen anymore. But there were those who did not quite agree. For them, miracles never cease.

Observe the presence of Mamata Banerjee in Dhaka. Back in 2011, she publicly refused to join Manmohan Singh on his visit to Bangladesh; and thus what could well have been a moment of glory for both Bangladesh and India, in the shape of a deal on Teesta water-sharing, did not come to pass.

This time around, for all her visceral dislike of Modi, Banerjee did not engage in a public quarrel. Of course, she arrived separately and stayed in separate accommodation. That did not matter for our miracle-seekers. She was in town with her nation’s leader. Could something of a positive note be happening? In the end, nothing happened. Unlike Manmohan Singh, though, Narendra Modi was not ready to give anyone the idea that Teesta was once again a failure. He sweetened the non-happening with pious expressions of hope and promise. The matter of Teesta water-sharing, he told his hosts, would be resolved. Bengalis need not worry. Much good, in other areas, had come of this visit, hadn’t it?

As many as twenty two agreements had been initialled, a deal on energy was reached with Reliance and Adani, bus services between Dhaka and places like Guwahati were inaugurated. Both Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina renewed their commitment to a secure, terrorism-free South Asia. These were certainly achievements that strengthened the old bonds between the two countries. And they held out the possibility that sooner or later, sooner rather than later, Delhi and Dhaka would arrive at a mutually acceptable deal on the sharing of the Teesta waters. The Indian prime minister held out that possibility at what turned out to be his valedictory address at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre before flying back home. Abar aashibo — will come again — he told his already starstruck audience. The applause was loud … and became louder.

Narendra Modi’s visit began — and ended — on a groundswell of excitement interspersed with irony. It was irony when Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali confidently informed the media that there was no possibility of the Indian leader scheduling a meeting with former prime minister Khaleda Zia. Minutes later came the announcement from the Indian side that indeed a meeting between Modi and Begum Zia was on the cards.

The alacrity with which Bangladesh’s ministers often go for indiscreet comments boggles the mind. Four years ago, Ali’s predecessor Dipu Moni ignored the clear statements coming out of Delhi and Kolkata prior to the Manmohan Singh visit on a non-possibility of any deal on the Teesta and insisted that a deal would be signed by Sheikh Hasina and India’s then leader. Bangladesh’s government was left red in the face.

Khaleda Zia and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party produced their own version of irony through their desperate seeking of an audience with Narendra Modi. Not long ago, the BNP chief declined to call on visiting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on the ground that a hartal called by her ally the Jamaat-e-Islami on the day precluded her moving out of her home. Security, her own, was cited as the reason. And yet on a visit to Delhi earlier, Begum Zia needed to meet President Mukherjee, who graciously obliged her.

The bigger irony, again from the BNP, came through its complaint to Prime Minister Modi about an absence of democracy in Bangladesh, about political repression being the dominant factor in the nation’s politics. It was standard BNP approach. It has complained to the Americans, it has complained to the European Union, it has complained to the United Nations.

And now it has complained to India, a country it has regularly bashed in the interest of its parochial politics. And why would Narendra Modi be signing deals with Sheikh Hasina if there was no democracy in Bangladesh, if indeed the Bangladesh government was constituted illegally? Politics is not amusement. And yet amusement was writ large on Prime Minister Modi’s expression as Khaleda Zia read out from her list of grievances at his hotel suite. Here was a Bengali politician asking, once more, a foreigner to help her advance her brand of politics in her country.

And the final irony? Prime Minister Narendra Modi flies in from Delhi, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrives from Kolkata. Both meet in Dhaka, talk to each other — beyond the acrimony of their politics back home — and go out together to see Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a bdnews24.com columnist.

Syed Badrul Ahsanis a bdnews24.com columnist.

8 Responses to “Modi Magic in Dhaka: Expectation, realism, and irony”

  1. javed helali

    We have no choice but to say that india is our friend although many indicators do no point in that direction.

    IF India has talked about the linking of rivers, they are planning to do it. We DO NOT get the agreed amount of water from Farakka even today.

    The implementation of land border accord will not be as easy as it is felt now.

    With any agreement with India, we MUST let them begin the process otherwise it may take 41 years or even more , due to some flimsy reason.( in the case of Farakka a Babu filed a suit in the courts and the courts took their sweet time ( deliberately, of course). By the way has Anis bhai, the water minister said anything about the water issues ???

    Are we getting any monetary benefits from this “connectivity” thing? India is connecting two parts of their country through BD. BD is providing TRANSIT. The transit fees should be charged according to international rates.

    The $2b Line of credit. LOANS are better in many ways. We will build the roads, dredge the rivers so that the Indian vehicles and vessels can ply more economically and conveniently. The present joint river treaty is very unfavorable to BD. The income is negligible and that too is not regular. They treat BD as the garment industry owners treat their female workers!

    If India does invest in BD in any appreciable way, I will be surprised. Their intention always have been to SELL and buy as little as possible. if they do invest, I hope the zone is well inside BD. Otherwise if the zone is near the border, they will find some pretext to move in without any qualms citing economic interests.

    Anyway, as things stand today, I will not be surprised if our parliament actually votes to become a state of India. although they (India) will then find that they have bitten more than they can chew! Ha Ha Ha.

    They are willing to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu refugees only. Nobody is killing them as they do Muslims (regularly, every year) in India. They are mostly economic refugees. They sell their land in BD at BD prices, transfer the money to India illegally and buy land there in the hope of living there happily ever after.(You must have heard the football rivalry between East Bengal and Mohan Bagan clubs). A few years ago, I went to Calcutta by road. Apples were selling across the border for 3.50 rupees a Kg while on our side it was 55 taka a Kg.

    We always get the short end of the stick.The fault lies with us. Our leaders are totally corrupt both morally and financially. Most of them DO NOT even deserve to occupy the places that they ACTUALLY DO ( Cronyism is at play here in all its glory).

    Do our leaders know what is PATRIOTISM?

    Our female housewife ministers are another thing! Even Modi has said it, (in spite of being a woman, PM Hasina….).Unless we educate ourselves (not mere literacy)we will continue to be disadvantaged.

    I have vented a little (some idiosyncratic stuff too). More next time.

    Javed Helali

  2. SubeerBhowmik

    “Killing me softly”, is that the magic we have been expecting with so much fanfare? I did not see any big achievement for Bangladesh in the 22 agreements signed in Dhaka during Modi’s visit. A few of them are really indicating scary future for Bangladesh.

  3. sundar swapan

    the greatest irony is Khaleda is being treated as the softest target to attack by sundry columnists. but her staunch supporters in the media world are doing nothing worth while to stand by her. Mahfujullah should come forward and post a fitting reply to this article.

  4. Sumit Mazumdar

    This op-ed is probably the most complete and unbiased review of Modiji’s visit to Bangladesh that I have read in the B’deshi media. There is no doubt that Modi is a conservative “India-firster”. But that is precisely why he can deliver, when it comes to building international relationships. He also has a broad vision about what it takes to create the proper environment for development, – of the region as a whole, and that is an additional plus.

  5. Golam Arshad

    Modi’s magic ornated the Day for Trust and Peace between two friendly neighbors.Time is Right for a meaningful dialog between BNP and Awami League. Submission to All please not wait longer: Can we Not have a Fair Free poll for making us proud as a Nation United, and make our neighbor happy and proud. Modi’s message is crystal clear: Come together! Together we move Forward! Saluting Indian Prime Minister for marking India and Bangladesh in Equal Footing in Respect and Trust. Our Honorable Prime Minister deserves the best..she must NOW sit without fail for a Dialog upholding Democracy! The Magical and mystical King Arthur ‘ s Roundtable was never useless and never failed without a positive Result. Madam Prime Minister let’s go for it! Let the Runner’s marathon be posted to the door,before the sun is out! Thank you Modiji and thank you Sheikh Hasina you two  be the trendsetters of a New Dawn shinning , up bright, in the looming starry horizon! Good job my friend.. for keeping us drafted to our motherland, decked with floral gratitude to our Brave martyr of our Freedom and Liberation. Together and in one tune We all love Bangladesh our Dear! Dear !! Our beloved Motherland! Thank you once again Badrul.

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