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Bangladesh India Maitri, a diplomatic story in a political cloak

By Priti Prakash | PUBLISHED: 01, Apr 2021, 15:50 pm IST | UPDATED: 08, Apr 2021, 19:22 pm IST

Bangladesh India Maitri, a diplomatic story in a political cloak

New Delhi: The recent Bangladesh visit of Prime Minister Modi was a significant one for many reasons. It not only was his first overseas visit after the Covid pandemic but was a very deftly choosen one. What made it unique was that other than strengthening bilateral relations and promoting our Neighbourhood First and Act East policy there was a huge political messaging that underlined the visit. An election across the border in West Bengal and a China containment strategy in the larger perspective was well served as the motive behind the visit that geopolitical analysts would agree. 

A visit to temple Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple, one of the 51 shakti peeths in the puranic tradition, a shrine in a town that stands cheek by jowl with West Bengal’s 24 parganas, again a hindu bastion, a stop at Matua temple, a schedule caste community that inhabits 40 constituencies of West Bengal and estimated at not less than 20 lakhs and with presence in at least six parliamentary seats of West Bengal was hitting two birds with one stone. Compounded to it the worry about CAA and NRC in the community is a concerning factor that needed calming. The community is important for a number of reasons as the Matuas have emerged as a key sect in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempts to storm Bengal.

The anniversary of Bangabandhu Mujeebur Rehman’s was an occasion that marked 50 years Bangladesh’s independence. Prime Minister referred to it as Triveni, the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh, the 50th anniversary of the Bangladesh Liberation War and Mujib Borsho, the 100th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. 

Nevertheless it will be worthwhile enumerating the plethora of outreach programmes and MoUs signed during this visit that made the Prime Minister’s visit to our eastern neighbour significant.  

A ceremonial welcome by Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena was followed by visit to the National Martyrs Memorial at Savar where PM Modi interacted with community leaders, members of the 14-party Alliance, opposition party, youth icons and valiant Mukhtijoddhas signalled a good beginning. On the occasion of the National Day celebration of Bangladesh Prime Minister Modi announced a grant of 1000 Subarno Jayanti Scholarships for youth to study in India and invited 50 young entrepreneurs from Bangladesh, to visit India and present their ideas to venture.

India conferred Gandhi Peace Prize posthumously on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Both the Prime Ministers inaugurated the Bangladesh leg of the Bangabandhu-Bapu Digital Exhibition. Prime Minister Modi then visited Satkhira and offered prayers at the Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple, one of the 51 shakti peeths in the puranic tradition where he announced a grant for the construction of a cyclone shelter cum community centre in Satkhira. After a visit to the Bangabandhu Mausoleum complex at Tungipara the Prime Minister visited Orakandi where he met representatives of the Matua community and announced plans to support upgradation of a middle school for girls and the construction of a primary school in the Orakandi area.

Bilateral discussion included how the two countries could preserve the legacy and spirit of 1971, commerce and connectivity, cooperation and water resources, security, defence, power and energy and new areas like artificial intelligence, environment, societal applications of nuclear energy etc as also new areas which Prime Minister called ‘Nayi Urja, Nayi gati’ (new energy, new path).

Other significant decisions that were taken were establishment of the Bangabandhu chair in Delhi University, renaming the Bangladesh segment of the road "Svadheenta Sadak". The Prime Minister proposed that India and Bangladesh should organise a business exhibition which he referred to as the ‘Best of India Best of Bangladesh’. Both Prime Ministers jointly unveiled stamps.  They decided to celebrate the 6th of December, the day on which India formally recognised Bangladesh as Maitri Divas. A war memorial in Bangladesh at Ashuganj, in recognition of the contribution of Indian soldiers who were martyred during the Liberation War of 1971 has been erected.

Celebrations of our ties jointly will be held in 19 countries. Foundation stone for five packages of the Rooppur power evacuation project, which is an important component of the third line of credit that India has extended to Bangladesh was laid. There are a total of eight packages and the transmission line costs over a billion dollars.

Three border haats on the borders between the two countries and new facilities at the Rabindra Bhabhan at Kuthibari with Indian grant assistance were inaugurated. To further strengthen people to people connectivity, the two sides have also agreed to start a new passenger train service called Mitali Express between New Jalpaiguri and Dhaka, starting from Dhaka cantonment on the recently restored Chilahati-Haldibari rail links. The rail link connects North Bangladesh with North Bengal in the state of West Bengal.

Earlier this month, both Prime Ministers had jointly inaugurated the Maitri Setu, the road bridge connecting Tripura with Bangladesh on the Feni river, a very important point of connectivity between India and Bangladesh.

A number of agreements and Memorandums of Understanding were also signed during the visit in areas of disaster management, trade remedial measures, two development partnership projects, and between the National Cadet Corps of the two countries.

To reinforce cooperation in health sector India announced the gifting of 109 life support ambulances to support Bangladesh's plans to strengthen its medical emergency response systems.

Under India’s Vaccine Maitri programme, Bangladesh was provided 102 million doses or one crore two lakh doses of vaccines of which 32 lakhs have been delivered as gifts under grant in aid and the rest as commercial. Bangladesh is the largest recipient of made in India vaccines for our Neighbourhood First policy. This figure of 1.02 crores includes the 12 lakh doses or 1.2 million doses that the Prime Minister gifted personally on arrival in Bangladesh from India’s own supplies.

Bangladesh having upgraded from LDC status, India is committed to continue giving support to Bangladesh in infrastructure development, capacity building or in the areas of health capacity building or power generation. India’s lines of credit have not only helped in infrastructure development and connectivity and in green projects but in a number of other projects like high tech parks in 12 districts, solid waste management etc. other than in new areas like civil nuclear cooperation and working together in the area of space.

India and Bangladesh relationship has grown stronger and more multifaceted. Today our ties transcend even a strategic partnership which is very important in the backdrop of increasing Chinese belligerence in the Indo Pacific and the ASEAN region. As the world is becoming multipolar its important for India to reforge and strengthen relations with neighbours as its the need of the hour.  


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