Mamata’s Dhaka visit sets tone for Modi visit

Boosting further the relations between India and Bangladesh, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee undertook a three-day visit to the neighbouring country from February 19. The visit was at the invitation of Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AH Mohmood Ali to participate in the celebration of Bhasha Divash (International Language Day) on February 21. The visit ended successfully, reinforcing the warmth between the two countries.

 

Mamata Banerjee’s visit was important for many reasons. West Bengal shares around 2000 km, out of the total 4098km, of the border that India has with Bangladesh. This is the longest border that any of the Indian States have with Bangladesh. With such a long border, the relation between the countries greatly depend on the attitude of the bordering States have towards Bangladesh. Cooperation of the bordering States is important for developing the bilateral relations between the two countries. The sharing of the water of the intra-State river Teesta is a good example. In spite of the positive political will, India and Bangladesh could not sign the water sharing agreement during former Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in 2011 because of the objection of the agreed draft agreement by Mamata Banerjee.

 

The relations between the two countries have improved significantly in past few years. Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina’s victory in the 2009 parliamentary election has transformed the relationship. Just after the victory, Sheikh Hasina declared her intention to maintain friendly relations with India and not to allow her country’s territory to be used by any groups inimical to India’s interest. Her landmark visit to India in 2010 further strengthened the relationship. India welcomed Bangladesh’s move and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reciprocated by visiting Dhaka in 2011. These visits helped strengthen the relations. Now the two countries are cooperating in areas like security and power trading, which were unthinkable in the past.

 

Despite the present bonhomie between the two countries, the popular perception is that the relationship is still performing much below the potential. Two main reasons for such a perception are the non-signing of the Teesta water sharing agreement and the delay in the ratification of the land boundary agreement by the India. The land boundary agreement was signed between the two countries during Dr Singh’s visit in 2011. But Mamata Banerjee has been critical of both the agreements. Her party members protested against the land boundary agreement in the Indian parliament. Now the Narendra Modi government has

Boosting further the relations between India and Bangladesh, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee undertook a three-day visit to the neighbouring country from February 19. The visit was at the invitation of Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AH Mohmood Ali to participate in the celebration of Bhasha Divash (International Language Day) on February 21. The visit ended successfully, reinforcing the warmth between the two countries.

Mamata Banerjee’s visit was important for many reasons. West Bengal shares around 2000 km, out of the total 4098km, of the border that India has with Bangladesh. This is the longest border that any of the Indian States have with Bangladesh. With such a long border, the relation between the countries greatly depend on the attitude of the bordering States have towards Bangladesh. Cooperation of the bordering States is important for developing the bilateral relations between the two countries. The sharing of the water of the intra-State river Teesta is a good example. In spite of the positive political will, India and Bangladesh could not sign the water sharing agreement during former Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in 2011 because of the objection of the agreed draft agreement by Mamata Banerjee.

The relations between the two countries have improved significantly in past few years. Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina’s victory in the 2009 parliamentary election has transformed the relationship. Just after the victory, Sheikh Hasina declared her intention to maintain friendly relations with India and not to allow her country’s territory to be used by any groups inimical to India’s interest. Her landmark visit to India in 2010 further strengthened the relationship. India welcomed Bangladesh’s move and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reciprocated by visiting Dhaka in 2011. These visits helped strengthen the relations. Now the two countries are cooperating in areas like security and power trading, which were unthinkable in the past.

Despite the present bonhomie between the two countries, the popular perception is that the relationship is still performing much below the potential. Two main reasons for such a perception are the non-signing of the Teesta water sharing agreement and the delay in the ratification of the land boundary agreement by the India. The land boundary agreement was signed between the two countries during Dr Singh’s visit in 2011. But Mamata Banerjee has been critical of both the agreements. Her party members protested against the land boundary agreement in the Indian parliament. Now the Narendra Modi government has issued an Ordinance. But that has to be ratified.

Because of this attitude of Mamata Banerjee, her popularity in Bangladesh suffered a major drop. The same country had rejoiced her victory in the Assembly election in 2011 with the belief that she will contribute to the growth of the bilateral relations. But she is now being seen as the major obstacle for improving the relations. Her government’s dealing of the Bardwan blast in October 2014 that revealed the existence of Bangladesh based banned militant outfit Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in the State had made the matter worse. All these have compounded into a feeling of despair among the people in Bangladesh — a situation well exploited by the groups having reservations towards India to voice anti-India rhetoric.

In such a scenario, improving the State’s relationship with Bangladesh was an important motivation behind Mamata Banerjee’s visit. Bangladesh and West Bengal share strong socio-cultural and economic linkages. However, internal political complexities were also key determinants in Banerjee undertaking the visit. Banerjee was desperately looking for an avenue to boost her government’s image that was substantially dented due to the alleged links of senior ministers of her government in a major Saradha chit fund scam and the Bardwan blast, which raised doubts about her government’s seriousness in dealing with cross border militancy. All these have caused a loss in the popularity of Banerjee, say political analysts. The visit gave her an opportunity to turn the situation in her favour.

Banerjee’s visit had been crucial in transforming the perceptions in Bangladesh, an important aspect of the India-Bangladesh relationship. In fact, it is the perception that drives the relationship. During the visit, Banerjee met top leaders of Bangladesh, including President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In these meetings, both sides displayed extreme warmth. Banerjee also discussed with Bangladeshi leaders various issues of bilateral interest — connectivity, trade, border, counter terrorism etc.

However, the main focus of the visit was the contact with the people of Bangladesh. Banerjee’s entourage had a wide mix – officials, business people and film and literature personalities popular both in India and Bangladesh. She emphasised on increasing cultural exchange and people to people contact as she declared initiatives like the setting up of Banglabandhu Bhawan in Kolkata for the benefit of Bangladeshi citizens who travel to West Bengal for medical treatment; annual India-Bangladesh film festival; annual India-Bangladesh Cultural and Classical Music festival; Banglabandhu Chair in the Kolkata University and establishment of a joint cultural committee etc. Her visit to the Ekushe memorial to pay homage to the metiers of the language movement of 1952, as a mark of solidarity with the people of Bangladesh, was greatly appreciated. The movement had generated values that led to the birth of the nation. Also, her assurance to support the land boundary agreement has created a feeling of optimism in Bangladesh.

To sustain the momentum, the government of India should ratify the land boundary agreement in the parliament. This will certainly add to the growth of the bilateral relationship and create a positive ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh likely later in the year.

(The author is a Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

. But that has to be ratified.

 

Because of this attitude of Mamata Banerjee, her popularity in Bangladesh suffered a major drop. The same country had rejoiced her victory in the Assembly election in 2011 with the belief that she will contribute to the growth of the bilateral relations. But she is now being seen as the major obstacle for improving the relations. Her government’s dealing of the Bardwan blast in October 2014 that revealed the existence of Bangladesh based banned militant outfit Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in the State had made the matter worse. All these have compounded into a feeling of despair among the people in Bangladesh — a situation well exploited by the groups having reservations towards India to voice anti-India rhetoric.

 

In such a scenario, improving the State’s relationship with Bangladesh was an important motivation behind Mamata Banerjee’s visit. Bangladesh and West Bengal share strong socio-cultural and economic linkages. However, internal political complexities were also key determinants in Banerjee undertaking the visit. Banerjee was desperately looking for an avenue to boost her government’s image that was substantially dented due to the alleged links of senior ministers of her government in a major Saradha chit fund scam and the Bardwan blast, which raised doubts about her government’s seriousness in dealing with cross border militancy. All these have caused a loss in the popularity of Banerjee, say political analysts. The visit gave her an opportunity to turn the situation in her favour.

 

Banerjee’s visit had been crucial in transforming the perceptions in Bangladesh, an important aspect of the India-Bangladesh relationship. In fact, it is the perception that drives the relationship. During the visit, Banerjee met top leaders of Bangladesh, including President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In these meetings, both sides displayed extreme warmth. Banerjee also discussed with Bangladeshi leaders various issues of bilateral interest — connectivity, trade, border, counter terrorism etc.

 

However, the main focus of the visit was the contact with the people of Bangladesh. Banerjee’s entourage had a wide mix – officials, business people and film and literature personalities popular both in India and Bangladesh. She emphasised on increasing cultural exchange and people to people contact as she declared initiatives like the setting up of Banglabandhu Bhawan in Kolkata for the benefit of Bangladeshi citizens who travel to West Bengal for medical treatment; annual India-Bangladesh film festival; annual India-Bangladesh Cultural and Classical Music festival; Banglabandhu Chair in the Kolkata University and establishment of a joint cultural committee etc. Her visit to the Ekushe memorial to pay homage to the metiers of the language movement of 1952, as a mark of solidarity with the people of Bangladesh, was greatly appreciated. The movement had generated values that led to the birth of the nation. Also, her assurance to support the land boundary agreement has created a feeling of optimism in Bangladesh.

 

To sustain the momentum, the government of India should ratify the land boundary agreement in the parliament. This will certainly add to the growth of the bilateral relationship and create a positive ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh likely later in the year.

 

(The author is a Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

(Courtesy: ORF)

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