PM MODI OWES HIS ‘BERLIN WALL’ MOMENT WITH BANGLADESH TO MANMOHAN SINGH
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 36-hour-long maiden visit to Bangladesh (6-7 June) is set to be a huge success, but he needs to look beyond the parochial lens of domestic politics and act as a statesman, not a politician, to celebrate the current high in India-Bangladesh bilateral ties.
The cornerstone of his Bangladesh visit is the done deal on land boundary which he himself aptly described as the fall of the Berlin Wall. Modi’s characterization of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) as an equivalent to “the fall of the Berlin Wall” is a perfect analogy but he should remember that this was made possible with solid support from the Congress.
Modi’s own party BJP had stymied the LBA till a year ago before the Modi-led BJP swept to power in India. But once in power the BJP quickly changed its stance over LBA and saw merit in the previous UPA government’s Bangladesh policy, particularly on the LBA.
Modi needs to act as a statesman and give his arch-rival Congress party its due during his talks with his Bangladeshi interlocutors. Thus far Modi has acted like a hard core politician during many of his trips to 18 countries in the first year of his five-year tenure and thrown barbs at the Congress from foreign soil.
He is in with a whale of an opportunity to make amends and acknowledge the contribution of his predecessor Manmohan Singh in giving a precious gift by New Delhi to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina – the LBA which has empowered Hasina in a big way and vindicated her patience and pro-India strategy. After all, Modi owes his “Berlin Wall” moment with Bangladesh to the UPA.
If today’s Bangladesh is a far cry from former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s regime when anti-India sentiment was at its peak and the influence of Pakistan was on a dangerous upturn, it is largely because of India’s best friend Sheikh Hasina in contemporary Bangladesh politics.
Today, Bangladesh is no longer the favoured laboratory of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Pakistan’s clout in Bangladesh has minimized today. We don’t see Bangladesh as a breeding ground of anti-Indiaism, a 24×7 factory of anti-India terror acts and a magnet for northeast Indian insurgents who had routinely used Bangladeshi territory to launch terror acts on Indian soil during Khaleda Zia’s tenure.
PM Modi is in Bangladesh to showcase Sheikh Hasina’s India-friendly acts and gestures in areas as diverse as counter-terrorism, people-to-people contacts, land transit and connectivity of all kinds.
Bangladesh is, in many ways, the most important neighbor of India as India shares a 4096-km-long boundary with Bangladesh. No other country shares such a long boundary with India as Bangladesh does.
During Khaleda Zia’s tenure, India was routinely threatened that India’s northeast was “Bangladesh-locked” – a geographical reality that the Zia regime had cleverly exploited at the behest of Pakistani elements.
But Sheikh Hasina has reversed that trend. Therefore, Hasina deserved the LBA gift that PM Modi has now delivered to her. This couldn’t have been possible without the Modi government getting the much-needed bipartisan support back home. Modi inherited a a solid base of strong India-Bangladesh partnership from the UPA.
Modi’s victory lap in Bangladesh has been made more celebratory by the presence of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee who had ditched Manmohan Singh and had pulled out at the last minute from the then prime minister’s entourage during his visit to Bangladesh in 2011.
But the firebrand Banerjee, who faces assembly polls by next year, has played her cards smartly by reaching Dhaka a day ahead of Modi.
PM Modi’s ongoing Bangladesh visit is solely strategic. Be it people-to-people contacts or land transit or connectivity through bus, rail and waterway routes, everything boils down to strategic considerations.
Hasina has performed an admirable strategic task for India by pulling her country out of the Pakistan orbit. But India faces a bigger strategic challenge in Bangladesh as Chinese influence has increased rapidly in this country.
This will inevitably be the biggest strategic challenge for the Modi government in Bangladesh.
PM Modi will do well to rope in the Congress for this formidable strategic task. Bangladesh is the 19th country that Modi is visiting. But this is the first time that he is visiting a Muslim-dominated country.
One will have to wait and see if he speaks and acts like a statesman (who thinks of the next generation) or like a politician (who thinks of the next election) during his brief Bangladesh visit.
JUNE 05, 2015