PM MODI SIGNS OFF BANGLADESH VISIT WITH MESSAGE AGAINST TERROR
Amid standing ovation and Bengali poetry, Narendra Modi delivered a strong message against terrorism as he concluded his two-day visit to Bangladesh marked by the historic land boundary agreement which the PM likened to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In an hour-long speech at the Bangabandhu Conference Centre here to students of Dhaka University and a cross-section of Bangladeshi society, Modi described terrorism as an “enemy of humanity”. Endorsing Sheikh Hasina’s “zero tolerance” to terrorism, he said, “What have terrorists given to the world? Terrorists don’t respect boundaries, they have no ideology, no principles, no culture. They have only one intention – to be the enemy of humanity.”
The message was tough, but Modi persisted by saying that regardless of who worships which god, people should unite against terrorism. “Promote tourism, not terrorism,” he said in one of his characteristic quips. The message was clear: In a country which is battling fundamentalism and extremism by forces like Jamaat Islami, Modi put India’s support squarely behind Sheikh Hasina and her approach to terror. “Sheikh Hasina and I think alike,” he declared, an endorsement which was missed by no none.
It was also a message he was careful to give to BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia who met him in the afternoon. Foreign secretary S Jaishankar told journalists that the PM had told Begum Zia that democracy would flourish only in the absence of terrorism. Khaleda, in her remarks, expressed support for India, but complained at what she called “lack of democracy” in Bangladesh, which was impeding development.
The PM’s oratorial skills were in full flow during the speech, punctuated by rousing cheers and cries of “Modi, Modi” from the audience, showing that his charm was not confined to the Indian diaspora.
Having tickled the Bengali audience with his “kemon achho” and quizzing the audience about the quality of his Bengali, Modi used the occasion to once again make a commitment at the highest level that India would be able to deliver on the Teesta water-sharing agreement. “In 40 hours here, obviously we have some things left to do. If I have to take Bangladesh along, I also have to take the Indian states along.” Counselling patience, he stressed water was not a political issue but a humanitarian one, and he would work to seal the deal.
Modi also tried hard to associate his personal journey with Bangladesh’s liberation war, saying the first political rally he attended was a Jan Sangh one supporting the 1971 war. “Like you, my blood boiled at the atrocities heaped on your people.” He didn’t lose the opportunity to remind Bangladesh of India’s role in 1971, the blood of Indian soldiers involved in creation of Bangladesh, and that India did not use Bangladesh’s territory to settle scores with Pakistan, even returning 90,000 POWs. It was an important reminder, particularly for sections within Bangladesh that still look at India with some hostility.
In a joint declaration released at the end of the visit titled “notun projonmo – nayi disha”, India has quietly buried the Tipaimukh hydropower project. “Prime Minister Modi conveyed that Tipaimukh Hydro Electric Power Project is not likely to be taken forward in its present form…”
From the joint statement and Modi’s speech, it was clear that the sub-regional group within Saarc would get top billing. Recounting his failure to get all Saarc countries to agree to a plan on connectivity, Modi told his audience, “Just because some countries don’t agree, it doesn’t mean we cannot get ahead without them.” In a clear sign that Modi intends to take ‘Saarc-Minus 1’ forward, the joint statement also laid out details of joint power and connectivity projects being undertaken by BBIN sub-grouping (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal).
Modi promised to help Bangladesh launch its first satellite, as well as a Buddhist tourism circuit. “Where there is Buddha, there can’t be yudh (war).”
Closing with a snatch of a poem by Bengali poet Jibananda Das (“Aabar ashibo phire, Dhansiri-tir tirey, Ei Banglai”), Modi said he wanted to visit the original Thakurbari and have an “adda” on the Padma river, all precious Bangladeshi pursuits which would find resonance across the border in West Bengal as well.
JUNE 08, 2015