The recent State visit paid by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh symbolised the partnership of half-a-century between Bangladesh and India that has strengthened, matured and evolved as a model for bilateral relations for the entire region.
During his March 26-27 visit, Prime Minister Modi joined the celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of the Independence of Bangladesh, the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 50 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and India.
Before leaving Dhaka, the Indian Prime Minister thanked the people of Bangladesh for their affection during his visit. He also thanked Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina and the Bangladesh government for the warm hospitality. “I’m sure this visit will lead to further strengthening of bilateral ties between our nations,” said Modi.
The love that Bangladesh showered on him, the brotherhood for India, this feeling of oneness, Modi said, he will most certainly convey this to every Indian.
Bangladesh and India have agreed to accelerate the momentum that exists between the countries with an eye on next 50 years of cooperation in diversified areas. The two countries also laid emphasis on having enhanced connectivity, not just between Bangladesh and India but beyond the two countries to ensure broader economic benefits.
“We not only need to continue the momentum, we need to accelerate the momentum,” Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said sharing the outcome of talks between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi held on March 27.
Both Bangladesh and India want to see the progress of the whole world through their own development and progress ensuring stability, love and peace in place of instability, terror and unrest in the world.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh-India friendship, both sides released respective commemorative postage stamps. It was decided to commemorate December 6 as “Maitri Diwas” ofr Friendship Day, the day when India recognized Bangladesh in the year 1971.
The Indian side announced the establishment of Bangabandhu Chair at the University of Delhi. In view of the 50th anniversary of the Independence of Bangladesh as well as the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties, both sides have agreed to jointly commemorate these epochal events in 19 select countries.
Connectivity at Heart
Though the issue of an enhanced connectivity got much focus for greater prosperity, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina strongly raised issues of water sharing, border killing and Rohingya crisis.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi reiterated the importance of enhancing connectivity for facilitating regional economic integration for the benefit of all parties involved.
To facilitate better connectivity and simplify movement of passengers and goods between the two neighbouring countries, both leaders agreed to an early operationalisation of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement through expeditious signing of the enabling MoU for Bangladesh, India, and Nepal to commence the movement of goods and passengers, with provision for Bhutan to join at a later date.
India expressed gratitude for Prime Minister Hasina’s initiative of revitalising the pre-1965 rail connectivity as well as for Bangladesh’s support for the numerous connectivity initiatives through rail, road and waterways, according to joint statement issued on the occasion of the visit of Prime Minister of India to Bangladesh.
In the same spirit, Bangladesh reiterated its eagerness to partner in the ongoing initiative of the India–Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project.
Bangladesh side also requested India for favourable consideration of the new connectivity routes proposed by Bangladesh, namely allowing additional land ports of Bhadrapur-Bairagi Galgalia, Biratnagar-Jogmani and Birganj-Raxaul to be connected with Banglabandha-Fulbari and Birol-Radhikapur by road as alternative routes.
India was also requested to consider connecting Birol-Radhikapur and Rohanpur-Singhabad rail-interchanges with Biratnagar-Jogmani as this would help reduce the distance and cost of transportation of goods by rail from Bangladesh to Nepal.
Bangladesh side also sought rail connectivity with Bhutan through the newly inaugurated Chilahati-Haldibari route.
Indian side requested the Bangladesh side for cooperation in establishing connectivity between Guwahati and Chattogram and also from Mahendraganj in Meghalaya to Hili in West Bengal. Bangladesh side requested the Indian side for a detailed proposal in this regard.
Highlighting the benefits of connectivity and the trial run of trans-shipment of Indian goods from Kolkata to Agartala via Chattogram, the India side urged for early operationalisation of the agreement on the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports for the movement of goods to and from India, including finalisation of cost-effective pricing and regulatory orders.
The Indian side requested for transshipment arrangement in Munshiganj and Pangaon as part of the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade until the completion of the bilateral project to develop Ashuganj Container Terminal.
Bangladesh side informed the infrastructure limitations in this regard and that work is being planned for upgrading the facilities.
Prime Minister Modi recalled the recent inauguration of the Maitree Shetu over Feni River and appreciated Bangladesh’s support in materialising this crucial connectivity project.
Prime Minister Hasina stated that inauguration of the Feni bridge is a testament to Bangladesh government’s continued commitment to support initiatives to strengthen connectivity and economic integration in the region, particularly for the northeast of India.
Both sides agreed to develop remaining trade and travel infrastructure to facilitate the optimal usage of this new bridge.
Sheikh Hasina offered the use of Chattogram and Sylhet international airports by the people of northeast India, especially Tripura. Bangladesh also informed that Saidpur Airport is being developed as a regional airport for the use of the people of this region.
With the vaccination drive on full swing in both countries, both sides agreed to explore resuming regular air travel and lifting restrictions for movement through land ports at the earliest as well as to operationalise the train and bus services between the two countries at the earliest.
Noting that the full resumption of travel will depend on the COVID situation, the Indian side expressed hope that full scale travel will resume soon.
Recognising the ongoing cooperation between the two countries in the sector of education, the two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to widening this cooperation for mutual benefit.
They appreciated the various collaborative arrangements between the universities and educational institutes of the two countries.
Both leaders directed their authorities concerned for early conclusion of the MoU on Mutual Recognition of Academic Qualifications.
Bangladesh side offered to conduct short-term exchange programmes for interested Indian youth in areas such as fisheries, agriculture, disaster management, SMEs and women empowerment.
Both sides reiterated the desire to continue regular exchanges to promote culture, education, science and technology, youth and sports and mass media.
Fair Share of Water
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reiterated Bangladesh’s long-pending request for concluding the interim agreement on the sharing of water of the Teesta River with Bangladesh's fair share to alleviate sufferings of millions.
It is necessary that Bangladesh receives its fair share of the Teesta water, the draft agreement of which has already been agreed upon by both governments in January 2011 to alleviate the sufferings and save the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on the Teesta River basin, she underscored.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated India’s sincere commitment and continued efforts to conclude this agreement, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders.
“There’s positive approach (from Indian side) but a date has not been fixed when it will be delivered. They can’t spell out that it’ll happen within a week,” said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen after the talks between Hasina and Modi.
Dr Momen said the two countries have developed a very good rapport and need to work together on all important issues.
“We’re always hopeful that it’ll happen one day,” said the Foreign Minister, adding that they are also in discussion to improve navigability of other common rivers.
The Indian side also requested for early finalisation of the draft of the interim agreement for sharing water of Feni River, pending with the Bangladesh side which had been agreed upon by both sides in 2011.
The two leaders directed their respective ministries of water resources to work towards an early conclusion of the Framework of Interim Agreement on sharing of water of six common rivers – Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.
Bangladesh side reiterated the urgency for India to allow excavation of the remaining portion of Rahimpur Khal for utilisation of Kushiyara River water for irrigation of the Upper Surma Kushiyara project, as the matter is directly linked with the food security of Bangladesh.
In this regard, early concurrence was requested from India on the proposed MoU to be signed between the two countries for the withdrawal of water from the Kushiyara River by both sides, pending signing of the agreement in this regard.
The Indian side conveyed that the MoU was under consideration, in consultation with the relevant State Government.
Recalling that the MoU on withdrawal of 1.82 cusec of water from Feni River was signed during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in October 2019, the Indian side urged the Bangladesh side for early implementation of the MoU.
The two Prime Ministers directed the Joint Technical Committee, formed for the purpose, to expeditiously commence the feasibility study of the Ganges-Padma barrage and other alternative options in Bangladesh for optimum utilisation of the Ganges waters received by Bangladesh as per the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, 1996.
The two leaders recalled the positive contribution of the Joint Rivers Commission and expressed satisfaction at the recently concluded secretary level meeting of the water resources ministries of the two countries.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tributes to Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman visiting Bangabandhu Mausoleum Complex at Tungipara. This marked the first-ever visit by any foreign Head of State or Head of Government to pay homage at Bangabandhu Mausoleum Complex. Modi planted a Bakul sapling there to commemorate this historic event. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, accompanied by her sister Sheikh Rehana, was also present.
After laying the wreath, Narendra Modi stood in solemn silence for some time as a mark of profound respect to the memory of Bangabandhu, the architect of Bangladesh’s independence.
A special munajat, seeking eternal peace of Bangabandhu and other martyrs of the August 15 carnage and martyrs of the Liberation War, was also offered. Modi signed the visitors' book at the Mausoleum complex.
"The life of Bangabandhu epitomised the freedom of struggle of the people of Bangladesh for their rights, for the preservation of their inclusive culture and their identity," Modi wrote.
He also mentioned, "His indomitable spirit and fortitude inspired millions, who emerged victorious despite challenging circumstances."
On behalf of the people of India who revere Bangabandhu as a hero, Modi said, "I pay humble homage to this great statesman of the 20th century. Bangabandhu is etched in the collective memory of the subcontinent, whose history he reshaped through the sheer force of his commitment and sacrifice."
"In this historic Mujib Borsho, I am confident that his eternal message of equality, freedom, justice, and inclusion will continue to guide our thoughts and actions."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a wreath at the National Martyrs’ Memorial at Savar as a mark of respect to the memory and contribution of the great freedom fighters of Bangladesh.
They Were Wrong
Indian Prime Minister Modi said Bangladesh has proven all of them wrong who had objected to its creation, looked down upon the people and had apprehensions about the existence of the country. “I am pleased that under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s able leadership, Bangladesh is showing its dynamism to the world,” he said.
Modi said the world did not talk as much about the cruelty, oppression and atrocities of ‘Operation Searchlight’ as it should have.
He called for unity to fight against the ideologies and forces behind ‘inhuman acts’ such as terrorism, saying they are active even today. “The ideologies and forces behind these inhuman acts are active even today. We not only need to be alert, but also need to stay united to fight them.”
Modi said Bangladesh and India have a common heritage, common development, common goals and common challenges too.
“We must remember that though we have similar possibilities in the area of trade and development, we also face similar threats, such as terrorism,” he said. Modi said both countries have the power of democracy and a clear vision for moving forward.
“India and Bangladesh moving forward together is equally important for the development of the entire region,” he said at the special programme marking the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence.
The Indian Prime Minister was pleased that many Indian soldiers who were part of the Liberation War were also there with them at the special event.
“The struggle for the Liberation of Bangladesh was also one of the first movements that I took part in," Modi said, adding: “I must have been 22 or 23 years old, when along with many of my friends, I did satyagraha, (a form of passive resistance), for the liberation of the people of Bangladesh.”
As part of his efforts to support the liberation of Bangladesh, he also courted arrest and had a taste of life in prison.
“That is to say, there was as much of a longing for Bangladesh’s freedom in India, as there was in Bangladesh," Modi said.
The images of the heinous crimes and atrocities committed by the Pakistani army here, made their blood boil too, and gave them countless sleepless nights!
Inspired by the common legacy of Kazi Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Prime Minister said they have no time to lose, they must move forward for change, and they cannot delay any further.
He said the two countries' goals are common; therefore, their efforts should also be united. “We therefore need to further boost our efforts, add new dimensions to them, and take them to new heights,” he said.
Prime Minister Modi expressed appreciation at the generosity of Bangladesh in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to the 1.1 million forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar.
Both Prime Ministers reiterated the importance of their safe, speedy and sustainable return to their homeland for the greater security of the region. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested India, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, to play a strong role in the early repatriation of the displaced Rohingyas back to Myanmar. India assured its continued support in this regard.