Every time Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visits India to discuss some bi-lateral issues, there are always irrational barrage of rhetoric from BNP and its riff-raff vagabond political allies most of which are unfounded and ultimately falls on its face. Visits of Head of States and Head of Governments to other countries are common diplomatic practices that have existed for centuries. When one visits another country, it is not always about give and take. The visit can absolutely be friendly and made to strengthen bi-lateral ties. If it is a visit to a neighbouring country, such visits sometimes are more important as one can change everything but not its neighbours. It is expected that if neighbours are able co-exist peacefully that will ensure peace and harmony amongst such neighbours. When it comes to India the relationship is of a different nature and dimension. India is that country which not only helped us during the 1971 War of Liberation but also gave shelter to one million refugees fleeing Bangladesh to escape the ruthless genocide that was being committed inside Bangladesh by the occupation Pakistani forces. It should also be noted that not only our Liberation War was generously helped by India but its political leadership stood by our side at all times. When India’s the then Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi went to meet US President Richard Nixon in the White House in September of 1971, she was kept waiting for more than thirty minutes before Nixon made his appearance. This is a gross violation of normal diplomatic protocol and deemed to be an insult to a visiting Head of Government.
When Bangladesh finally became independent, India along with other friends of Bangladesh came forward to assist Bangladesh to rebuild the country’s shattered economy. One has to remember that the economic condition of India was not what it is today. It was a Least Developed Country but its leadership ignoring its economic problems stood alongside Bangladesh. In the last fifty years both countries have experienced many ups and downs in its relationship and at times it even soured. This happened mostly during the rule of Bangladesh’s first military ruler Zia-ur-Rahman and his successor Ershad. It was thought with the return of a properly elected government in 1991 things would improve but Begum Zia, the widow of Zia who formed the government with the support of Jamaat-e-Islami was not much interested in improving the relationship with India. Later she even adopted the ‘Look East’ policy disregarding the importance of improving the relationship with its important neighbours. She even put Pakistan in her priority list over India when it came to improving bi-lateral relationship. Disregarding all standard protocol norms she even sent a condolence message when Pakistan’s Army Chief General Janjua expired.
When Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman formed his first government of independent Bangladesh on 12 January 1972 his first priority besides rebuilding the war devastated Bangladesh was to solve the outstanding problems existing between Bangladesh and India since 1947. During his three and half year rule Mujib signed eight treaties with India which ranged from delineating the land boundaries existing between the two countries that included the exchange of adversely possessed enclaves in both the countries. It also included a temporary agreement to share the Ganges water once the Farakka Barrage was commissioned. A Joint River Commission (JRC) was formed to monitor water flow of different rivers. Ironically the same Farakka Barrage has proved to be a curse for adjacent areas and Bihar and in reports published at regular intervals in the Indian media it also is affecting the navigability of Kolkata port.
Once Bangabandhu was killed on the fateful night of 15 August 1975, the relationship between both Bangladesh and India took a nosedive and Zia never tried to improve the relationship. Zia made a courtesy visit to India on 19 December, 1977 but had no agenda on his cards. He returned back to Bangladesh with a suit piece gifted to him by India’s the then Prime Minister Morarji Desi. The suit piece seemed to be symbolic as if Indian Prime Minister wanted to Zia to shed his army uniform and bring back a civilian rule in Bangladesh. When Zia took over the rule he attempted to bring about an Islamist face to Bangladesh. Overnight the whole of Dhaka city was covered with billboards with inscriptions from the Holy Quran. Surprisingly when India’s Prime Minster Morarji Desai made a return visit to Bangladesh, all these bill boards were removed from the city. During the reign of Zia Bangladesh also became a cocoon of Indian insurgents who were fighting the Indian security forces to delink number of India’s North-East Indian States from India. These insurgents were given all sorts of state sponsorship, both materially and morally. During Begum Zia’s 2001-2006 rule one of her important cabinet minister spontaneously declared in the parliament that ‘it is our moral duty to help these insurgents who are fighting for their independence’.
Begum Zia went on a three day state visit to India on 25 May, 1992. During this visit no MoU or treaty was agreed upon. The then Indian Prime Minister Narsima Rao told Begum Zia that India was tired of hosting illegal immigrants to India. Begum Zia agreed to take back all such ‘illegal immigrants’ from Bangladesh and no sooner she returned home India began to push back people from India who were residing in India for ages, banding them as ‘illegal immigrants’ from Bangladesh. After her return to Bangladesh when Begum Zia was asked if she could discuss anything about the Ganges water sharing issue, she very bluntly told the waiting journalists that she completely forgot about the matter. How can one forget the ten truck modern weapons haul in Chittagong which was destined for the insurgents of North-East Indian States during Begum Zia’s rule?
Now coming back to recent visit of Sheikh Hasina’s the visit to the India which was before and after branded by the senior leaders of BNP that Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India is being made for gaining the support of India in the coming general election. Once she returned back the same leaders were back on the street and their party office trying to convince the general people that Sheikh Hasina has sold off Bangladesh to India, a common allegation every time Sheikh Hasina visits India. Before the 1996 election BNP Chairperson regularly in all election rallies said if Awami League wins the election Bangladesh will become a satellite state of India. Just before the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord she emphatically said that if any such accord is signed Indian border would extend up to Feni River. Her desire was to let the bloodshed continue in Chittagong Hill Districts which her late husband Zia began in the first place.
Now let us take a brief stock of the situation and what are the issues that she managed to solve during her four term rule of the country as we know the achievements of other rulers besides the achievements of Bangabandhu. During Sheikh Hasina’s first time rule that spanned between 1996 and 2001 one single achievement overshadows all previous achievements, i.e., that is signing of Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. During this time she signed the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty which remained elusive since the days of Pakistan. When she again formed the government in 2009 for the second time one of the most burning problems that existed between both the countries ended with passing of the Mujib-Indira accord in the both houses of the Indian parliament, ending the adversely possessed enclave issue. This was a unique gesture and credit has to be given to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with his political colleagues. The Land Boundary Agreement soon saw a successful implementation. The long standing Maritime Boundary dispute came to an end with intervention of international court ITLOS (International Tribunal for the Law of Sea, Hamburg, Germany). During her recent visit, India agreed to give any third country (Nepal or Bhutan) transit over its territory which was long overdue. An agreement was also reached between the two countries by which India agreed to allow extra 153 cusec of water from Kushiara River in Assam that flows into Sylhet thus reducing water shortage in the region during the lean season. Both Prime Ministers have inaugurated one of the Units of Rampal coal based power plant. However, still the water Teesta Water Sharing issue remains unresolved due to the stubbornness of Paschimbanga Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Under India Federal System any such water sharing has to be agreed by the concerned state. Since the days of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Prime Ministership, India remains committed towards settling the issue and the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has time and again reiterated that the problem will be resolved after taking all stakeholders into confidence.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator