The relations with Bangladesh were mended during UPAII. NDA needs to take it further despite its bad history with the country and its leadership.
The Union Minister for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj has reached Dhaka.
It is her first foreign visit. There she will be meeting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali.
The relations between India and Bangladesh were in shambles when the NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee was in power. The manhandling of Rupa Chakravarti, wife of India’s Deputy High Commissioner Sarvajit Chakravarti, by Bangladeshi billionaire Shah Alam; unearthing of China imported arms and ammunitions from a Chittagong warehouse of ULFAleader Paresh Baruah; killing of 16 BSF soldiers; and Hasina’s refusal to meet Vajpayee in Delhi to de-escalate tensions soured the relations to an extent that Swaraj cannot escape from.
It is to the credit of the UPAII and their ‘Save Hasina’ operation (from the Generals when she was in prison) that the relations are now back to being very good as they were once in 1971 during former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s term.
Not only Hasina complied handed over more than 24 wanted terrorists and criminals to India, she also shut down the anti-India Jamaat-e-Islami camps when she became PM again in 2009. She also ordered the prosecution of others who may have colluded.
But this should not be taken as a granted situation for talking tough with the country. As Vajpayee had realized, the Bangladeshi PM can be a handful, and the UPA has already done the damage by blaming the NDA for refusing to ratify the land Border Agreement, first agreed to by Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1974, in the Parliament even when the case was not so.
Also, the signs of disillusionment have started to surface. While the Bangladeshi officials allege that BSF has killed more than thousand civilians on the border, the reported rejection by the Home Ministry of a proposal to give Bangladeshi senior citizens and children visa exemptions has also received widespread critical coverage.
While Swaraj is in Dhaka, she must do five things to ensure that the relations go further rather than sour:
- Land Border Agreement: As PM Narendra Modi has assured Bagladesh on the issue, Swaraj should make some sort of a commitment to Bangladesh to bring the LBA to its logical conclusion in Parliament at the earliest opportunity.
- Teesta River Water Settlement: UPA had failed to sign the Teesta river water settlement because of opposition from the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Now that Swaraj has met Banerjee, she should find a middle ground and let this issue reach its result.
- Market access to Bangladeshi companies: Pranab Mukherjee had promised this years ago when he was MEA. UPA blocked it despite Mukherjee’s promise and now its Sushma’s turn to find a solution and deliver.
- Iraq Crisis: Given that Swaraj has already shown her concerns on this issue when she coordinated meetings of MPs on the situation of overseas workers, even as the MEA works its 24 hour-helpline to manage the fallout of the Iraq crisis, she can use it as an opportunity to better ties with Bangladesh. The poor working conditions for labour in parts of West Asia may allow her to discuss about a coordinated approach to evacuate overseas workers. She can also talk about a united front in dealing with Gulf countries that enforce strict laws on them.
- Illegal immigration: With the Modi government expected to take a tough stand on the issue of illegal immigration, Dhaka has reportedly mooted a fresh idea — for a mechanism to give special permits and IDs to workers from Bangladesh — ahead of talks with Swaraj.
Now MEA needs to contemplate and find a solution to all these problems as already former PM Khaleda Zia and the Jamaat leadership are becoming more vocal against Hasina government and India. They are threatening another round of hartals and bandhs after Eid ul-Fitr in July-end. Bearing the brunt of that anger is often the minority Hindu community, which faced hundreds of targeted attacks. Dozens of temples were destroyed by Jamaat activists in 2013.
As Modi has already showed the mantra, ‘Love thy neighbour’ should rule but with greater diplomatic tactic.