USI Library News Information Services Statesman 31-May-2015 An agenda for Dhaka Shantanu Mukharj Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Bangladesh from June 6 has generated tremendous excitement and expectation in Dhaka. Such a thing was last witnessed only when Indira Gandhi visited the country in the early 1970s, soon after Bangladesh was created breaking away from Pakistan. A predominantly Islamic country like Bangladesh has always looked at BJP with suspicion as the party would often accuse Bangladeshi terror groups of complicity in terror attacks on Indian soil. Congress home ministers too articulated such knee-jerk reactions before any prima facie evidence emerged. When in opposition the BJP had trained its guns on Bangladesh often, especially when terror attacks found traces of the Bangladesh-based terror group Harkat-ul Jihad-e Islami (HuJI). One can also recall the hard stand taken by Mr. Modi himself on Bangladeshi refugees during his election campaign. In the run up to elections in 2014, Modi in Serampore, West Bengal had aggressively said that all illegal Bangladeshi migrants would be deported. The same Modi is now Prime Minister and is cautious with this statements. Nothing has been said on Bangladeshis in India since he assumed power. The Modi-led BJP government seems to be displaying a more mature approach - a good move to restore confidence in Bangladesh so that the upcoming talks take place in a congenial atmosphere. By and large we can see a change in perception amongst Bangladeshi Muslims about the Indian government in general and the BJP in particular - seen always by them as a Hindu nationalist party. In the not so distant past, a majority of the Bangladesh polity and society had always thought BJP to be essentially pro-Hindu and antiMuslim. However, this misgiving now seems to be on the wane, if not non-existent specially after the agreement on the Land Boundary and Teesta waters. These two were long outstanding issues. In principle, they now stand resolved awaiting formal ratification in Dhaka. It is also learnt that India will offer a credit line of $2 billion - no mean amount. And it is against this backdrop that PM Modi is poised to visit Bangladesh hence the excitement and some element of awe being noticed in our neighbourhood. Now with the possibility of West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee accompanying Modi on the visit, a more sincere message goes out to both Bangladesh and Modi’s domestic constituency. The Indian PM’s visit also assumes significance for his decision to visit the historic Dhakeshwari temple - a citadel of the Hindu faith. This temple stands out prominently despite being a repeated target of desecration and vandalism by fanatics, sometimes even with state support like we saw in the aftermath of the Babari Masjid demolition in 1992. It must be underlined that the Hindus have contributed substantially to the creation and growth of Bangladesh. Thousands fought in the liberation struggle and many laid down their lives. Women were victimised and places of worship became targets of sacrilege. Forced conversions and usurping of Hindu property are still reported. Of the bloggers championing the cause of secularism, two victims were Hindus, one in Dhaka and one in Sylhet. This is not mere coincidence. Despite being in minority, they have the courage to keep aloft communal amity. Under these circumstances, Mr Modi’s visit to the temple is expected to boost the sagging morale of the minority in Bangladesh most of whom are reeling under a sense of insecurity hoping to find shelter in India. The Indian Government is conceiving liberalised residential permit schemes for Bangladeshi Hindus. Other than the visit to Dhakeshwari Temple, Mr. Modi would do well to visit the Rama Krishna Mission in the old city located in the heart of a Muslim majority area. This RK Mission is engaged in a number of philanthropic activities like education, health care etc. And the beneficiaries are mostly Muslims. Notwithstanding a series of communal clashes in the past, particularly during the liberation war, the fearless monks have remained steadfastly committed to the cause, often risking their lives. Mr Modi recently visited Belur Mutt in West Bengal, so a brief stopover at this Dhaka mutt will send a signal on both sides of the border. Another significant feature meriting notice in the context of the emerging visit is possibly renewed cooperation in the defence sector between India and Bangladesh. Common perception that prevails in India about Bangladesh is that it is a creation of India, dependent on us and full of fundamentalists. Its defence prowess and other capabilities are underestimated. This misgiving needs to be revisited. As recently as 27 May, Bangladesh announced the induction of Czech-manufactured L-410 transport trainer aircrafts, YAK-130 advanced jet trainers and MI-171 SH helicopters from the Russian Federation. It spells a clear beginning of a subtle yet very real modernisation of the Bangladeshi defence sector. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself was present at the country’s Air Force headquarters during the induction ceremony - her presence attaching further significance to this step taken by Bangladesh in its defence sector. She also announced building of fighter planes in the future. India is no stranger to the maintenance of Russian-made aircraft and during his visit, PM Modi can offer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s assistance to remain in the loop as Dhaka takes steps to strengthen its defence. This is especially important in the context of Bangladesh recently firming up a nuclear deal with Russia and buttresses the need for a vigorous defence tie-up between the neighbours. India needs to be in the picture as a better armed Bangladesh will speak in the future from a position of strength - they already seem to be sending out that message loud and clear. The Bangladesh military known for their political affiliations must be satisfied and feel relatively depoliticised by such diverse defence procurements. Mr. Modi is also scheduled to hold a meeting at Dhaka university. One would imagine this will give an opportunity to the visiting PM to have free interactions with intellectuals. This is a great occasion for India to reach out to Bangladeshi academics and intellectuals considered to be liberal, secular and forward thinking. They can influence public opinion and help contain Islamic radicalism. The Jamaat-e-Islami may have been banned on paper in the recent past by the government but it still commands massive support in large pockets of the country. At an academic forum like Dhaka University there could be an announcement of commencement of an Indo-Bangla association/society to further boost bilateral ties. With a robust Indo-BD security cooperation already in place, involvement of intellectuals will surely ensure fool proof optimism in all relevant areas. Mr. Modi’s visit to Bangladesh, coming soon after completion of one year in office is an important move forward. Visits to other neighbouring countries have their own significance but Bangladesh is altogether different, deserving a fragile ‘handle with care’ type approach to strike a delicate balance of diplomacy, assertion and assurance. No wonder the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) - the principal opposition group in Dhaka, in a recent statement, showed signs of warming up to Modi’s visit and went to the extent of saying, "India does not have any special relation to any specific party or group. India’s relationship is with the people of Bangladesh". The Prime Minister must live up to his reputation for decisiveness and conquer Bangladeshi hearts. Hasina has evicted all Indian insurgents from the country and cooperated wholeheartedly on the Saradha scam and the Burdwan blast case. It is time now to consolidate the gains. June 6 and 7 are the most convenient time and opportunity to strike. Bangladesh should not and cannot be ignored. The author is a retired officer of the Indian Police Service and has served in Bangladesh. The views expressed are personal.