India has a reliable friend in Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina expressed full confidence in India and said the sky was the limit for bilateral cooperation. She said India was the first priority for her and India was welcome to invest in Bangladesh on a partnership basis, writes Amb T P Sreenivasan (retd) for South Asia Monitor
SEP 27, 2019 Southasia Monitor
A recent visit to Bangladesh opened my eyes to the tremendous goodwill India enjoys in the country. When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was invited to Kerala to receive the Dr. Kalam Smriti International Award of Excellence, instituted by the Dale View educational institutions, and she suggested that some of us should visit Dhaka to present it, I led a delegation to Dhaka. Seven of us travelled from Thiruvananthapuram without any great expectations, except that we would be able to reach the award, a sculpture by Kanayi Kunhiraman, to PM Sheikh Hasina’s hands.
But the importance that she gave to the event was most exceptional, essentially because of the Kalam magic and her respect for India. The protocol designed the event for half an hour, but she spent more than two hours with us, including two meetings with me, one before and another after the ceremony. Every word she spoke about India and Dr. Kalam was positive and respectful. I presented the award and a citation, plaque, a saree and a ponnada were presented by the trustees of Kalam Smriti International.
After a pleasant conversation about cabbages and kings, she asked me “in confidence” as to how she was selected for the award. When I said that she was the only and natural choice for the award, because of her being the architect of excellent India- Bangladesh relations, she appeared satisfied that the award was truly a people’s choice. Bearing this in mind, I said in my speech: “For an award for world leaders, in the name of such a person, we could not have thought of anyone better than Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, a visionary, thinker and an inspiration for millions. The longest serving Prime Minister of Bangladesh is well on her way to build the “Sonar Bangla” her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman dreamt of and died for.”
Sheikh Hasina reminisced about Dr Kalam most affectionately, saying that her husband also was a nuclear scientist, and that the former Indian president’s transformation from a scientist to a statesman was amazingly smooth. “This award will inspire me and my Government to strive for the achievement of greater inclusive development,” she said.
A visit to the Bangabandhu Museum was poignant and yet revealed several aspects of his life and interaction with Indian leaders. The museum is the house in which Sheikh Mujeebur Rahman lived for many years, before and after he became the prime minister in 1972. He and his eight relatives, including children, were murdered in cold blood on August 15, 1975 by a group of soldiers to avenge the division of Pakistan. The building is replete with bullet and blood marks, showing signs of a struggle. The building has been preserved as it was, except for some ramps which were built to facilitate access for visitors. But unfortunately, the museum remains poorly maintained, without even air conditioning, and it is subject to the ravages of weather.
The Bangabandhu Museum is certainly a monument to the Father of the Nation, his life and his martyrdom, but it is also a memorial to the depravity and cruelty of human beings, which make them worse than animals. How could those criminals be so heartless as to murder the one man, who had dedicated his life to his motherland. Sheikh Hasina had explained to us how, as prime minister, she had brought them to book. She had tears in her eyes when she recalled how she and another sister had escaped because they were abroad at the time. She is totally indebted to India for taking care of her during those days of extreme danger and anxiety. Without India and Indira Gandhi, we too would have become martyrs, she said, choked by emotion.
Sheikh Hasina expressed full confidence in India and said the sky was the limit for bilateral cooperation. She said India was the first priority for her and India was welcome to invest in Bangladesh on a partnership basis. She expressed appreciation for the “Neighbours First” policy of Prime minister Narendra Modi. Even when he spoke of the future of the country, she laid great stress on India’s generosity and friendship.
“Over the last decade, Bangladesh-India relations have reached a new high, marked by mutual trust, confidence and goodwill. We have witnessed remarkable progress in cooperation between our two countries in different conventional and unconventional areas. I believe that that this trend of cooperation will continue and, coupled with the achievement of the SDGs, these will help build a prosperous Bangladesh by 2041…Long live Bangladesh India friendship,” she declared.
In South Asia, our relations fluctuate when leaders change in our neighbouring countries. But, with Sheikh Hasina, who is set to visit India soon, all is well with the world of India-Bangladesh relations.
(The writer is a former Indian ambassador and now Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram)