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Cholo Let's Go (to Dhaka)

New Delhi, Mon, 05 Sep 2011 ANI

New Delhi, Sep.5 (ANI): Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh embarks on his first ever visit as the head of government to Dhaka tomorrow, heralding a new chapter in relations between India and its immediate eastern neighbour: A relationship which should have been warm and friendly and yet has been beset with complications.


Accompanying Dr. Singh are External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Chief Minister of Assam -Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Tripura - Manik Sarkar, Chief Minister of Meghalaya - Mukul Sangma and Chief Minister of Mizoram - Lal Thanhawla.


The mercurial Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has dropped out of the visit without citing any reason. She is apparently miffed over the final draft of the Teesta River water agreement that India and Bangladesh are to sign during the PM's visit. The grouse is over the sharing of about 10,000 cusecs of water more than what the Trinamool Congress would like Bangladesh to have.


The agreements expected to be signed during the Prime Minister's visit are: Water-sharing agreements on the Teesta and Feni Rivers, import of electricity from India, a historic land boundary agreement. Several MoUs on fisheries, renewable energy, and power generation and trade liberalization and access to goods.


The most important and path breaking deal is the one involving land transfer. India is to hand over 111 enclaves to Bangladesh and in return get 51 enclaves. This is a historic confidence building measure that could improve the lives of thousands of people of Indian and Bangladeshi origin trapped in villages on the border since its creation in 1971. India's long-standing request of transit through Bangladesh is also likely to be met during this visit


The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has pulled out all stops to make this visit one of the most high profile ones in recent times. The Awami League has historically had excellent ties with India. Sheikh Hasina has lived in New Delhi when in exile and has very cordial relations with the Gandhi family.


Her government has given unparalleled support to India in dealing with the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam - a secessionist group). Many ULFA insurgents have been handed over to India and, intelligence cooperation between India and Bangladesh, is probably at its most confident levels. The insurgent group's general secretary, Anup Chetia, is under incarceration in Bangladesh and, there were rumours that he would be handed over to India before the PM's visit.


But Indian policy makers will have to look beyond just the Awami League and Sheikh Hasina. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has been running a high decibel campaign against the ruling party, ready to topple the government, instead of waiting for the next elections. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to meet with BNP leaders Khaleda Zia and General Ershad. The rivalry between Sheikh Hasina and Khalida Zia is legendary and the Prime Minister and his External Affairs Minister (Krishna) will have to walk gingerly there.


The Jamaat-e-Islami is another factor that India has to deal with. Its vicious anti-India stand has never changed despite its major leaders being behind bars. The millions of dollars worth of aid to Bangladesh will not in any manner change its vitriolic rhetoric against India, which it sees as bully, a giant waiting to crush the Bangladeshi nation and make it into a colony.


The JI is ideologically anti-Indian and forms the main support base for the BNP. They have been campaigning long and hard against the transit route, which they say will create an Indian security corridor and demean Bangladesh's identity and interests. The BNP even threatened a strike against the Indo-Bangla pact, if details were not disclosed before the visit.


It will be a challenge for Indian negotiators to convince the second generation of the JI and the BNP that to ride piggy back on India's economic success is beneficial to Bangladesh. Adversarial policies like backing jehadis and armed secessionists will take it on the path that Pakistan has embarked, resulting in international isolation and self-destruction.


The Prime Minister's two-day visit has been much overdue. India's much touted Look East policy has ignored its immediate East. Sheikh Hasina's unwavering support in combating terrorism has to be rewarded with not just a one-time show of interest. Sustained long term economic assistance, a more visible presence in Bangladesh, cultural sensitivity, sharp and on the ground strategic relationship and more vibrant B to B relationships, cooperation with its powerful NGOs will take this relationship to a new level. By Smita Prakash (ANI)


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