Khaleda Zia, former Bangladesh PM and Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson, met India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj last week in Dhaka. In an exclusive interview at her office Sunday, she spoke of her expectations of the Narendra Modi government, her thoughts on the previous UPA government, and politics in Bangladesh.
How was your meeting with Sushma Swaraj?
It was a very friendly meeting… She is a very nice person. We discussed bilateral issues. For example, regarding border killings, she said efforts will be made to bring it down to zero. On Teesta and Land Boundary Agreement, she has assured these will be done. She talked about people-to-people relations. Such issues come in the way. In the dry season, water flow is blocked, then people are angry India is not giving us water… India has to be like a big neighbour. We have such a long border, there could be problems, but to kill people, that makes people angry and agitated… She was receptive to our concerns on the unsettled bilateral issues [and] my proposal to strengthen people-to-people contact.
How do you see the Narendra Modi government’s approach towards Bangladesh?
They are yet to settle down. I have sent two letters to Modi, one after his victory and the other after the swearing-in. One expects the new government to seek visionary ways to strengthen regional ties in South Asia… He invited SAARC leaders to his oath-taking ceremony. That was a welcome initiative and demonstrated his farsightedness. It is also recognition of SAARC — conceived by my late husband President Ziaur Rahman more than three decades ago. Now, Modi has taken an interest in this… We feel that’s good for the region… We want our country to develop, we want India to develop as well.
What do you think of Modi as a leader?
It is for the people of India to judge Modi. His focus on good governance and the economy is something the people of India would welcome.
Has he invited you to visit India?
Yes, we had a conversation when I congratulated him. He invited me.
Are you planning to visit?
You know what the situation in the country is now, I am quite busy. There is no democracy in this country. Ninety-five per cent of people are with us, and they want free, fair, impartial and inclusive elections.
Do you feel disappointed that the previous Indian government did not back you during the elections?
Their foreign secretary [Sujatha Singh] came here, and said publicly that H M Ershad should participate, otherwise elections will not take place and the fundamentalists will come to power. She tried to convince us also, but could not. We told her why we could not participate in the elections. We are a political party, not an underground outfit, but if elections are not fair, there is no point taking part. Later, continued…