A year after Bangladesh’s opposition leader Khaleda Zia did not meet President Pranab Mukherjee during his first ever bilateral visit to the country, the big question in Bangladesh’s power corridors is will she meet the visiting External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj this time?
While New Delhi has not yet officially confirmed a scheduled meeting between Swaraj and Zia, The Indian Express has learnt that efforts are underway from both sides for a meeting.
However, going by the past experience, the Indian High Commission in Dhaka is working quietly for a meeting, as this time Zia’s office has shown keenness for it.
Zia’s decision to not meet Mukherjee in March’ 2013 had sparked widespread outrage prompting the Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders to privately regret the decision with the Indian side.
While no official statement of regret has been issued by Zia’s BNP, private regrets have been expressed to Indian interlocutors, including to Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.
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This time, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League’s government has been arguing that the visiting External Affairs minister need not meet Zia as she is not the Leader of Opposition.
However, the Indian side which is now being represented by a new leadership, wants to touch base with all the political parties.
In fact, the Indian side is working for meetings with Jatiya party’s leader —General Ershad’s wife Roshan — who is the Leader of Opposition in the present parliament.
While meetings are still being worked out by the two sides, the Bangladesh government is pulling out all stops to lay the red carpet for Swaraj as Foreign minister A H Mahmood Ali is expected to depart from protocol receive her at the Dhaka airport on Wednesday.
While no big ticket items are expected, India is likely to raise concerns over illegal migration while Dhaka is likely to raise the land boundary agreement and Teesta water treaty. Discussions will also take place on trade, energy cooperation and security matters.
Officials said Swaraj’s decision to choose Bangladesh for her first stand-alone visit abroad reflects the importance India attaches to its relationship with the neighbouring country.
Swaraj is likely to carry a goodwill message for Prime Minister Hasina, who couldn’t attend Modi’s swearing-in as she was on a foreign trip. Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury had represented Bangladesh at the event.
During her visit, Swaraj will hold talks with her counterpart and call on President Abdul Hamid besides meeting Prime Minister Hasina.
The minister will also engage with think tanks, chambers of commerce and industry and cultural organisations.
The two sides are also expected to discuss dates for the next joint consultative commission meeting which will prompt a visit by the Bangladesh foreign minister in the near future.