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Friday, June 25, 2021

PM Modi, Sheikh Hasina invoke history to unveil roadmap for India-Bangladesh future

Pakistan’s tyranny in Dhaka gave us sleepless nights too, says PM Modi

Written by Shubhajit Roy | Dhaka |
March 27, 2021 4:00:20 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is received by Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Friday. (Twitter/narendramodi)

Invoking the history of Bangladesh, the brutal repression by the Pakistani Army and India’s role in its liberation 50 years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday unveiled his roadmap for a shared future that he said was “just waiting for countless…moments full of goodwill, and of mutual trust”.

In what is seen here as his assurance to resolve differences, the Prime Minister said that both sides are very much aware of the “sensitivity” of the task ahead and the need to make “meaningful efforts” towards resolution. “We have demonstrated that with mutual trust and cooperation, solutions can be found for all issues,” he said.

Echoing and reciprocating this was Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina. India, being the largest country in the region, she said, needs to play a pioneering role in building a stable, politically and economically vibrant South Asia. “If we move forward hand in hand, the development of our people is inevitable,” she said while chairing her country’s 50th anniversary celebrations where Modi was the guest of honour.

Modi, in his speech, recalled the brutalities of the Pakistan military. “The images of the heinous crimes and atrocities committed by the Pakistani army deeply disturbed us and gave us countless sleepless nights…a tyrannical Government was massacring its own citizens. It was crushing their language, their voice, their identity. The world did not talk as much about the cruelty, oppression and atrocities of ‘Operation Searchlight’ as it should have,” he recalled.

It is a happy coincidence, Modi said, that the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s liberation and the milestone of the 75th year of India’s independence have arrived together.

“For both of our countries, in the 21st Century, our journey over the next 25 years, will be very important. We have a common heritage, we have common development…We have common goals, and we have common challenges too. We must remember that though we have similar possibilities in the area of trade and development, we also face similar threats, such as terrorism. The ideologies and forces behind these inhuman acts are active even today. We not only need to be alert, but also need to stay united to fight them,” he said.

“Both our countries have the power of democracy…India and Bangladesh moving forward together, is equally important for the development of the entire region,” he said.

“We have demonstrated that with mutual trust and cooperation, solutions can be found for all issues,” he said, citing the Land Boundary Agreement and cooperation during the pandemic. “The future of India and Bangladesh, is just waiting for countless such moments full of goodwill, and of mutual trust,” he said.

He underlined the significance of a connection between the youth of both countries. So he invited 50 Bangladeshi entrepreneurs to visit India to connect with the country’s start-up and innovation ecosystem and meet its venture capitalists. He also announced ‘Swarna Jayanti’ scholarships to mark 50 years of Indo-Bangla ties.

Modi, who was received by Sheikh Hasina at the Shah Jalal airport in Dhaka in the morning, was speaking at the memorial event at the Parade Ground. Peppering his speech with quotations in Bengali, Modi recalled the famous line by Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: “Ebarer Songram, Amader Muktir Songram (This struggle is our freedom struggle)”.

Apart from referring to contributions by the people of Bangladesh and Indian soldiers who fought in the liberation war, the Prime Minister also recalled the “effort and important role” played by then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the words of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was a young leader from Jana Sangh in Parliament and had said that the blood of the freedom fighters in Bangladesh and Indian soldiers “flowed together”.

Modi also said that he himself took part in a demonstration in India in favour of Bangladesh, as a young man in his early 20s, and was arrested. “Those who had objected to the creation of Bangladesh, those who looked down upon the people of Bangladesh as inferior, those who had apprehensions about the existence of Bangladesh, Bangladesh has proved them all wrong,” he said.

At the ceremony, both US and Pakistan’s leaders also turned a page in history. Read out by his diplomat, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s message talked about “fraternal ties with Bangladesh” and said, “We would like to fortify our existing bonds with brotherly Bangladesh and build new ones.”

US President Joe Biden’s message, read by the US envoy, recalled that on the campus of Dhaka University in February 1972, Senator Edward Kennedy had said, “Freedom is yours, and the future belongs to the people of a new Bengali nation for generations to come.” He wished Bangladesh a “bright, prosperous future”.

The event was also attended by Hasina’s sister Sheikh Rehana, Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, and several Bangladeshi veteran freedom fighters, ministers, political leaders and ambassadors based in Dhaka.

Delivering an emotional speech, Hasina said that India has been by Bangladesh’s side whenever it was in need. She recalled how her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and several members of her family, were assassinated on August 15, 1975. She and her sister Rehana, she recalled, escaped death since both were in Germany at that time. She also recalled how she spent many years in exile in India, before she returned to Bangladesh to participate in politics.

Earlier in the day, Modi paid homage to the martyrs of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence against Pakistan and said they devoted their life towards “preserving righteousness and resisting injustice”.

Army bugles played the Last Post as the Bangladesh national flag was hoisted at half mast in a ceremonial manner as Modi stood in silence in front of the National Martyr’s memorial at Savar, about 35 km north-west of Dhaka, after placing a wreath.

“I pay my heartfelt tribute to the patriotic martyrs of Bangladesh whose glorious sacrifices enabled the birth of this great nation. May every visitor to this revered ground honour the sacred memory of the millions who were slain but not silenced. Their valour will continue to inspire future generations to fight injustice and defend the cause of righteousness,” Modi wrote in the visitor’s book at the memorial.

Later, Modi met political leaders from the ruling Grand Alliance as well as Opposition parties. Incidentally, the BNP — the party led by Khaleda Zia — was not part of the Opposition delegation, which had leaders from the Jatiya Party led by former President Gen H M Ershad’s wife Raushan Ershad.

Modi also met community leaders, including representatives of minorities and ‘Muktijoddha’ — the fighters of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Besides, he interacted with young achievers from different walks of life in Dhaka.

This is the Prime Minister’s first trip overseas since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.

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