Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s forthcoming two-day official visit to West Bengal, May 25-26, would further cement the enduring cultural links between the two countries. During the visit, she will attend the convocations of two renowned universities in West Bengal, the Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan and Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol. The two universities are named after, and greatly inspired by, the life and works of the two most celebrated poets in India and Bangladesh, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. While Nobel Laureate Tagore is the composer of the national anthem of both countries, a unique instance in the world, Nazrul, the rebel poet, is the national poet of Bangladesh.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the convocation of the Visva-Bharati as the chancellor of the university. Together the two prime ministers will inaugurate the “Bangladesh Bhavan” inside the premises of Santiniketan, funded by the Bangladesh Government, on May 25. The Bangladesh Bhavan will house a museum and other installations to showcase Rabindranath Tagore’s association with Bangladesh, its Liberation War and Indo-Bangla relations. The following day, Prime Minister Hasina will be conferred an honorary Doctor of Literature degree by Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol, during its third convocation. Apart from these, the two prime ministers will also hold a bilateral meeting at Bangladesh Bhavan, on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Bhavan at Visva-Bharati.
Prime Minister Hasina is also expected to visit Jorasanko Thakur Bari, the ancestral home of Tagore, which has been turned into a museum dedicated to the life and works of the Nobel laureate, and also the Netaji Bhawan in Kolkata, the ancestral home of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, a great patriot of the freedom movement in India.
Given the best of relations between the two countries, it is indeed most befitting that both countries are now trying to nurture the age-old connection of culture between them. We share a common history, a common tradition and common cultural, language and ethnic links. Bangla, as a common language, has been the connecting link between us. We share between us Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore and the rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.
Tagore, indeed, stands as a bridge between India and Bangladesh. The Tagore family had a long association with Bangladesh and Tagore’s ideas and creations are part of the ethos of both countries. Tagore’s prolonged stay in Shelidah and Shahzadpur, in present-day Bangladesh, had exposed him to the majestic beauty of rural Bengal and its impact on the people, which in turn, shaped his views on the philosophy of life. On his return from East Bengal, Tagore had established Visva Bharati, which has been acting as a cultural link between our two countries.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation of independent Bangladesh, shared Tagore’s liberal and humanist view of life. His choice of “Amar sonar Bangla, ami tomay valobashi [My golden Bengal, I love you]” as the national anthem of Bangladesh reflects his profound love and respect for Kabiguru Tagore. Bangabandhu was equally inspired by the great poet, popularly known as the “rebel poet” or “bidrohi kabi”, Kazi Nazrul Islam, who is also the national poet of Bangladesh.
Kazi Nazrul Islam, through his writings, fought against all odds and injustice. The same spirit was upheld by Bangabandhu throughout his political life. In fact, the name of Independent “Bangladesh” was taken from a poem of Nazrul, where he used it. His songs and writings had greatly inspired us during our Liberation War. If Tagore’s “Amar sonar Bangla, ami tomay valobashi” had inspired us to liberate the country, Kazi Nazrul Islam’s “Karar oi louho kopat, venge fel korre lopat [Destroy those iron gates of prison]” had inspired us tremendously to fight for our liberation. Bangabandhu’s able daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has inherited the same adulation from her father and has been a great admirer of the life and works of both Kabiguru Tagore and Bidrohi Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam and this visit is a testimony to that end.
For the construction of Bangladesh Bhavan, Visva Bharati allocated 11,112 square meter land adjacent to the Indira Gandhi Centre at Santiniketan, and it is being funded by the Bangladesh Government. The aim of the Bangladesh Bhavan is to contribute in the field of language, culture, art, economy, history with emphasis on cultural exchange between the two countries. It will be a centre of exchange of academicians, performers, students, and will facilitate people to people exchange between the two countries with research in inter-cultural exchange. The influence of Tagore in Bangladesh shall be a core area of study and exhibition. A special picture gallery on the theme “The Tagores and Bangladesh” will include the history of the interaction of the Tagore family with Bangladesh.
Scholarships will be provided to under-graduate and post-graduate students from Bangladesh as part of the activities of Bangladesh Bhavan. Modern Bangladesh and its history will also be represented through a museum, art gallery, library and such other installations.
The Bhavan will also have a centre for research on the Liberation War of Bangladesh, apart from the history, culture and art of Bangladesh. The museum will have four elements, namely, History of Bangladesh, Liberation War of Bangladesh with special focus on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Tagores and Bangladesh and modern Bangladesh. In the art gallery, there will be a special permanent gallery on the Liberation War of Bangladesh and the role of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the creation of independent Bangladesh.
The emotional and cultural bond continues to remain a dominant factor in our overall relations. Taking advantage of the historical symmetry of our tradition, culture and heritage, we should reflect on our relations to cultivate the “spirit” of culture and translate the same spirit in other areas of our cooperation for a mutual and shared vision of development of our two countries. The developments in recent years have already taken our bilateral relations as well as our cultural cooperation to a new multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and comprehensive platform. It is expected that Prime Minister Hasina’s visit and her meeting with the PM Modi would add a new dimension to our ever increasing bilateral ties.
Long live Bangladesh-India friendship.