Julius Caesar, after winning a facile victory in the Battle of Zela around 46 BC, wrote a letter to the Roman Senate using the Classical Latin phrase, 'Veni, vidi, vici' which means 'I came, I saw, I conquered.' Though the historical context of the trio of words suggests a military invasion, it is presently being used as a spirit of goodwill in bilateral relations. The Indian premier Narendra Modi's recent visit to Bangladesh can, very well, be viewed from this angle of vision. Modi rounded off his visit over a period of 36 hours from reception to farewell. But it's been of the first magnitude compared to other similar previous visits. However, the whole gamut of the visit can be summed up by these three words-veni, vidi, vici. Modi came to Bangladesh, saw her people and conquered their hearts by and large. From the president of the Republic to the peddlers in the street are all smiles. It is not that no other Indian premier had visited Bangladesh ever before. But the way Modi's visit has stirred the imagination of the people sounds peerless. Positive response from all concerned quarters-the government, the opposition and even BNP has been clearly evident. Modi too did not show any sign of stinginess with generosity and cordiality. He has gone by the protocol of the diplomatic visit in right earnest. It is no exaggeration to say that the visit, taken as a whole, has met with remarkable success.
There is obvious reason as to why Bangladeshi people's curiosity has been aroused by Modi's visit. How can a RSS leader like Modi, who has been branded as the ringleader of the notorious Gujarat ethnic cleansing in 2002 and is accused of bearing actual malice towards the Bangladeshi Muslim and using it in his last election campaign, take a U-turn and be lenient with the Bangladesh Muslim? While the nationalist and liberal Indian intellectuals like the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen are far too pessimistic about the consequence of secular India in the hands of right-wing radicals like Modi, he appears as a cosmopolitan world leader contrary to all speculations. After Modi's assumption of power, there has been a whole lot of debate in Bangladesh too, as to what is in store for Congress' Bangladeshi political allies in the wake of the former's debacle in the last election and what would be the future of the pro-liberation Bangladesh in neighbourly relations with India under Modi's right-wing radical party. But while, defying all apprehension, Modi affirms his allegiance to his Bangladeshi counterpart, shows great respect for the Father of the Nation and the valiant martyrs of the Liberation War (1971), and even met BNP leader Khaleda Zia beyond the protocol, he sure rises to the occasion.
The professional political analysts, however, will not feel happy to accept Modi's current political stance as a mark of a generosity of spirit. They would rather be eager to make a hair-splitting analysis of Modi's political stance. The behaviour of a man who has risen from a tea boy to the most influential position in his country cannot be so simplistically gauged. Modi is the premier of the most important country in Southeast Asia. Whatever may be his position from the vantage point of his party affiliation or the electoral strategy of his party, he could not advocate the policies of RSS and NDA standing against the long-borne legacy of Indian foreign policy. That is why, he adopted the old 'Look East policy' and devised his 'Neighbourhood first policy'. That Modi has come to power only to lead India would be so narrow of him. Starting from Nehru down to Modi's immediate predecessor Manmohan Singh, all Indian premiers have more or less worked simultaneously for India and the Southeast Asian region as well. Modi's contribution, if morning shows the day, seems to be no less than that of his worthy predecessors. Rather it sounds so much the better, especially when considered in terms of his attitude hitherto towards Bangladesh. Modi hogged the limelight as he came up with his concept of 'Vibrant Gujarat' and now wants to spring surprises on people of the region contributing to the realization of what he calls 'Vibrant Asia'. As the 19th century was developed as 'the British Century', 20th century as 'the American Century', so is developing the '21st Century' as, what leaders like Modi call, 'the Asian Century'.
Modi is also trying to build up Indian ascendency over the regional politics through gaining control of the SAARC to counterbalance China's growing interest in ASEAN. He organized a 'Mini SAARC' to mark his power assumption ceremony and is exerting his leadership skill through continued involvement with the neighbouring countries in the light of his 'Neighbour first policy' and Modi's recent Bangladesh visit is sure an expression of this.
Bangladesh's relations with India are as old as the hills. There are natural, social, cultural, political, economic ties between the countries prevailing over the ages. Therefore, the double-walled, barbed-wire fence raised along the border could not restrict the movements of nature-flora and fauna, and culture. People of two countries (the caged up Bangladeshis and the West Bengalis and many of northeast Indians) are born and raised in the same cultural matrix. They are bathed in the same waters, dried in the same air, fed the same food, speak the same language, read the same poetry, listen to the same music, and share the same history, culture and heritage. Thus, when the same people have to belong to two different countries by the twist of an arbitrary political fate, it becomes difficult to determine their bilateral relations.
There is another thing that binds one country to the other is India's role in the Liberation War of Bangladesh (1971). India played the role of a loving matron in the birth of an orphan-like child whose father was in a far off solitary confinement during childbirth. The founder of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself owed a great debt of gratitude to India and its erstwhile Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. For this deep sense of gratitude on one hand, and the vulnerability of geographical location and other concomitant weaknesses on the other, Bangladesh cannot always strongly haggle with India over different bilateral issues. Not only that, Bangladesh often fails to levy its due on India, which both countries are agreed on. It is, however, not that Bangladesh is solely responsible for the failure to obtain its rights being cowed by its counterpart in authority. India's big-brotherly attitude and hegemonic control over the neighbouring countries sometimes work as a hindrance to smooth functioning of relations building agenda.
Modi's visit to Bangladesh, however, appears to have heralded a new era of hope in the relations between the two countries. A far-sighted politician and a visionary leader Modi could very well realize that for making a socially, culturally and politically sustainable region, there is no alternative to improving India-Bangladesh relations. Maybe, Bangladesh is in more need of her big neighbour's support, but India too is not as such in an invulnerable position. India has to fall back upon Bangladesh time and again in order to take control of its north-eastern region by curbing insurgencies.
Modi's visit to Bangladesh has, by all accounts, had the sweet smell of success. The execution of the long-awaited Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) marks an important milestone in the history of Bangladesh-India relations. The long-drawn-out dispute over the transfer of Teen Bigha Corridor to Bangladesh has evaporated as if overnight. The exchange of adversely held enclaves soothes away the pangs and sufferings of thousands of people in both the countries. The signing of a couple of dozens of treaties and memoranda of understanding has opened up whole new vistas for both the countries in regard to connectivity and other economic and trade cooperation. Assurances have come from Modi's side for the realization of Hasina Government's Vision 2021 leading to Vision 2041. The Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina too has reciprocated the support of her worthy counterpart by allowing them to use several Bangladeshi seaports, transit protocol and regular bus service between Kolkata, Dhaka, Agartala and Dhaka, Gauhati, Shilong.
Modi's 2015 Bangladesh visit marks a new dawn in Indo-Bangladesh relations, and breaks fresh grounds in bilateral ties. Though the sharing of Teesta water issue had cast some aspersions on it, and little upset the people of Bangladesh, the hope is still at the end of the tunnel. The way the present two premiers, Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi have assured us of mutual cooperation, we can easily hope against hope. The successful execution of the LBA may lead to the Teesta water treaty along with other major shared rivers water agreements and many other Indo-Bangladesh mutual settlements.
However, it must be said that the historic relations between Bangladesh and India did not develop as much as expected from their relations during the Liberation War in 1971. For whatever reason it may be, it is most unfortunate of both the countries to keep failing to improve their relations. There is no reason why they should grow unfriendly to each other. The state principles of both the countries are identical. Both are People's Republics where principles of democracy and secularism are mostly valued. Both believe in the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. Both have framed their foreign policies in the light of amity and goodwill. Then why not the practice of what both preach? There should not be any room for doubt and distrust between the two cognate countries. But how to earn this? All the disputes developed between them over the years should be settled amicably. The already signed agreements should be properly implemented so that there remain no fears of a hidden agenda. Through a sincere accomplishment of the agreements so far concluded, India can win back the confidence of the Bangladeshi people. The people of Bangladesh should also reciprocate with the same, and secure a win-win situation. India should be well rid of its hegemonic role, and Bangladesh should come out of the shell of any kind of unfounded xenophobia. Only through the exercise of liberal and unprejudiced views and benevolent attitudes the two countries can earn each other's trust. If the two neighbouring premiers honour their pledges of mutual support, Bangladesh-India relations can again be held in trust.r
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. E-mail: [email protected]