PRIME Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Bhutan, his first trip abroad after assuming office, was very successful. Modi's B2B mantra has had a very positive impact on the psyche of Bhutanese. Bhutan has traditionally been a close friend of India.
The next big item on the agenda of the Ministry of External Affairs is Sushma Swaraj's trip to Bangladesh. The story here is entirely different than Bhutan. Bangladesh was separated from India on August 14, 1947, as East Pakistan on the Two Nation theory. But this emotion soon got converted into anti-West Pakistan feelings due to milking of resources of the Eastern wing and discrimination and ill-treatment of Bengalis by the West Pakistani rulers.
During the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, India went out of its way to extend all kinds of help. Ten million Bangladeshi refugees got shelter in India. The liberation force, Mukti Bahini, was trained, equipped, provided administrative backing and given launch pads for their operations against the Pakistani occupation army in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Government in Exile was established in Kolkata and given all the facilities to control the operations of Mukti Bahini. On December 4, 1971, the Indian army established a joint command with Mukti Bahini and Liberated Bangladesh.
The Indo-Bangladesh bonhomie was short lived with the brutal assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. A secular Bangladesh was made an Islamic Republic. Anti-India forces, including insurgents from the North-eastern states of India, were allegedly provided hideouts.
Things changed with Sheikh Mujibur Rehman's daughter, Sheikh Hasina, coming to power in 1996. But the BNP government of Khaleda Zia again put the clock back when she ruled Bangladesh from 2001 to 2006. Today, between 20% and 25% percent of Bangladeshis consider India an enemy but a great majority still considers it as a friend. After the Indian general election results were announced the Bangladeshi media was full of articles about insecurity of Indian Muslims and “illegal migrants” being pushed back by the Modi government. Sushma Swaraj must address all these issues and other genuine concerns of the Bangladeshis.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had created lot of hopes in the minds of the people when he visited Bangladesh in 2011. Before his visit, euphoria was created that India would sort out the Teesta water sharing issue and the enclaves would be exchanged. But Mamata Banerjee put a spanner in the wheel. At the last moment she chose to drop out from the prime minister's entourage to Dhaka. The whole show got spoiled. The agreement signed between the two countries about exchange of enclaves was not implemented.
Sheikh Hasina as the prime minister of Bangladesh had opened her doors for India. She went out of her way in pursuance of pro-India policies, particularly in assisting our security forces in nabbing the anti-India fugitives. She has successfully curbed all the help to anti-Indian elements from Bangladeshi soil. She genuinely expected reciprocal steps from India which could boost her image and strengthen her government. Unfortunately, she did not get the desired response. The elite as well as common Bangladeshis feel betrayed by India for not meeting the aspirations of the masses. It is in this backdrop that Sushma Swaraj will be reaching Dhaka on June 26, 2014.
Bangladeshis expect that India will immediately address the issues of sharing of Teesta water, killing of Bangladeshis by BSF, exchanging enclaves at the earliest and increasing the number of items of duty free imports. On the other hand, India's concerns are mainly illegal Bangladeshi migrants and security of minorities, particularly Hindus and Buddhists.
The issue of Teesta water sharing is the result of magnified ego of some Indian politicians and lack of vision. Millions of cusecs of water flow into the Bay of Bengal, causing havoc by flooding vast areas of Northern West Bengal and North Bangladesh, during the monsoons. Starting from Teesta eastwards, large number of rivulets and nullahs up to Jaldhaka River carry huge quantities of waters into the Bay of Bengal during the monsoons. Teesta and Jaldhaka are perennial rivers whereas others are seasonal. A small barrage on Jaldhaka River has been built, primarily for electricity generation. All the rivers of Northern West Bengal can be linked and large number of mini dams can be constructed on these water sources. Plenty of electricity can generated which can meet the requirement of whole of Jalpaiguri District. Whole of narrow belt of Northern West Bengal can be irrigated and the water requirement of North Bangladesh can be easily met.
The incidents of BSF firing are caused mainly due to attempts of cattle and other forms of smugglings and illegal border crossings. The BSF battalions while serving on the LAC in J&K get used to firing on any intruder into our territory. When they get deployed in the Eastern sector the habits of Jawans of shooting prevail on their psyche. Every BSF shooting incident hits the headlines in Bangladeshi media and causes tremendous damage to the otherwise friendly relations. In order not to hurt the emotions of average Bangladeshis these persons must be apprehended by the security personnel and handed over to their Bangladeshi counterparts for legal action. For this, a foolproof intelligence network has to be built-up concomitantly with sound vigilance by BSF in all bordering states. Close liaison and coordination between the two countries border management agencies is very essential.
The lives of the people in the enclaves inside each other's country are miserable. They are citizens of no country. Their safety, security and dignity are always in danger. Their women folk are subjected to harassment of all kinds. They can hardly avail any facility which is provided to other citizens of India or Bangladesh. The agreement on swapping of enclaves signed by the previous government may have lacunas but it needs to be implemented on humanitarian grounds. Losing some acreage by India should not hinder the welfare of so many people. The West Bengal government needs to be convinced about the merit of enclave swapping.
There is hardly any family in Bangladesh which was not affected by the genocide and atrocities of Pakistani army in 1971. The people in the age group of fifty five and above nostalgically recollect the Indian contribution in the Liberation War. There were more than one hundred thousand Mukti Bahini cadres who fought the Pakistan occupation army with India's help. More than hundred of them were officers. They are addressed as Mukti Joddhas (Freedom Fighters) by people of Bangladesh. They have large number of friends among the Indian veterans of 1971 War. The Indian government must make use of Indian veterans of the 1971 War to establish and strengthen the people to people friendship. Films and TV serials can showcase the sacrifices of the Indian soldiers alongside the Bangladeshis. Such steps can go a long way in correcting the distorted history. This can also help foster friendly relations between the future generations of the two countries.
The Modi government needs to apply its mind in winning over Bangladeshis. It is important for peace and prosperity of both the countries. India must make Bangladesh a partner in its growth story. Every Bangladeshi must be made a stake holder in the peace and progress of both countries.
The writer is a Retired Brigadier General of the Indian Army. He participated in the Liberation War of Bangladesh.