PM Modi’s big secret saves face in otherwise inconclusive Bangladesh trip

By: admin
Updated: 08 Jun 2015 02:16 AM

Dhaka: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday tried his best to strike the right chords in Bangladesh by sharing a secret and acknowledging the host country's economic growth, cricketing success and famed hospitality to which his attention was drawn by Mamata Banerjee.


The listeners reciprocated with cries of "Modi, Modi".


In two addresses to select gatherings - one in the morning and the other in the evening - in Dhaka, the Indian Prime Minister charmed the host country to such an extent that the non-fulfilment of the Teesta water-sharing dream became a footnote.


"Everyone at the auditorium was ecstatic.... He won the people over by saying the things that any Bangladeshi wants to hear. It is true that we did not get any clear roadmap on the Teesta water-sharing deal but he convinced us it would happen," said Sukanta Gupta Alak, the editor of Desh TV.


Alak was at the Bangabandhu International Conference Center, where Modi delivered an address on an invitation from Dhaka University.


The Prime Minister left for the airport from the venue but his one-hour-plus speech remained the sole topic of discussion among most opinion-makers in this country.


Although no breakthrough had been expected this time on the Teesta, there were murmurs of discontent in sections of Bangladeshi society last night, with some drawing parallels with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 2011 visit.


The joint statement by the two governments, released today, sought to reassure Dhaka that no step that would adversely affect Bangladesh would be taken on the Tipaimukh dam - a proposed embankment dam on the Barak river in Manipur. It also promised support for Bangladesh developing a barrage on the Padma - clear indications that India was treading with caution on riverine issues.


The objective of Singh then and Modi now - minimise the neighbour's Teesta heartburn - appears similar. But Modi has gone about seeking to achieve it in a different way and played on his strengths, reaching out to Bangladeshi people with a diverse basket of messages.


The Indian Prime Minister tasted his first success in the morning at Bangabhaban - the official address of Bangladesh President Md. Abdul Hamid. There, Modi received the "Bangladesh Liberation War Honour" on behalf of Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the veteran leader's support to this country's freedom struggle.


Modi said: "Today I feel proud to share something which I have probably never shared before.... When the Jana Sangh, under the leadership of Atalji, was organising a satyagraha in support of the creation of Bangladesh, I had come to Delhi from my village and taken part in it as a volunteer."


The applause continued for several seconds. It turned into "Modi, Modi" chants in the evening when he explained how the struggles of a yet-to-be-born Bangladesh had made his blood boil and moved him to take part in the first political programme of his life.


"I joined politics much later in my life, around 1998.... But the first political programme that I attended in my life was the satyagraha under Atalji. As a young man, I would read newspaper reports about the brave freedom fighters and the atrocities on them. My blood used to boil the same way as yours," he said.


"This is a proud moment for me to accept the award....


The President, a Liberation War fighter himself, has given the award in the presence of the daughter of Bangabandhu (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman)," Modi added.


The sluice gates of the feel-good dam were lifted when Modi listed the achievements of Bangladesh, starting with the 6 per cent economic growth. He said some Indian states should take lessons from Bangladesh in tackling infant mortality, augmenting child nutrition and ensuring education for the girl child.


He referred to Bangladesh's recent cricketing performance and singled out woman cricketer Salma Khatun for praise before making a special mention of Bangladeshi hospitality.


"Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was telling me about the hospitality in Bangladesh and I have felt it myself," said Modi who quoted poet Jibanananda Das and promised " abar asibo phire (I shall be back)."


In his second address, he had something to say on the Teesta as well. "I believe panchhi(birds), pawan (the wind), and paani (water) need no visa and, therefore, the Teesta issue has to be solved with a human approach," he said.


Although it meant little, most Bangladeshi citizens this correspondent spoke to said they would gloss over the Teesta for now as Modi had convinced them a new chapter had begun in Indo-Bangla ties.