PM Modi shakes hand Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal | @narendramodi/Twitter
File image of PM Narendra Modi with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina | Photo: @narendramodi | Twitter
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The ground-breaking 5 August ceremony to build a ‘gaganchumbi’, literally ‘sky-kissing’, temple to Lord Rama in Ayodhya has sparked off some unease in neighbouring Bangladesh. The event will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several senior BJP leaders.

This will come less than two weeks after Bangladesh allowed Indian goods, meant for the northeast region, to dock at the Chittagong port on the Bay of Bengal for the first time since 1971. The cargo was later received by Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb at the Akhaura integrated check post, barely 200 km from the Bangladesh border.

The docking of an Indian ship at Chittagong port is an amazing breakthrough in the on-off bilateral relationship between India and Bangladesh. It is certainly a major step in the economic reconnection of the subcontinent. The fractures caused by the partition of India in 1947 may not have healed, but enhanced stakes through trade and commerce are certainly expected to help.

So, if India and Bangladesh are reaffirming their relationship on the all-important economic front, why the unease in Dhaka? What is keeping Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from expressing fulsome joy about the fact that her country and India are even more closely tied together?


Also read: Ram Mandir can’t wait for Covid vaccine. Modi is Hindutva leader first, India’s PM later


The need to be vocal

Perhaps a more substantive query would be to look at why PM Modi has kept quiet about the Chittagong port breakthrough. There has been no mention of it even in his Sunday ‘Mann Ki Baat,’ which is interesting, because it’s very unlike Modi to not take credit for something that is legitimately due to him.

Of course, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal virtually flagged off 10 broad gauge diesel locomotives on Monday for Bangladesh. Earlier, Jaishankar wrote to his Bangladeshi counterpart A.K. Abdul Momen emphasising the special nature of India-Bangladesh ties and promising a special push towards reactivating trade links.

But analysts noted that India’s initiatives have come after China announced a 97 per cent duty-free tariff for Bangladeshi goods from 1 July. In fact, Indian officials secretly complain that Bangladesh is allowing itself to be pushed into a Chinese “dual deficit and debt trap”.

Certainly, Dhaka is playing it cool. PM Sheikh Hasina and her senior advisors haven’t forgotten then-BJP president and current Indian Home Minister Amit Shah’s description of ‘illegal’ Bangladeshi immigrants as “termites” in September 2018. He repeated the invective in April 2019 while promising to throw the immigrants into the Bay of Bengal.


Also read: PM Modi should know India needs to be a strong country, not just have a strong government


Need to work it out together 

On Sunday, in reaction to the 5 August Ayodhya event, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Momen warily pointed out that Dhaka won’t allow the temple construction to hurt ties between the two nations, and that India equally should not allow anything to fracture “our beautiful and deep relationship.”

Sheikh Hasina has never been more powerful in Bangladesh, which is how she has been able to forestall any objection that might have hampered economic ties with India. And so, allowing India to use the Chittagong port is not just a slap in the face of the pro-Pakistani fundamentalists who don’t want better relations with India, it’s also a message to China, which is redeveloping the port, that Dhaka will be the only one to decide who can use it.

Bangladesh was an early votary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), joining it in 2016, the year Chinese President Xi Jinping cut a $24-billion cheque for Bangladesh. A previous contribution of $13.6 billion in aid makes China the largest investor in Bangladesh – much to Delhi’s chagrin, which prides itself on its intimate relations with its neighbourhood.

Modi, meanwhile, is caught in a bind. He is wedded to his own political agenda, which means he must build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) — even if they badly affect neighbouring friends like Bangladesh.

For the moment, the Covid-19 pandemic has mostly stilled choppy waters – said to be the reason why outgoing high commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das wasn’t able to get a farewell call with PM Hasina. The fact that Das is being succeeded by Vikram Doraiswami, a Chinese speaker, is acknowledgement that Delhi wants to improve ties with Bangladesh and not let China further insinuate itself into Dhaka’s affections.


Also read: Five elements make up Modi’s charisma. 4 are beginning to lose lustre


The Pakistan issue

But there is a third problem with the India-Bangladesh relationship – Pakistan. Increasingly, it seems, Modi is looking at India’s neighbourhood through the Pakistani prism and this is beginning to upset several neighbours. The Afghans are already complaining, pointing out that Indian elites are interested in Afghanistan only to the extent that Kabul is critical of everything Pakistani.

Something similar is happening with Bangladesh. When Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan called Hasina a few days ago, Delhi was upset enough to wonder why he had called in the first place and whether she agreed with his constant cribbing about Jammu and Kashmir. (She didn’t.)

“What’s wrong if Pakistan dials us,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Momen asked in a conversation with The Hindu, somewhat exasperated. To a Dhaka TV channel, Momen admitted telling the Pakistanis that they must own up to the 1971 ‘genocide’ if they want the relationship to improve.

Certainly, the special India-Bangladesh relationship is here to stay – but it would significantly help if the political elites, led by the Prime Minister himself, and not just the bureaucratic ones, nurtured it from time to time.

Views are personal.

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34 Comments Share Your Views

34 COMMENTS

  1. It is curious that Islamic countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan are not moved by the plight of Uighur Muslims, men in concentration camps and women subjected to forced sterilization. Top this with genocide of Bangla speaking fellow Muslims by PKistam. Not to mention killing of Pashtun Muslims, Baloch Muslims and Sindhi Muslims by Pakistan army. But Bangladesh is worried about Hinduisation of India! By the way track record of Bangladesh in protecting Hindu citizens is not very laudable either. I think author should consider these facts before churning out an agenda driven piece.

  2. The aurhot must be another bengali and / or a communist khangress or whatever. Hindutva is not modi’s. It’s an idea just like the islamic idea. When islam becomes radical, do they think everyone else will keep quiet ? They will assert. Man is free fundamentally. Only in the semitic regions do they preach man to be chained to particular ideas and take away his freedom through radical faith. This author needs real education.

  3. Hello Indians I was a Bangladeshi freedom fighter and wants to thank Indians for helping us in liberating Bangladesh.But we could also do it ourselves provided we could get a constant supply of arms from Soviet Union through India.We know the arms those were given to us was replenished by the Soviet Union to India.Pakistan however did a mistake of attacking India in the western front allowing India to invade Bangladesh and with Mukti Bahinis help quickly liberated Bangladesh.It solved India’s defence worries and we got our independence.We are thankfull for that.But it does not mean that you will try to dominate us and bully us and intervene in our politics.In Bangladesh when you needed to intervene in 1975 India didn’t,.As a result America reversed the course in Bangladesh and made it a hot bed of Islamic fanaticism through pro Pakistani agents.It took another 20 yrs for secular forces to regroup and come back to power and control Bangladesh.We are very much secular people at least the majority of us.The Hindus who goes to India were economic migrants not persecuted people.Yes some of them are but the percentage is very less.But in the last 10 years economically Bangladesh has become very much viable.In many field we crossed India and if Corona problem does not persists will beat India in most fields.The flow of Hindu migrants has stopprd and will be reverse soon.The way you Indians becoming a communal state soon u will be a failed state.I wonder how an educated India is electing a Hindutuva party which already alliented all its neighbors.The actions of BJP and its leaders like Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath inspires our radical Islamic elements and creates division and mistrust. betn India and Bangladesh.In the last 12 years Bangladesh has given India security from Islamic terrorists,said no to Pakistan in forming any alliance,given India transit through Bangladesh and so on.In return you have given us nothing.In fact India is vioating international laws of water sharing and suffocating Bangladesh.You are making our country a desert and flooding it in rainy season.If you think we are weak and afraid of Indian hegemony -you are completely wrong.Shekh Hasina may be afraid of India to maintain his regime but not the people.They want to see India behave if you do not want to be friendless in the subcontinent.About China we need them for our economic progress.We are no fool.Like your country we also have nobel laureates and educated economist.You oil your own machine.Try to aliavate poverty from your country.We know how to do it for ours. If the Impearialist America and Britain can be your friend so China can be ours if it help us.We do not need any economic help from you for sure. From our bilateral trade you gain only not us.Whereas we have trade surplus with USA and most other developed countries. So last request if you do not want us to leave you permanently be civilized,shun communalism,be secular and co operative.Do not try to dominate Bangladesh.It will backfire on you

    • Wow ! Look who is talking an so much ! Just like their mullahs ! Only they have freedom and everyone else don’t. All Bangladeshis were hindus before and because of their cowardice they assumed an alien religion. They are not even touched by the so called pure arabs or saudis. They deserve it. Back off fellow. Your own karma is getting to you.

  4. A country which booted out its own Minority is afraid that India is becoming more Hindu? Is this some kind of a Joke? They were ok with the Iftar parties hosted by our Leadership, but are upset because of Ram Mandir? Ok… We get it.

    Internal matters. They can get upset if they like.. too bad. Cancel Culture anyone?

    • I am absolutely certain that you never met or interacted with a Bangladeshi and you have never visited Bangladesh. India do not have a single neighbour who is happy with India. Speaks a lot about Modi’s foreign policy.

  5. Whatever Amit Shah said was absolutely right. No need to make a big deal about it. Illegal immigrants are TERMITES. Be it from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal or Myanmar.

    • I agree with your statement that these illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are TERMITES and should be forced back to their home countries. Amit Shah should start sending Rohingyas from Kashmir back to Bangladesh or Myanmar.India is the only country that is safe for Hindus and we are proud of it.We will build a Huge Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and many more will be built and nobody can stop that.Journalist like you have no clue but keep on writing Congress propaganda.

  6. Bangladesh have raised concerns regarding NRC, CAA, Kashmir. And now the government is supporting pro Pakistan voices.

    All 3 issues are internal and based on facts. But for Bangladesh it has made it religious. In doing so what they have forgotten how the Punjabi Muslims raped, plundered, looted and killed Bengali Muslims. Now they are standing tall with their marauders.

    Looks like they are at peace with this history.

  7. Stupid logic…ask a non-M who is forced to leave Bangladesh….Why the radicals will come when their agenda is wiping out non-M….they r termites when they land here…

    Convert place of worships to mosque makes radicals happy….that’s what they want… We should get our temples back….radicals are already upset with kaffirs…hardly matters if you take your temples back..

  8. I wonder what has Modi government done to advance Hindutva agenda. Nothing. It has not weeded JNU of leftist pests. It has not re-written text books in saffron colour. It has not replaced leftist academics from the central Universities. How does this writer come to conclusion that Modi has Hindutva agenda. Just CAA and NRC? Well, even though Bangladesh is economically doing better these days, the illegal Muslim immigrants are the gifts of past, from this country. Are we expected to harbour every burglar and housebreaker in our houses?

  9. Even some journalist are upset with MODIJIs agenda of no appeasement to proselytizers. There’s no HINDUTVA agenda. Can’t a person if he is a HINDU go to a temple to pray. Congrass journalist are afraid of HINDU consolidation and withering away of corrupt rent a journalist type who have known to turn a blind eye to proselytizers activities in INDIA.

  10. Bangladeshi Muslims destroyed 18,000 Hindu temples in 1992 after the demolition of Babri Mosque, stop supporting this muslim jihadisst, they all are same, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Kashmir, Hindus shouldn’t act like cowards, why no Muslim nation talks about Uighur Muslim genocide by china, Bangladesh takes billions of dollars of loan from china and never comments against china, the mighty is always right, Hindus become strong and united all these Leftists and Muslims will fall in line.

  11. How long with India be able to keep Bangladesh on its side based on the memory of the genocide by the Pakistani army in 1971? Eventually, a section of the new generation will start to become tired of the same old narrative and look forward to rediscovering the bond of Muslim brotherhood with their brethren in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, especially Turkey. This will likely happen irrespective of how much you try to bribe them. Bangladesh will sooner or later become another Pakistan and perhaps India should start preparing for that.

  12. It is alright for Bangladesh to make Islam as the state religion, and to reduce their Hindu population from twenty to eight percent in the last fifty years. But India cannot afford such luxury. Arab countries regularly deport illegal Bangladeshis from their country. Malaysia recently chained some illegal Bangladeshis in their country. Bangladesh never protests against them. But the author is worried about Bangladesh. i wonder how much she was paid to write this article. she does this regularly on behalf of that country.

  13. Why would India take the burden of twenty million illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who will create a Muslim majority state and start another Kashmir on the eastern borders. Bangladesh would always blackmail India , and like Pakistan, they will send their terrorists. But India must stick to its guns.

  14. A usual bizarre logic from Jyoti. How can construction of Ram Temple affect Bangla Desh? As regards CAA and NRC, it is Bangla Desh that has always rejected the claims that there are any Bangla Deshi infiltrators (so called termites!) in India. And they will take no one back into Bangla Desh. So how should CAA affect our relationship? If Bangla Desh gets good terms of investments from China or aid, why should they not accept it? How can any deal with China be anti India unless it triggers crossing our red lines? And why should Bangla Desh not have a normal relations with Pakistan which is not posing security threats to us?

    And of course, the best from Jytoi is – “.appointment of Vikram Doraiswami, a Chinese speaker, is acknowledgement that Delhi wants to improve ties with Bangladesh and not let China further insinuate itself into Dhaka’s affections.” One wonders what is the use Chinese that Vikram speaks in Dhaka that is going to deter China there? Only Jyoti knows!

  15. Don’t be foolish. Muslims never compromise their goal of converting everyone to Islam. Even ur nice to them they will not change. Only way is china way to control them. China systematically wiping out the Muslims still no one question them. We are too soft they are taking advantage on that. We have to have family planning and uniform code

  16. Hindutva agenda may have caused some unease but the larger issue is elsewhere. There has hardly been a murmur in Bangladesh or in the Muslim world about Chinese treatment of Vighur Muslims. It boils down to China’s greater and ever expanding comprehensive national power vis a vis India. If India can address this gap by all means possible rest will take of itself, Hindutva included

  17. Non sense…what about China’s on going campaign of cultural genocide agianst ethinic Uighur muslins in Xingjiang ? Why no Islamic country ( Turkey, Iran , Pakistan, Bangladesh) is speaking against it ? Its simple. Their national interest depends on billions of dollars of Chinese investment. They don’t care if China sends a million Uighur muslims in intermittent camps which the U.N , E.U , U.S and the entire independent world media says is happening as we speak .

  18. I have been reading recently quite a few articles by self proclaimed analysts and commentators that because of Modi govts anti muslim policies countries like Bangladesh and Iran are moving away from india and growing closer to China .Nothing can be more dumb than this argument because if Modi govt’s anti muslim policies are the reason for these fraying of relations with countries like Iran , Banglsdesh and Turkey then what explains the excellent relations the above countries have with china when the U.N , E.U and the entire independent world media is talking about china’s campaign of cultural genocide against ethnic uighur muslims by putting more than a million uighur muslims in intermittent camps throughout Xing Xiang. China is using check book diplomacy by investing billions in islamic countries to supresss the criticism of its aggressive policies against ethnic uighur muslims because china is a rising economic and military power .So what explains this is that the relations between countries depend on their own national interests and their ruling elites interests but not on religion and ethnicities. Erdogan is close ally of china despite china successfully implementing cultural genocide of turkic speaking uighur muslims , simply because china is pumping billions into turkey which Turkey badly needs .So same case with Bangladesh, Iran and Pakistan.

  19. Here we go again! CAA and NRC! It is hurtful to read the constant denial of left to acknowledge the genocide being carried out in Pakistan,Afghanistan and Bangladesh by the radical outlets. We can be as selective as OIC who have failed to recognise the wrong doing of Uyghur Muslims just to please the Chinese regime. The Non-Muslim are the victim to the unethical 2 nation theory which was basically made on the bases of Islamic state! We are liable to grant citizenship to all the non-Muslim trying to escape those radicalised nation, as they have long civil connective with the Indian motherland and it is time for all the left and liberals to sniff the coffee and wake up from their long hibernation. If CAA and NRC is bothering Bangladesh then it is time for them to modernise their nation and curb their radical to avoid heavy migration and safe haven for all minorities which they have failed to do so, if this hurts their sentiment so be it. If they object the building of ram mandir, they should have considered reading the fact that SC have legally passed the judgement to build a temple, if they were concerned about Indian secularism they should also commenting Turkey’s decision of converting the sophia museum to mosque which was a church belonging to orthodox Christian communities demolished by then Ottoman Empire! It is being absurd to see people commenting on the belief of other without having a standard progressive ideology.

  20. somehow i dont get this… whether we build a temple or not.. its a strictly internal matter.. and why do none of our enlightened intellectuals call out the sheer hipocrisy of these muslim nations when they accept chinese aid…the same china which is interning uighurs…why do we need to be apologetic and not china…

  21. It was more than the denial of a farewell call. Excellency had been requesting an audience for four months. She will now be dealing with Bangladesh as Secretary East. 2. We must acknowledge and accept that Neighbourhood First, perhaps even Act East, are now sounding as vacuous as Make in India. On both grass and clay courts, our diplomats are being outplayed by the dragon. It has vast merchandise trade and investment / execution capabilities to offer. Bhutan is the last man standing, a little knock kneed. 3. Compounding economic asymmetry is the toxic cocktail of partisan domestic politics getting wound over regional foreign policy. Along with the elites, common people in Nepal and Bangladesh do not feel well disposed towards in India. It gives me no pleasure to be so critical, but impossible now to applaud our foreign policy and regional diplomacy.

    • Observations are largely correct. Probably most likely due to misplaced priorities of current dispensation.

      Absolutely no question that the hooplah around CAA created by the BJP was to create fertile ground to win the Bengal elections. They might succeed in it after all. But it will come at the cost of our relations with Bangladesh and other muslim majority countries which were on the upswing up until 2018-19.

      BJP prioritizes winning elections, Congress priorities sucking up to the first family. Wonder when either one of these 2 poles of Indian polity will prioritize national interest over anything else.

    • Nothing new. India never had good relationships with it’s neighbors for the last 70 odd years. Most of India’s immediate neighbors have been/are dysfunctional and need to get their own houses in order before relations with India improve. Whether its Pakistan,Nepal, Bangladesh,Sri Lanka or Myanmar none are yet able to fully settle their own internal conflicts. Once they are able to reconcile with their own citizens, relations with India will get a look in Till then India will have to wait and watch as they sell themselves to the highest bidder.

    • Very true and very well said and explained.
      The biggest problems with India is that we always wake up late, in fact when it’s too late.
      Our foreign policy is really gone for a toss and the Chinese had left no stone unturned to dominate the world economy….. Believe it or not….buts it’s a fact.
      We don’t stand anywhere near China in terms of Developments, Corruption, Infrastructure case to case, and implementation of plans.
      Hope people don’t label me as anti India and advise me to go to neighbouring country.

    • 95% of the victims were hindus! And Bengali Muslims have raped and killed 65000 Punjabi Muslims and slaughtered 500,000 Bihari Muslims the non-bengali survivors still live in camps in Bangladesh! Noone was innocent,come out of fake propaganda

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