There are many unresolved issues with India that need to be addressed before reaching any defence agreement during the upcoming visit to India by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh seeks friendship from India, not domination. These sentiments were voiced at a seminar on ‘India Bangladesh Relations’, held on 3 April at the National Press Club in Dhaka.
“As a neighbour, we want friendship with India not any sort of colonialism or dominance in the name of friendship,” said Mahmudur Rahman Manna, politician-turned-civil-society-leader and Convenor of Nagorik Oikya (Citizen’s Unity), adding, “We don’t want any deal at the cost of our interests.”
Manna called upon the prime minister to uphold the will of the people, saying, “If you return with a deal detrimental for the country, we will rise up against it.”
Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury, trustee of the people’s health organisation Gonoshasthya Kendra and vocal leader of the civil society, said, “The prime minister should sign three deals on her forthcoming India trip. Firstly, no border killings should take place. Secondly, all water sharing deals (including Teesta) should be signed. And thirdly, the 200 millionMuslims living in India should be given the right to practice their religion.” He said, “Only if you sign these three deals with India, will the people consider whether there can be a national defence deal or not.”
Professor Asif Nazrul said of Dhaka University’s law department said, “When we discuss India-Bangladesh relations, we can’t do it intellectually. We view it extremely emotionally. Some blindly oppose relations with India due to narrow religious bigotry. Others are either politically for India or against it, either to remain in power or to ascend to power. Then there are those who are awash with with gratitude. There is all reason to be grateful, but we must remember that the Indian should be ever grateful to us too because of what they gained through our independence. Had Bangladesh not come into existence, India would have had Pakistan on its two sides, nuclear missiles on either side. So we should also remember that we have done India a great service by winning independence. It should be a balanced relationship. We need not be overly grateful and hand over everything.”
General Secretary of the left-leaning political party Bangladesh Samajtanrik Dal, Khaliquzzaman, said that the people had no idea why the prime minister was going to India and what deals she would sign. The matter wasn’t discussed in the either, he said, adding that this created suspicions in the public mind. “It also goes to show just how far removed the rulers are from the general people,” he said.
The BSD leader cautioned the government about India’s past and what had happened in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. He said a careful watch was to be kept on their dominating mentality.
Gono Forum executive president Subrata Chowdhury said, “India is a large neighboring country. It is important to have good relations with them for the sake of stability. But just as we have made progress in cricket, our present government and its leader seem to have almost become world champions in political diplomacy.”
He said, “All these days we have been talking about IS and ISI, but now suddenly RAW has popped in public discussions.The prime minister said that BNP came to power in 2001 with RAW’s help, but she fails to say what happened in 2014. Indian foreign secretary Sushma Swaraj had come to Bangladesh at the time and played a dubious role. Would this have been possible in any other country of the world? They have kept this government in power.”
General Secretary of the left-leaning Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) Abdul Malek Ratan said, “Bangladesh is surrounded on three sides by India. So if Bangladesh is ever attacked it will be from India. If this happens, there will be an explosive mass uprising.” He said, within a week of Bangladesh purchasing submarines from China, India sold submarine destroying torpedoes to Myanmar. “Is this friendship?” he asked.
Biplobi Workers Party General Secretary Saiful Huq said, “Transit was our main bargaining tool with India, but we carelessly have handed this over. Now during the PM’s trip to India, our agendas will be pushed aside and India’s will come to the forefront.” Referring to a defence deal, he said, “Are we apprehensive of a war? Such an agreement goes against Bangladesh’s security and sovereignty.”
Referring to the IPU (International Parliamentarians Union) conference currently being held in Dhaka, Saiful Huq asked whether these huge funds were spent to bring in parliamentarians from 100 countries in order to cover up the shame of the 2014 voter-less election?
Communist Party of Bangladesh’s presidium member Sajjad Zahir Chandan said, “We have many problems with India. The issues of Teesta water, Tipaimukh dam, border killings, trade imbalance, drugs, smuggling, Rampal power plant, all remain unresolved. Whatever deals the PM may sign in India, these issues must be resolved. We will not accept any deal at the cost of the country’s interests.”