The Bangladesh High Commissioner Tariq A. Karim called on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar on Saturday, in what is being seen as a significant sign of growing international recognition of Modi’s influence on issues of national interest in New Delhi. Karim’s visit came barely a day after Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni was in New Delhi and met senior opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley, among others.
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The Modi government issued an official statement late on Saturday night. “High Commissioner of Bangladesh Tariq A. Karim met the Chief Minister of Gujarat in Gandhinagar today and held fruitful discussions to strengthen mutual relationship between Bangladesh and India, particularly with Gujarat,” it stated. Earlier in the day, Karim attended an international workshop on mangrove cultivation in Gandhinagar.
This meeting is significant in two ways. First, although Karim isn’t the first foreign diplomat to have met Modi, he is the first envoy of a Muslim majority country; a neighbor where the riots in Gujarat in 2002 had evoked a strong reaction, to have had an official meeting with Modi.
The British High Commissioner and several others from Europe as well as the Chinese Ambassador to India have met the Gujarat chief minister over the past year. Of India’s neighbors, only Beijing has hosted Modi in the past.
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In recent months, European countries and now India’s neighborhood have attempted to energize relations with the Modi-led Gujarat government. Most of these countries, as well as the US, have had no contacts with the Gujarat government since the 2002 riots. But Modi’s third successive electoral victory in December convinced many to establish contact with him and the strong Gujarati diaspora has played no small part in this.
However, most South East Asian countries, China, Japan, Latin American and African countries maintained direct contacts with the Modi government as they recognized the business potential in the state.
Here is a brief list of Modi’s recent meetings with envoys and his international visits:
July 27, 2013: Bangladesh High Commissioner, Tariq A. Karim calls on Modi in Gandhinagar.
June 5, 2013: Envoys of 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries meet Modi.
April 30, 2013: Canada’s High Commissioner to India, Stewart Beck calls on Modi.
April 30, 2013: Swiss Ambassador to India, Linus Von Castelmur meets Modi.
January 30, 2013: Israeli Ambassador Alon Ushpiz meets Modi.
January, 2013: German Ambassador Michael Steiner hosts lunch for Modi on behalf of all European Union countries, ending a boycott of the Gujarat government since the riots of 2002. Ambassadors of all prominent EU countries, including France, present at the lunch
October 11, 2012: The UK ends its boycott of Modi with London asking its High Commissioner James Bevan to visit Gujarat to explore areas of cooperation, including securing justice for the British nationals killed in 2002. Modi says “Der aaye durust aaye” (Better later than never). Bevan meets Modi for over 50 minutes on October 22, 2012.
As CM of Gujarat, Modi has visited China thrice. His last visit to China was in November, 2011.
Modi’s website has an entire page on how successful was Modi’s visit to China, where he was hosted at the Great Hall of the People. Such an invite is normally reserved for only visiting heads of state and government. He has also been to Russia along with then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Russian ambassador to India was one of the first of the foreign envoys to laud Modi’s third successive electoral victory in Gujarat in December.
Modi visited Japan on Tokyo’s invitation in June 2012 and has also visited South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong and other south east Asian countries in the last couple of years.
The website also stresses Gujarat’s “strong partnership” with Israel.
Modi has also visited African countries like Uganda and Kenya, where Gujaratis are an influential business community.
All of this ties into the second issue of significance. That the Sheikh Hasina government faces a tough election at the end of this year makes Karim’s meeting Modi all the more interesting.
Officials at the Bangladesh High Commission said Moni’s meeting with Jaitley on Friday was to ensure that the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) passes the test in the Rajya Sabha when it is first tabled in the monsoon session, set to begin next Monday.
“I am very hopeful that the way things have been evolving over the past few years, we will see fruition…We have all, on both sides, worked very hard, and I believe that at this juncture, everyone, regardless of the parties, will be able to see the larger picture and act accordingly,” she told reporters in New Delhi when asked what she thought would be the fate of the Land Boundary Agreement.
Sources said Moni’s meeting with Jaitley on Friday was instrumental in paving the way for the Bangladesh High Commissioner calling on Modi today. Quite conspicuously, Moni neither met the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, nor did the Bangladesh High Commission seek such a meeting.
“This wasn’t a breach of protocol as Moni isn’t either a head of state or government. But that Moni chose to meet Jaitley and not Swaraj is suggestive of who Dhaka thinks they will need to do business with – Modi or LK Advani,” said a government source. Within the BJP, Jaitley is considered a confidante of Modi while Swaraj is said to be in the Advani camp.
The agreement was inked during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in September, 2011, where notably, he failed to deliver on New Delhi’s promise of signing the Teesta river water sharing agreement after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was still an ally of the UPA government, expressed her opposition to it and refused to accompany him to Dhaka.
The LBA requires a constitutional amendment which needs to be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Members of Parliament (MPs) present and voting in both houses. The BJP, Trinamool Congress and parties like the Asom Gana Parishad have opposed the agreement so far and have threatened in the past to vote against it, which has made the UPA nervous about tabling it.
Support from the BJP and left parties would mean that the bill would get the requisite majority even if the Trinamool and other smaller parties from the northeast oppose it. The agreement envisages transfer of 111 enclaves with a total area of 17,160.63 acres to Bangladesh and of 51 enclaves with an area of 7,110.02 acres to India.
This would effectively settle all outstanding land border disputes between the two countries.
However, South Block acknowledges that India’s failure to deliver on either the LBA or the Teesta water sharing accord has hurt the Hasina-led Awami League government in Bangladesh. Khaleda Zia and her opposition Bangladesh National Party have accused the Hasina government of surrendering militants of insurgent groups in India hiding in Bangladesh without getting anything in return. The passage of the LBA will be something that the Hasina government can take to the people as success of her government’s diplomacy in the elections at end of the year.
This meeting comes at a time of much discussion about Modi’s international recognition and acceptability, with much reportage on the question of a US visa to the Gujarat chief minister. Indian MPs recently wrote to US President Barack Obama urging him to deny a US visa to Modi because of the riots in Gujarat in 2002 and the court cases on encounter deaths in Gujarat.
Also significantly, the Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Salman Bashir, told a television news channel earlier this week that his country was open to working a Narendra Modi-led government in Delhi. Both Dhaka and Islamabad are important members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and, between them, represent a substantial population of the Muslim world.