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.
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.
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.