Santiniketan : The Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh on Friday discussed a number of bilateral issues, including security and politics, in the sylvan surroundings of the Visva-Bharati University here founded by Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore – the composer of both countries’ national anthems.
The half-hour talks were preceded by two events – the 49th convocation of the university, as also the inauguration of the Bangladesh Bhawan on its campus by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina.
The two leaders, accompanied by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, spent over three hours at this campus housing the university and located in Birbhum sub-division of West Bengal’s Birbhum district, 160 km from Kolkata.
Modi set the tone for the talks during his address at the inauguration of the Bhawan, when he remarked that the two countries have scripted the golden chapter in their relations over the past few years.
He mentioned the Land Boundary Agreement and the resolution of the sea border dispute, saying “complex bilateral issues which seemed impossible to be resolved even some time back, have been solved now. In roads, rail, waterways, coastal shipping, we are moving fast in the areas of connectivity.”
On the other hand, Hasina paid glowing tributes to India, and its then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for its role during her Bangladesh’s liberation struggle, and the shelter that she provided to her after the assassination of her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – the leader of the Bangladesh liberation war and first president of independent Bangladesh.
She also expressed happiness over the two countries implementing the LBA, after the Indian parliament “unanimously passed the bill concerned”, and thanked Modi and Banerjee.
Asked about the talks at the Bangladesh Bhawan after the inauguration ceremony, a Bangladesh minister said bilateral issues were discussed.
“I was not there when they held the talks. But, suffice to say bilateral issues, issues related to regional security and politics were discussed,” said Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mohammed Shahriar Alam.
On Hasina seeking cooperation from everybody to put pressure on Myanmar to take back the 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, who have taken shelter in Bangladesh, he said his country was on the “same page” with India on the issue.
Alam referred to the assurances from Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her visit to Myanmar and said “she articulated India’s views so that the Rohingya refugees could return safely and in a dignified manner”.
He said track two dialogue was on regarding the Teesta water sharing issue.
Earlier, during her speech at the Bangladesh Bhawan, Hasina did not mention the contentious Teesta water sharing issue, but hoped that the two countries will be able to resolve all their problems amicably.
“We always want to walk together as neighbours. There can be issues between neighbouring countries,” she said in the presence of Banerjee, known for her firm opposition to the treaty.
“We have resolved many issues. Maybe there are a few left. I don’t want to raise the issue and spoil this beautiful function. But I do hope whatever the problem is, it can be solved amicably,” Hasina said.
Both Modi and Hasina repeatedly referred to the shared cultural ties between the two nations, with Tagore coming up repeatedly in their speeches.
Modi thanked Hasina for building the Bangladesh Bhavan here, and said India on its part was renovating the Kuthibari – the house of Tagore – in Kushthia district of Bangladesh.
Praising Hasina and the people of Bangladesh “from my heart”, Modi referred to the country launching its first satellite ‘Bangabandhu’.
He said India was now using space technology to improve the standard of living of the poor and introduce more transparency and exuded confidence the sector will open new vistas of cooperation with Bangladesh.
Averring that the constant connect between him and Hasina was giving a further momentum to the bilateral relations, Modi also referred to challenges like climate change.
“Climate change is before us, if the burning sun is a challenge for us it can also be of advantage to us. PM Hasina has come up with a vision of ‘power for all’ by 2021, while in India we have set up a target of electricity to every home by next year.”
Comparing the journey of development of the two countries to a beautiful garland with which both are attached, Modi said: “In the last few years the eternal truth emerged before us is that the friendship between India and Bangladesh is must for progress, prosperity, peace and stability, happiness and cooperation.”
Banerjee expressed her government’s desire to build a Bangabandhu Bhavan in the memory of Mujibur Rahman.