Shantiniketan - the name itself is an invitation to serenity and calmness. In conjunction with the Tagorean vision that informs the very existence of Visva Bharati, the university Bengal’s most famous poet (and much else) located there, it all seemed to combine to keep any sticking points in Indo-Bangla relations safely in the backburner.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrived here on a Friday morning (May 25) on a two-day visit to West Bengal at the invitation of her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
She attended the convocation ceremony of Visva-Bharati University as a guest of honour at Shantiniketan here. Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati Prof Sabuj Koli Sen received the Prime Minister at Shantiniketan while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed her at Rabindra Bhaban there.
Sheikh Hasina placed a bouquet at Rabindra Chair. Later, Hasina and Narendra Modi arrived at the convocation venue at Amrakanon. Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee was also present. After the convocation ceremony, the Prime Minister inaugurated the Bangladesh Bhaban jointly with Narendra Modi at Visva-Bharati and held a meeting with him there, which was the closest the visit got to a bilateral summit - the Indian media termed it Modi’s third straight ‘informal summit’ of the summer, following in the vein of earlier meetings with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.
Discussions between the two remained undisclosed, and a naive complaint arose in Dhaka that it was short on issues - as if the Teesta was going to be traded in Shantiniketan. There was no scope for any diplomatic breakthrough between the two nations on this trip. The impetus behind it would seem to have been the shared cultural ties, and the essence of it was to communicate Hasina’s acceptance as India’ preferred leader in Bangladesh - Modi’s attendance (which wasn’t incumbent upon his duties as chancellor) taking advantage of an opportunity to provide a face-to-face reassurance to the AL leader before the next elections.
The inauguration of the Bangladesh Bhaban served as the stump, and much of the pageantry on the first day centred it.
“Bangladesh Bhaban will be a centre of excellence where students will be able to study and conduct research on the glorious Liberation War of Bangladesh, the life and works of Father of the Nation of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore,” the PM said on the occasion, reported our sister newsagency UNB.
Hasina said, “This (Bangladesh Bhavan) will enhance the cultural bond between Bangladesh and India as well. It’ll play a significant role in increasing the cultural exchanges and the people-to-people contact between the two countries.”
The Prime Minister said Bangladesh will also provide a one-time fund equivalent to Rs 10 crore for the maintenance of the building and for conducting its future activities.
She said her relationship with Visva-Bharati dates back quite a few years. This institution awarded her with ‘Deshikottom’ degree in 1999. “Since then, I had a longing that a separate centre for Bangladesh Studies would be established here.”
Hasina said Rabindranath Tagore is like a lighthouse in the life of each and every Bengali. “He (Tagore) remains close to our heart - in our joy or sorrow, in love or desertion, in rebellion and peace. We’re immersed in the shower of his creations.”
On bilateral ties, the Bangladesh PM commented, “We want to move together always. Neighbours may have problems. We’ve solved the problems one by one. I don’t want to break the excellent momentum of this ceremony raising the rest few problems.”
The Prime Minister said the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional relationship between Bangladesh and India has reached a new height in the last nine years, according to UNB.
“Our relationship is described as far beyond strategic relationship. Bangladesh-India bilateral relationship is often considered as a ‘model of bilateral relations’ for the rest of the world,” she said.
For his part, Modi in his address said the shared resolve of Bangladesh and India against cruelty and terrorism will continue to inspire the future generations through Bangladesh Bhaban.
“Bangladesh and India are two nations, whose interests are linked to mutual cooperation and coordination among each other,” Modi said.
He said the last few years have marked a golden period in relations between the two countries and mentioned the resolution of the land boundary issue, and various connectivity projects. The Indian Prime Minister asserted that the two countries have similar goals, and are taking similar paths to achieve those goals.
Yet the fact that Teesta waters and the Rohingya crisis have climbed to the top of the discussion (or no discussion) list between Delhi and Dhaka is possibly indicative of a fork in the road where the priorities and vision for the future ties need to be recast. The foundation may be present for that to happen now - a visible trust and confidence in each other are increasingly apparent in meetings between Indian leadership and the PM and her family. But the real test of goodwill must be when it overrides individuals.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid, Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor and Prime Minister’s four Advisers on Political, Economic, Foreign and Energy affairs accompanied the Prime Minister. She will also visited Jorasanko Thakur Bari on Friday afternoon. Later, local chamber leaders met her in the evening.
Before returning, Hasina received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature at Kazi Nazrul University, Asansol on Saturday.