Bangladeshi PM visits Tripura, stresses cementing bilateral relations in trade

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    Oct 8, 2009
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    Tehelka - India's Independent Weekly News Magazine

    Forty years after the third Indo-Pak War, which created Bangladesh in 1971, its Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina fulfilled the wish of her father and the architect of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on Wednesday. Hasina landed here on a two-day visit to Tripura, the tiny northeastern state that not only shares an 856 km-long border with Bangladesh but also has a nostalgic memory of the bloody struggle.

    Out of the 11 sectors in the liberation war, three major sectors were based in Tripura, the landlocked state which became the training ground of the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) and where the <Mukti Joddhas> (freedom fighters) were trained. The state also opened doors for lakhs of refugees who crossed the porous border to escape the atrocities of the Pakistani army. Hundreds of Tripura youths, journalists, social activists and teachers helped in the liberation of Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan.

    When a special flight carrying Hasina and her entourage touched down at the historical Agartala Airport around 3 PM, Rahman’s dream was realised. He was very eager to visit Tripura as a mark of gratitude to the people who had helped his party Awami League and the Mukti Bahini enormously during the struggle. Massive crowds swamped both sides of the road leading to the city waving flags of both the nations and holding placards, and festoons welcomed Bangabandhu’s daughter. As her convoy passed the thoroughfares, people jostled for space to get a glimpse of the Bangladeshi PM. The entire state capital has been decked up with lights, banners, hoardings and flags of both the nations as a symbol of the four decade-old relationship.

    “India should be more cooperative in promoting bilateral ties between the two nations in trade, commerce, industries and water sharing. We are looking into the possibility of giving India access to the Chittagong and Mongla ports,” Hasina said at the Indo-Bangladesh business summit, jointly organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Tripura government at Agartala Pragya Bhavan.

    Hasina’s positive tone over India’s request for a transit access to ports in Bangladesh, including the Chittagong port, is good news for the country, particularly the northeast states. India is trying to convince Bangladesh for transit access to the Chittagong port, which is only about 75 km from Sabroom, the southern-most tip of Tripura. Hasina has already granted access to India to the Ashuganj river port. The first consignment of goods from Haldia port in West Bengal through Ashuganj has already reached Tripura opening a new trade route not only between northeast India and Bangladesh but also enabling easy movement of goods from the country’s mainland.

    In the recently held Northeast Business Summit in New Delhi, Home Minister P Chidambaram said that India had decided to accord Bangladesh the Most Preferred Nation status to boost cross-border trade.

    Bangladesh was upset after both countries could not sign a deal on sharing Teesta river water following the opposition of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Subsequently, Hasina turned down a request from Calcutta University to attend its convocation and chose to visit Tripura instead. Kolkata had also played a key role in the war as the Eastern Command of the Army is located there. Hasina had earlier shown keen interest in improving cross-border ties with West Bengal.

    At the business summit here, Hasina also requested for electricity supply from the 725MW gas-based power generation project of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in Palatana, south Tripura. India is looking forward to transit of heavy equipment needed for the project through Bangladeshi ports. Hasina said that Bangladesh was keen to be part of joint ventures in power projects in India's northeast, especially Tripura, in view of the rising power shortage.

    India has a liberal policy permitting 100 per cent foreign direct investment in projects of electricity generation, transmission and distribution. Participation of Dhaka in power projects in India, particularly in the northeastern states adjoining Bangladesh, is something the country is also keen on, sources in the Ministry of External Affairs said.

    Earlier on her arrival, Hasina was received by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Tripura Governor DY Patil and Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and his several cabinet colleagues. Hasina is being accompanied by Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, Industries and Commerce Minister Dilip Barua, Law Minister Safique Ahmed and Hasina’s younger sister Rehana Siddique apart from a huge delegation comprising more the 100 members.

    The Bangladeshi PM was accorded a Guard of Honour by the Tripura State Rifles at the State Guest House, where she will be staying. Late evening, Hasina called on Ansari at a banquet dinner hosted in her honour by the Vice-President at Raj Bhavan where she spoke at length with several senior citizens from Tripura who had seen the war from close quarters.

    On Thursday, Hasina will attend the 9th Convocation of Tripura Central University as the honoured guest and conferred with an honorary DLitt degree in the presence of Ansari and Sibal. Before leaving for Dhaka on Thursday evening, Hasina will get a civic reception at the Assam Rifles Ground in Agartala.

    In 2009, when Hasina came to power, she launched a large-scale crackdown on top leaders of northeast insurgent groups—United Liberation Front of Asom, National Liberation Front of Bodoland and United National Liberation Front of Manipur—operating from Bangladesh.

    Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka

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