Friday, June 1, 2018

PM’s India visit: Beyond public diplomacy

Md. Shamsul Islam,

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Strategists and the students of international politics would be baffled to decipher the significance of our PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in the last week of this month. The scheduled activities PM took part in India may seem like more of a state ritual – a typical Bangladeshi public diplomacy [JB emphasis] exercise, aimed at heightening the image of Bangladesh among the common people in India. But her exclusive meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shantiniketan and the subsequent media coverage in India has raised more questions than answers in Bangladesh and beyond.

Definitely, the people as well as the government of Bangladesh wanted specific answers related to our long-standing Teesta water issue or India’s specific pronouncement about Rohingya refugee crisis. But though the visit took place amidst much fanfare, like inauguration of Bangladesh Bhavan in Shantiniketan, or our PM receiving D.Litt degree from Kazi Nazrul Islam university, not any specific assurance came from the Indian side regarding the issues at the initial phase of the visit. But later from the utterings of the people from the South Block, as reported in the media, or from Sheikh Hasina’s optimism in yesterday’s press conference, we would like to believe that an agreement to this end may not be a far cry.

But the visit took a new turn when a section of Indian media including the influential Anadabazar highlighted a completely different issue altogether – on Sheikh Hasina’s specific demand, what they called ‘return’ our PM wanted from Indian side in our next general elections.

To what extent Indian media’s such claims are on the basis of objective reporting can be a million dollar question – especially at a time when the Indian media themselves are struggling against the allegations by Cobrapost and its so-called sting operations. Several media groups were alleged to have agreed to side with Hindu nationalists to promote their news in the upcoming Lok Shava elections in their respective media outlets. It created a huge controversy, especially with regard to the question of objectivity in Indian media.

Neither India, nor Bangladesh has confirmed any such interactions took place in their exclusive meetings. On the other hand, PM in her press conference yesterday refuted such allegations and asked the question: who has not gone to India, including the former PM Khaleda Zia? A very pertinent question indeed!

In fact, India factor in Bangladesh election has crossed the boundary of diplomatic euphemism now. But what Sheikh Hasina has done in her foreign policy postures, like help bringing stability to India’s northeast or issues related to connectivity, or for the causes of Rohingyas, it is no wonder that she may seek support not only from India, but from the other major players of the world. But she also categorically mentioned in her press conference yesterday that what her government has done for India so far is unprecedented in our history.

The point we want to emphasize that amidst twists and turns, Indo-Bangladesh relations are now taking a concrete shape. Our India policy, which has long-been absent in our political and academic discourse, is now taking a concrete shape. One would only expect that such policy would be based on mutual recognition and respect and both the countries would abide by the policy of non-intervention in each other’s domestic affairs. India is our big neighbor. Signs of growing rapproachment only assure us that nothing bad will happen with India in foreseeable future like what we are now experiencing with our another neighbor – Myanmar.

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