Sonia Gandhi’s 24-hour visit to Dhaka: Manifestation of warm relations between the two nations

Sonia Gandhi’s 24-hour visit to Dhaka: Manifestation of warm relations between the two nations

Ruling party Congress President Sonia Gandhi (64) paid a visit to Dhaka for twenty four hours (24-25th July) at the invitation of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. During the last year’s visit to India Sheikh Hasina met with Sonia Gandhi and since then maintained warm personal relations.

Although the visit was brief, it has been hugely significant for deepening new era of Indo-Bangladesh relations following the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit to India in January 2010. The visit led to a 51-point comprehensive framework of cooperation between the two nations in all possible sectors.

Sonia Gandhi has been hugely popular both within her country and outside. She has totally adjusted herself in her adopted country-speaks Hindi fluently and wears invariably Indian traditional dress.

She is considered as one of the most powerful women in the world, according to Forbes magazine. She has conducted herself in political firmament in India in such a manner that has drawn admiration. She has rejuvenated the Congress Party and rejected the position of Prime Minister in 2004 that reflected very well her attitude towards life and service to people from outside the government. Her popularity had increased as a result of her pragmatic and wise decision not to accept the highest elected political post in India.

As President of the Congress Party and the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) which formed the government in New Delhi, she wields considerable influence in shaping major policy decisions of the government and in composition of the Indian cabinet.

Her programme in Dhaka was packed from hour to hour. She attended the Conference on Autism Disorder as the Chief Guest and as the patron of Action Autism in India, she supported the proposal of creating a South Asian network of collaboration in autism disorder among children. She went to Savar national memorial and planted a tree on the site. She visited the Bangabandhu museum in Road 32 and presented flowers before the portrait of Bangabandhu as a mark of respect to the great leader.

She met with President Zillur Rahman at a Bangabhavan to receive the posthumous highest award of the nation “ Bangladesh Freedom Honour” on behalf of her mother-in-law former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The citation of the award reportedly reads” Mrs. Indira Gandhi stood by the side of people of Bangladesh from the Liberation War despite various adversities…She played a great role in freeing Bangabandhu from Pakistani jail. Her contribution to Bangladesh’s Liberation War will be remembered forever.”

Bangladeshi officials had said that their government was set to name a major road in Dhaka after Indira Ms. Gandhi as part of an initiative to honour ‘foreign friends’ who contributed to its independence. The officials said Bangladesh had so far listed 500 “1971 foreign friends”, including 226 Indians and 40 Pakistanis.

Sonia Gandhi attended the dinner hosted by the Prime Minister in the evening and thereafter she left for New Delhi by a special plane.

Both Sonia Gandhi and Sheikh Hasina belong to famous political dynasties which ruled both nations. Sonia Gandhi’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has given to India three Prime Ministers and together they ruled 32 years as Prime Ministers (Nehru-1947-1964, Indira Gandhi -1966-1977 and 1980-84). Sonia Gandhi’s son Rahul has been billed as the future Prime Minister of India.

In Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the founding father of Bangladesh and ruled only three and half years (1972-1975) before he was brutally gunned in August 1975 and her daughter Sheikh Hasina was Prime Minister for five years (1996-2001) and in 2008 December election, she received a huge mandate from people and has been running the country since January 2009.

After the independence of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi had been able to build a good personal rapport with each other. Bangabandhu’s request for withdrawal of Indian troops from Bangladesh was agreed by Indira Gandhi and it was completed by March 1972. Both had respects for each other.

Ms. Ravni Thakur, joint secretary in the foreign affairs department of Congress, termed Gandhi’s visit as a “wonderful idea” that has the Indo-Bangladesh relations.“India has a special relationship with Bangladesh and in particularly Gandhi family was very close to late Sheikh Mujibur Rehman as also Sheikh Hasina… This is very welcome move,” she said.

Ms. Gandhi’s visit assumed importance because the visit came ahead of Dr. Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September. His visit has raised high hopes for conclusion of a raft of agreements, including Teesta water-sharing, an agreement on border demarcation and adversely-held enclaves and further easing of Bangladeshi textile exports to Indian market.

In the aforesaid context, Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with Sheikh Hasina has been crucial indeed because it is assumed both must have discussed in working out the “deliverables” by India during Singh’s visit to Dhaka. We hope that Sonia Gandhi’s visit will further cement bilateral relations to the mutual benefit of their people.

It is coincidental that Bangabandhu’s daughter is the Prime Minister of Bangladesh when a close family of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty Sonia Gandhi paid a visit as the President of the ruling Congress Party and Chairperson of UPA coalition government.

India has emerged a regional power in Asia together with China. Recently during the visit of the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to New Delhi, she met with Sonia Gandhi and discussed issues of mutual interests that included counter-terrorism, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the role of India in this part of the world.

Hillary Clinton urged India to be more assertive in Asia, saying the country should play more of a leadership role. “India’s leadership has the potential to positively shape the future of the Asia-Pacific… and we encourage you not just to look east, but continue to engage and act east as well,” she said. (Pakistan, meanwhile, on 23rd July stated that it would not accept the domination of India in the region).

Sonia Gandhi’s visit hopefully would strengthen bilateral relations in the pursuit of the common good of people-bilaterally and regionally- by effectively harnessing their respective resources.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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