Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai on Monday confirmed that the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, would be meeting with key opposition leaders of Bangaldesh during his two-day visit to Dhaka, starting on Tuesday.
Briefing media ahead of the visit, Mathai, replying to a question from ANI on whether he saw ties between New Delhi and Dhaka remaining restricted to engagements either with the Awami League led by incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by her arch rival Begum Khalida Zia and backed by the fundamentalist and anti-India Jamaat-e-Islami outfit, and whether New Delhi had a "Plan B" in place for the future, said the Prime Minister would be meeting with Leader of Opposition Begum Khaleda Zia and former Bangladesh president Lt Gen(retired) Hussain Muhammad Ershad, now leader of the Jatiya Party (Ershad).
"Well, the Prime Minister will be meeting Begum Khaleda Zia, who is the Leader of Opposition. He will also be meeting with Lt Gen HM Ershad of the Jatiya Party. Our contacts with them (the opposition) have been ongoing. Our Minister for the ministry of external affairs (SM Krishna) and our Vice-President (Mohammad Hamid Ansari) met them during their visits to Bangladesh. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and home minister P Chidambaram have also visited Bangladesh in recent months. We have engaged in discussions with the opposition (in Bangladesh). We continue to hope that these engagements with the political leadership in Bangladesh will benefit both countries and progress is made in the short and long-term," Mathai said. Video
A major part of the interaction with the media focussed on the Teesta River waters sharing pact that the governments of India and Bangladesh are expected to sign during Prime Minister Singh's visit, the first by an Indian head of government in twelve years. Atal Behari Vajpayee was the last Indian Prime Minister to visit Dhaka in 1999.
Questions were also asked about what had made a peeved and upset West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee suddenly pull out of the trip to Dhaka, and whether her government was being consulted on the river waters issue.
"Any agreement with Bangladesh will be done in consultation with the government of West Bengal. The Teesta water sharing issue is being dealt with by the ministry of water resources. We are consulting and we will continue to consult the West Bengal government on the issue," said Mathai.
He also said that apart from discussions on the sharing of river waters, PM's visit would focus on ways to enhance bilateral trade, resolve festering border and territorial issues. He said the Prime Minister would also address students and faculty of Dhaka University.
Media reports have said the focus of the visit would also be on securing freer access to Bangladeshi textile goods, which constitute 75 percent of its exports, a special focus on rectifying the current trade imbalance by removing existing restrictions and helping Bangladesh to develop its manufacturing and infrastructure sectors.
As of now, the Prime Minister's visit will see India and Bangladesh signing two agreements -- one on the sharing of waters of the Rivers Feni and Teesta and the second on the purchase of power, besides two protocols one related to land boundary and one on steps to protect tigers, Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) on preservation of the evironmentally rich Sunderbans; an academic-related tie-up between the Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and Dhaka University and the possibility of India and Bangladesh exchanging enclaves -- 111 in India and 51 in Bangladesh.