Prime Minister Narendra Modi touched water, land and a four-decade-old legacy to pep up India’s ties with Bangladesh on Sunday, saying the two neighbours have been “paas-paas” for long but would move “saath-saath” or together from now on.
He walked the extra mile to address Dhaka’s anxiety over the sharing of river water, buoyant after Saturday’s historic land agreement that will allow thousands living near the border to choose their nationality following decades of stateless limbo.
“I am of the view that birds, air and water … these three do not need to have visas at all,” he said, giving his verdict on a dispute over the Teesta water-sharing pact that has been embroiled in a political tug of war.
He told a packed house of over 2,200 people at the Bangabandhu International Convention Center that the land deal was “an agreement to join hearts” and “no less significant than the fall of the Berlin Wall”."People think that we are 'paas-paas' but now the world will have to accept that we are not just 'paas-paas' but 'saath-saath' as well," he said, summoning his trademark eloquence to sum up the friendship between the two countries at a Dhaka University programme before concluding his two-day visit. The Prime Minister returned to India on Sunday evening.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladesh's former PM Begum Khaleda Zia during a meeting in Dhaka.(PTI Photo)
Bonhomie was the recurring refrain as he reached out to former premier Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and several opposition leaders —not known to harbor friendly thoughts about India in the past — on Sunday afternoon. Modi played a willing partner in the economic growth of Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations in the world, and revived the legacy of the 1971 liberation war in which India helped the nation gain independence from Pakistan.
“The sun rises first in Bangladesh and then in India; Bangladesh’s progress will reflect on India,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs puja at Ramkarishna Mission in Dhaka. (PTI Photo)
He received the Bangladesh Liberation War honour to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, saying he was particularly happy that a "mukti jodha" or freedom fighter, President Abdul Hamid, presented the award.
He revealed that his first exposure to politics was a satyagraha in Delhi launched by the Jana Sangh to support Bangladeshi freedom fighters in 1971.
“When we think of Bangladesh we feel very proud of the fact that even our Jawans have given their blood for this nation”, Modi said.
Modi began his day with a visit to the Dhakeshwari temple and the Ramakrishna Mission at Gopibagh.
Though Teesta was off the table, Modi tried to address the issue as Bangladesh shares 54 rivers with India. Fittingly, water and waterways together found mention 13 times in the joint statement .
The statement titled “Notum Projonmo-Nayi Disha” lists out a host of measures in helping Bangladesh in its development, including meeting the neighbour’s power generation of 24,000MW by 2021, civil nuclear cooperation for training purposes, and connectivity.