On historic visit, PM recalls his struggle for Bangladesh
India and Bangladesh must be prepared to confront shared threats such as terrorism even as they boost trade and connectivity, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday while participating in celebrations marking the golden jubilee of the neighbouring country’s independence, towards which he recalled his own contribution.
On his first foreign visit since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the PM said he had joined a movement for the liberation of Bangladesh when he was young and got arrested for it. “Joining that struggle for Bangladesh’s independence was one of the first times I joined such a movement in my life. I must have been 20-22 years old when many of my colleagues and I joined a satyagraha for the freedom of the people of Bangladesh,” he said.
“I was arrested and had to go to jail. The yearning for Bangladesh’s independence was as great on this side as it was on the other side,” he said, speaking as a guest of honour at the main National Day celebration in Dhaka while sharing the stage with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.
In a speech in Hindi peppered with Bengali words, Modi – clad in a black sleeveless jacket in a style made popular by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh – made several references to the sacrifices made by Indian soldiers and Bangladeshi freedom fighters in the 1971 war that led to the emergence of a new country from the erstwhile East Pakistan.
Recalling the words of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had said the blood of Bangladeshi freedom fighters and Indian soldiers would build relations that won’t break under any pressure, Modi said the next 25 years will be crucial for India and Bangladesh. “Just as our heritage, development and goals are shared, our challenges too are shared. We have to remember that while there are opportunities for us in trade and industry, there are shared threats like terrorism. The ideology and powers that carry out such inhuman acts are still active,” he said.
“We must be careful and be organised to fight them. We both have the power of democracy and a clear vision to move forward,” he added.
Modi also recalled the role played by the Pakistani military in triggering the uprising that led to the creation of Bangladesh. “The images of the heinous crimes and atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army did not allow people to sleep for many days,” he said.
He quoted Bengali poet Gobinda Halder to say that those who liberated Bangladesh with an ocean of blood will never be forgotten, especially against the backdrop of the Pakistan Army’s efforts to crush the language, voice and identity of the people.
Amidst all this, Rahman, or “Bongobandhu” as he is popularly known, was a ray of hope for Bangladeshis and Indians alike, Modi said. He also paid tribute to others such as former prime minister Indira Gandhi, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Lt Gen JS Aurora and Lt Gen JFR Jacob for their role in the liberation of Bangladesh.
He said the current governments of the two countries have shown that mutual trust and cooperation can lead to the solution of complex problems, such as the land boundary agreement, and close collaboration to cope with contingencies such as the pandemic.
Bangladesh rolled out the red carpet for Modi as he began a two-day visit on Friday, with Hasina and members of her cabinet welcoming the Prime Minister at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. Modi was accorded a 19-gun salute and a guard of honour.
Soon after his arrival, Modi visited Jatiyo Sriti Shoudho or National Martyrs’ Memorial, which honours those who died in Bangladesh’s liberation war.
Later, Modi met community leaders, including representatives of Bangladesh’s minorities, freedom fighters and youth icons. He also met leaders from the 14-party ruling alliance led by its convener. Discussions centred on different aspects of bilateral relations were held during the meeting, officials said.
Modi subsequently held another meeting with leaders of Bangladesh’s opposition parties.
Besides holding talks with Hasina, Modi will also offer prayers to Goddess Kali at Jashoreshwari Kali temple, one of 51 Shaktipeeths in the Puranic tradition, and interact with representatives of the Matua community at Orakandi, from where Sri Sri Harichandra Thakur disseminated his message.
In her speech, an emotional Hasina recalled India’s contributions to the liberation war and the support she and her family received from former prime minister Indira Gandhi both during the 1971 war and after her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most members of her family were assassinated during a military coup in August 1975.
“In our independence war, we always remember the contribution of India,” she said, thanking Modi and the Indian government for conferring the Gandhi Peace Prize for 2020 on Rahman. She also thanked the Indian government for providing Covid-19 vaccines and 109 ambulances as a gift.