KOLKATA: Continuing its 'hilsa diplomacy', Bangladesh is likely to export the prized silver fish to India during this year's Durga Puja as well.
Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told PTI that his country's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a special exemption for India in the last couple of years from the blanket export ban on hilsa sale, which helps in conserving the fish and keeps prices from spiralling in the home market.
"Our prime minister made a special exemption during the Durga Puja festivities for India, because we know the fish is special during that season," said Munshi, who hails from Gopalganj -- known for its hilsa catch.
Besides the high demand during the festive season, many 'Shakt' believers also make a sacrificial offering of hilsa to Goddess Durga.
Bangladesh exported about 2,500 tons of the fish during the last Durga Puja to India, most of which were snapped up in Kolkata's markets.
Munshi, who met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee earlier this week during his trip to Kolkata, said she raised the issue of hilsa exports, pointing out that the Bangladeshi reception to her demand has always been positive.
"Mamata-di told me, 'Hasina-ji ke ilish pathate bolben' (tell Sheikh Hasina to send hilsa -- this year too)," Munshi said, indicating that the Bangladeshi response would be considered in a positive spirit, given the good relations.
About 86 per cent of the global hilsa catch is found in Bangladesh waters. The fish, which travels upstream from the sea to breed, is a prized catch because of its taste. Connoisseurs consider the hilsa from the Padma river, a distributary of the Ganges which courses mostly through Bangladesh, to be the tastiest.
Hasina has used exports and gifts of hilsa as part of her diplomacy toolkit with India since 1996 when she first became the prime minister of Bangladesh. Her first gift of hilsa was to Jyoti Basu, the then chief minister of West Bengal in what many saw as part of sweeteners to hasten the Farakka water-sharing agreement.
In 2013, when the then Indian President Pranab Mukherjee went to an official dinner during his trip to Dhaka, she laid out a large banquet where hilsa was the main offering, knowing fully well 'Pranab-da's' love for the fish.
In 2016, ahead of Mamata Banerjee's swearing-in ceremony, a gift of 20 kg of the prized fish was specially flown in for her table as part of the congratulatory message.