NEW DELHI: When Air India One touches down at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in the early hours on June 6, it will be the culmination of months of preparations of a company of key actors to create the right circumstances for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had begun courting Modi when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, when the then Bangladesh Ambassador to India Tariq Karim met him in Gandhinagar in 2013.
The contact was done at considerable domestic political expense for Hasina, as she was the only leader of a Muslim-majority country to breach his diplomatic isolation. But, the calculated risk has apparently paid off.
The relationship has since become the mainstay of Modi Government’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, with his key aides led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval staying focused on the Eastern border.
The former spymaster, who had identified infiltration from Bangladesh as India’s biggest security challenge, has been the driving force for the revived partnership, especially the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and its fallout on improving the security cooperation.
The recent track 1.5 event on India-Bangladesh ties at India Habitat Centre here showcased the importance of ties with Dhaka. Last year, it was organised by another think tank, but significantly the main partner this time along with Bangladesh High Commission was India Foundation run by Doval’s son, Shourya Doval.
Not surprisingly, the event was inaugurated by Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, with Central ministers taking part in discussion panels and the valedictory speech was by Ajit Doval.
“Anybody, who lives in Delhi, knows how rare getting so many ministers together for same function is,” quipped Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to India, Syed Moazzam Ali.
Ajit Doval’s remarks were a window to the thinking of the one-year-old government, when he termed Bangladesh India’s “most important neighbour”. “They have gone much beyond what we have asked,” he said, approvingly.
While the BJP during its time in the Opposition stalled the progress of the constitutional amendment of the Land Boundary Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Modi took it up as a personal commitment to Hasina. At their meetings in New York and Kathmandu, Hasina used to bring it up and Modi reassured her it will be done.
For Modi, there were two important liaison officers; Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj to reach out to other political parties and RSS pracharak-turned-general secretary Ram Madhav to get the party units to fall in line.
Madhav has been the PM’s eyes and ears on the Track 2 channel with some key countries, and Bangladesh is not an exception. A diplomatic source described Madhav’s role as “lynchpin”.
It was the creation of an internal consensus, along with the outreach to the TMC and other parties by Sushma which led to the right circumstances for the Land Boundary Bill to be passed without a single dissenting vote in Parliament.
The Foreign Secretary, along with his officials in the MEA and the Indian ambassador in Bangladesh Pankaj Saran, had been working to deliver the message that implementation of the long-pending LBA was necessary for taking forward the relations.
Besides Sushma Swaraj, Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh has been a votary for stronger ties, especially due to his background of having fought in the 1971 Bangladesh ‘Liberation War’ as a young Second Lieutenant.
Of course, the patron-in-chief for India-Bangladesh ties has been President Pranab Mukherjee. “During every meeting, he noted that Land Boundary Agreement was important to increase trust levels,” said a person who is known to be close to Mukherjee.