National Interest: Dear Narendrabhai

It was only after a wide consensus had been obtained on this agreement that our president, Pranab Mukherjee, in March this year, made a public commitment in his speech at Dhaka University that the agreement will be presented for ratification in India's Parliament. To not do so now will be a disgrace for India. It will also be the loss of a strategic opportunity that may not wait, or in fact may never come for a generation. Because in December, or latest by early January, Bangladesh also goes for general elections. Sheikh Hasina has been incredibly brave in turning around her India policy. But our inability to deliver on two solemn agreements, Teesta waters (blocked by Mamata) and now the land boundary pact, is already becoming her killer embarrassment. That she went down on her knees to India and got her proud country humiliated and so on. If she loses, and Khaleda, backed by Islamists, returns, India will be the biggest loser. You have no time to lose.

NOW the second point. Why is this agreement a once-in-a-generation strategic opportunity? Because the democratising of Bangladesh's politics, society and public discourse is as important to India as that of Pakistan's. And Sheikh Hasina has been doing just that. From being a sanctuary for our rebels, particularly the ULFA, and a playground for the ISI and jihadi forces, Bangladesh is now an ally. Remember how it has handed over our fugitives, particularly Arabinda Rajkhowa, and is holding Anup Chetia, and the political risks this entails. If Tripura can convert some of its underground gas into power, it is only because Bangladesh has let you transport those giant generators by barge through its rivers. They would have never reached there through the narrow, winding mountain roads. Hasina has forced the ISI to shut shop. She has also disbanded the Bangladesh Rifles, which had become such a malevolent presence on our borders — remember that ghastly visual of the bodies of our BSF patrolmen, killed by the BDR, being carried, hanging by their limbs from bamboo sticks? The courts, under her, have given judgments holding both the martial law impositions (by Generals Ziaur Rahman and Ershad) unconstitutional, and thereby laws enacted by them, which effectively converted Bangladesh into an Islamic state, have been abrogated. Bangladesh is therefore restored to its original, secular, liberal constitution. One can always have a super-liberal argument against the government banning the Jamaat-e-Islami, on its handing out death sentences to old radicals and Jamaatis for complicity in the Pakistani army's atrocities in 1971. But, certainly, that cannot be your party's argument, or yours. The truth is, while the world celebrates the rise of secular Indonesia as a great liberal success story in the Islamic world, Bangladesh, with its 16.3 crore, mostly very poor, people, 89 per cent of whom are Muslim and 10 per cent Hindu, deserves that admiration first for the way it has transformed. Nothing underlines the positive change in Bangladesh better than the fact that its high commissioner, Tariq A. Karim, specially called on you in Ahmedabad on July 27 for an hour-long meeting to seek your support for the land boundary agreement, when Americans have not yet taken you off the blacklist, Europeans are engaging with you but still sort of gingerly, and diplomats of no other Muslim-majority country will like to be seen near you. He and his government got their share of abuse for this back home, but they did not flinch.

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