Despite a national shutdown called by the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami, Dhaka is all set to welcome Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday and accord him a state honour for his immense contribution to the country’s liberation war.
Mr. Mukherjee is scheduled to reach the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at 12.30 p.m., where he will be received by President Mohammad Zillur Rahman.
In his first tour outside India as President, Mr. Mukherjee, it is reliably learnt, would convey India’s commitment to settle the unresolved issues with this close neighbour. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said in New Delhi on Friday that Mr. Mukherjee would convey to the top Bangladesh leadership “the Indian government’s commitment to take bilateral relations to a higher level and to resolve unresolved issues.”
Although initially it was a Jamaat’s hartal call for March 3 and 4, protesting the ongoing war crimes trial, BNP leader Khaleda Zia came out in public on Friday defending its fundamentalist ally, which had opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, and extended the duration of the nationwide shutdown till March 5, the day Mr. Mukherjee will end his three-day Bangladesh visit.
In unequivocal terms, in line with the Jamaat, the former Prime Minister condemned the government’s “atrocities” on the Jamaat and opposed the war crimes trial, at which a number of top Jamaat leaders are being tried for their 1971 crimes against humanity. At least 40 people, including policemen, died in unprecedented mayhem in Bangladesh in the last few days when the Jamaat militants torched and vandalised houses and properties of religious minorities at many places.
Mr. Pranab’s visit comes at a time when Bangladesh’s political situation has become worse and has turned extremely volatile, following the verdict relating to top Jamaat leaders in the International Crimes Tribunals.
During his visit, Mr. Mukherjee will receive the Bangladesh Liberation War Honour Award and an Honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Dhaka. He will call on President Zillur Rahman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Speaker of Bangladesh Parliament Abdul Hamid, Begum Zia, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith. He is expected to meet Jatiya Party chairman H.M. Ershad. The President will also attend a reception to meet members of the Indian community.
Mr. Mukherjee will be accompanied by Minister of State for Railways and four Members of Parliament, including Trinamool Congress general secretary Mukul Roy, an indication that the dispute regarding the Teesta deal may be resolved.
Diplomatic sources here told The Hindu that since India attached the highest importance to its relations with Bangladesh, the first visit of the President might have a “good impact” on the increasing bilateral relations, as both the governments sought “a deeper and stronger partnership.”