A low intensity explosion at 2 p.m. local time, 70 yards from the gates of the Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel here, where visiting President Pranab Mukherjee is staying, triggered speculation about a string of such incidents in the city on Monday. For, it came in the midst of widespread violence that has left over 70 people dead, including three on Monday.
But the President’s Office clarified that it was just a “minor explosion” caused by a “crude cocktail,” and that “life in and around the hotel where the President is staying is completely normal. None of the delegation members heard any explosion nor knew of any such incident.”
The President is on a three-day goodwill visit to Bangladesh.
The police arrived at the hotel, where journalists accompanying Mr. Mukherjee were staying, to stress that such incidents were routine during Opposition-sponsored hartals, and their object was to cause panic. This episode has taken place during the nationwide strike called by a belligerent Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to protest against the sentencing of JII chief Delwar Hossain Sayedee to death for war crimes, including genocide.
Tejgaon DCP Chowdhury Monjurul Kabir, pointing out that two other attempts in other parts of the city had been foiled on Monday, stressed, “There is no threat to the VVIP visit… investigations are on.”
Indeed, the presence of over 10,000 students at the open air pandal for the convocation ceremony at Dhaka University on Monday morning, where Mr. Mukherjee received a rousing reception and an honorary doctorate from Bangladesh President Zillur Rahman, held no hint of the political turmoil in the country. By evening, it looked as though the hartal was petering out with the return of Dhaka’s infamous traffic jams. Nor did it dampen the Bangladesh Spring — with people flocking to Shahbag for the 28th day to continue with their peaceful demand for the death penalty for the war criminals of 1971.
Conscious of the tightrope that India has to walk at what appears to be a defining moment in Bangladeshi history, Mr. Mukherjee made a measured speech obliquely referring to the central role currently being played by the country’s youth in completing the unfinished agenda of the Liberation War: “The future of Bangladesh is in your hands,” he said. “You should know that you have a past which is steeped in glory, and a future that is full of promise. I have been deeply impressed by the maturity, awareness and involvement of the youth of Bangladesh in the task of nation building.”
At any other time, it would have sounded like a routine convocation speech, but on Monday it resonated with the students who heard him intently, clapping most when he spoke with nostalgia of how much he had in common with Bangladesh, growing up listening to the same songs, reading the same books and walking past the same rivers.
He recalled that it was “the students of Dhaka University who heroically resisted the brutal attack on the night of March 25, 1971 that killed more than 300 of their colleagues, faculty members and intelligentsia … [who] had been a bulwark against the intolerance and hatred which had descended on this land.” He stressed that if Bangladesh had “embraced democracy, it is largely due to the values and principles which its people held dear when they fought for their independence in 1971. You have been steadfast… I am confident that democratic traditions in Bangladesh will grow stronger with time and that you will preserve democracy with your constant vigil.”
Later in the day, he met some more political leaders, and attended a reception hosted by Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran for the Indian community, followed by a reception hosted by Mr. Rahman. At the banquet, he received Bangladesh “Liberation War Honour.”
“As in 1971, so in 2013, the people of India stand beside the people of Bangladesh,” Mr. Mukherjee promised. “We will walk with you as equal partners, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm. We are both inheritors of an undivided civilisational legacy.”