‘India cannot realise its full potential unless it strengthened ties with neighbours'

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday night described his maiden bilateral visit to Bangladesh as a “sentimental journey.”

“For me, a visit to Bangladesh has always been a sentimental journey. Just after the liberation of Bangladesh (in 1971), I was sent by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to work out an economic programme in the changed political context,” he told journalists while returning from Dhaka.

“I worked with Nurul Islam, the then Chairman of Bangladesh's Planning Commission, to finalise the economic programme,” he said.

Going down memory lane, the Prime Minister said he, along with Mr. Islam, then went to the house of “Bangabandhu” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at 32, Dhamondi in central Dhaka and submitted their findings about the economic programme of a newly-independent country.

It was the same house, now converted into a museum for Sheikh Mujib, which Dr. Singh visited on Wednesday and said it was a “very touching affair.”

It was in the same house that Sheikh Mujib and most of his family members were gunned down on the intervening night of August 14-15, 1975 by a group of rebellious members of the Bangladesh army.

However, Mujib's daughters Sheikh Hasina, the present Prime Minister, and Sheikh Rehana escaped the massacre because they were outside the country at that time.

Dr. Singh said India could not realise its full potential unless it strengthened its relations with neighbours, particularly Bangladesh.

Asked about the problem of illegal migration from Bangladesh, he said now that the two countries signed a land boundary agreement deciding to clearly demarcate the frontier, it could help check the “illegal movement of people and goods across the border”.

Asked if there was consensus in the Bangladesh political class, beyond the ruling Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina, on good relations with India, Dr. Singh said “the impression he came away with” after his talks on Wednesday in Dhaka with Leader of the Opposition and BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia and Jatiya Party chief Hussain Muhammad Ershad was that “they are willing to work with us to strengthen bilateral relations.”

The Prime Minister, whose remarks about 25 per cent of Bangladeshis being under the influence of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami had created a row, said, India was willing to work with all political parties and shades of public opinion and the people of Bangladesh.

“Corruption has become a major national issue,” he said and asked all political parties to work together to help overcome the problem.

Asked about the mass support for Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement, he said, “all the political parties should work together and find ways how to minimise corruption,” Dr. Singh added.

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