“Increasing economic engagement changing public opinion in Bangladesh”

The increasing economic engagement between India and Bangladesh, Indian Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari said, was impacting public opinion in that country and that was being reflected in changing political opinion.

Speaking on board a chartered flight, while returning to Delhi from Dhaka where he had gone to jointly inaugurate the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore, with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Mr. Ansari, was referring to his meeting on Friday morning in Dhaka with the former Bangladesh Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, and leader of that country's main opposition party.

Asked whether he detected any change in the approach of Begum Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), traditionally seen as “anti-India,” in his conversation with her, Mr Ansari said: “Begum Khaleda Zia also seemed very interested in good relations with India [and this is] based on the ground realities.”

Pressed to expand on that, he said: “Public opinion in Bangladesh is evolving and more and more people there are beginning to understand the benefits of communication and connectivity [between the two countries.] Public opinion now is beginning to be reflected in political opinion.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Ansari, while stressing in a speech in Dhaka that the two countries had made considerable progress on the implementation of the decisions taken during Sheilkh Hasina's historic visit to India in January 2010, said, “[We] remain committed to addressing your developmental priorities, strengthening bilateral relations and enhancing economic engagement.”

Clearly, the changing circumstances in Bangladesh and its evolving equation with India have made the joint Tagore celebrations possible, providing what Mr. Ansari described as a “powerful signal” that the relationship was on track — and moving forward.

Half a century back, India and the eastern part of an undivided Pakistan marked the Tagore centenary separately: in India, it was a celebration; in the erstwhile east Pakistan, it was an act of defiance against Islamabad, providing an initial impetus for rallying around the poet as a symbol of secular Bengali cultural identity.

Referring to that difficult period in Bangladesh's pre-history, Mr. Ansari told an appreciative gathering at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC) here: “Some in this audience would recall that half a century back, we celebrated the Tagore Centenary separately and that you did it here, notwithstanding many odds.” He was speaking at the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore.

“Historic occasion”

The fact that the two countries were hosting the celebrations jointly made it a “historic occasion” the Indian Vice-President said, pointing out that Tagore's “vision and outlook binds us as perhaps nothing else can.”

India cherishes its Tagore legacy, just as Bangladesh does; together the two countries will “endeavour to enrich it for future generations,” he added.

On her part, Sheikh Hasina said that Mr. Ansari's presence at the inauguration of the celebrations were a “testimony of friendship of two neighbouring nations joined by their mutual love for Tagore.” Gurudev was not just a poet or writer, she said, “but also the lighthouse that guides both the individual and social consciousness of Bengali people.”

The Bangladeshi Prime Minister also thanked the Indian government — specifically Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee — for accepting her suggestion to name the train that will run between Kolkata and Dhaka ‘Sonar Tori' (Golden Boat) after a collection of poems written by Tagore.

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