A new energy is evident in the India-Bangladesh relationship — and it is no secret who is the moving force behind this. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's desire to improve relations with New Delhi has seen her go the extra mile, particularly in shutting down the operations of the United Liberation Front of Asom. The Hasina government's decision to honour Indira Gandhi with the Bangladesh Swadhinata Sammanona or Bangladesh Freedom Honour for her historic role in the founding of the nation is a gesture of political and emotional significance. Before this, sections of the Bangladesh polity opposed to the nation's founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman seemed to be in denial about the crucial roles played by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Indian Army in the country's liberation. The award is also a sign that Sheikh Mujib's daughter, who led the Awami League to power in the 2008 general election, is surer of her political ground now than in her previous term. What is more, her confidence that relations with India are proceeding in the right direction has been evident in the manner in which Dhaka chose to make light of a remark by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during an interaction with newspaper editors that “25 per cent” of the Bangladeshi people were anti-India and in the “clutches of the ISI.”
The urgency with which External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was despatched to Dhaka after this showed a seriousness of intent on the Indian side in keeping the bilateral relationship in good shape. Last week, the two governments inaugurated a market on the Meghalaya border to facilitate trade between the people on both sides; more such trading posts should follow. The two countries have also settled September 6-7 as the dates of Prime Minister Singh's long-awaited visit to Bangladesh; it will be the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 12 years. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's visit at the end of this week could pave the way for an agreement on the difficult issue of “enclaves” — the bits of land that both countries have in the territory of the other, stranding Indians as well as Bangladeshis on the wrong side of the border. Complaints that Bangladeshis continue to get killed on the border despite a recent agreement between the BSF and the Bangladesh Border Guards not to use lethal weapons against illegal crossers will surely be raised during Mr. Chidambaram's visit. He, in turn, will try and persuade Dhaka to hand over Anup Chetia, the last of the prominent ULFA leaders known to be in that country. For the long term, India must work to ensure that the state of its relationship with Bangladesh is not dependent on a single political entity.