Half an hour prior to his meeting with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Narendra Modi is meeting an Indian Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, at 3.15 p.m., Bangladesh time. While the officials of the Prime Minister’s delegation call the meeting of a Chief Minister of the country and the Prime Minister — in another country — “unprecedented”, they also provide an explanation.
“They [Mr. Modi and Ms. Banerjee] are staying in separate hotels and it appears odd if they go to Prime Minister’s [Sheikh Hasina] programme separately. So they will meet here [Sonargaon Hotel] and leave for the flagging off [bus service] together,” the official said.
However, the room where the meeting between Mr. Modi and Ms. Banerjee will take place tells a different story. The formally designed hall — Surma — in Sonargaon Hotel, where Mr. Modi and Ms. Banerjee will spend about 20 minutes, looks the type where state heads meet.
‘The process to get Mamata on board started in December’
Mamata Banerjee is indeed treated like a ‘mini state head’ in Bangladesh. Cut-outs of Chief Minister are visible in the city alongside two Prime Ministers. Across the hotel, Sonargaon, where Mr. Modi is putting up, the cut-outs of the two Prime Ministers and the Chief Minister is displayed and Ms. Banerjee is given decent space in the local newspapers. But the process of getting Ms. Banerjee on board was not easy.
“The process started last December and the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, Pankaj Saran, played a crucial role,” a senior Indian official said.
Mr. Saran visited Kolkata and met Dr. Kalyan Rudra, Ms. Banerjee’s adviser on water-related affairs. A series of delegation from both Dhaka and Delhi visited Ms. Banerjee in Kolkata to convince her about the significance of friendship between India and Bangladesh.
“It was a long process and we moved cautiously but slowly and that produced results,” said a senior diplomat. The result was evident. Ms. Banerjee agreed to the Land Boundary Agreement, while showing flexibility to discuss all other issues, including Teesta.
Giving credit to Mr. Narendra Modi, BJP’s national spokesperson M.J. Akbar, a member of the Indian delegation, said at a public event: “[Mr. Modi] has placed the national interest before the party’s interest with conviction and as a result many are now on board…but I do not want to name anyone.” Experts agree that the difference between the previous UPA government and the BJP-led government in dealing with Bengal’s Chief Minister has witnessed a dramatic change. Unlike, in the previous government, Ms. Banerjee was treated with care and respect.
“From day one this [BJP] government knew that one cannot deal with Bangladesh bypassing Ms. Banerjee,” a Bangladeshi retired diplomat known for his proximity to Delhi, told The Hindu . However, the financial scam in Bengal made BJP’s job easier. The Saradha scam nearly strangled Ms. Banerjee as many members of her inner circle got arrested and by the time the second-in-command Mukul Roy was summoned by the CBI, Ms. Banerjee realised she needs to talk to Narendra Modi directly. “Internally, she backed many bills in the Parliament and externally backed project Bangladesh of Mr Modi,” the retired diplomat said.
Following these developments and Mr. Modi’s meeting with the Chief Minister, speculation on the Teesta water-sharing agreement is now rife in Bangaldeshi media. “There will be something in the joint statement on Teesta water-sharing, which will help the countries to take the process forward,” said a member of Mr. Modi’s delegation.