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Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Bangladesh

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Photo: PID
– Shantanu Mukharji
New Delhi, January 11: There has not been any dull moment in the schedules of former President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee. Be it a high profile and glamorous book launch of his autobiography, attending academic functions at various locations in culturally vibrant Kolkata or a bold address at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) marking 200th birth anniversary of AMU founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Shri Mukherjee chooses events carefully and addresses them with his intellect and rhetoric prowess. Nor does the audience in the event ever miss his presence in terms of imbibing enormous pearls of wisdom.
Most significantly, Shri Mukherjee is all set to arrive in Bangladesh on January 14 on a three day trip. Needless to emphasise, he enjoys enormous good will in Bangladesh and it’s not new. He is held in very high esteem from the days of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle and even in the aftermath of it. His fan following, cutting across party lines, is simply huge. His in laws’ native place is on the other side of the border and he has obviously several close relatives living there. That apart, Pranab babu has his own distinct identity and he has earned this good will in the last half a century by sheer labour and undivided attention to the well being of Bangladesh in redressing all issues pertaining to Indo- Bangladesh relations. His contribution has been phenomenal in major contentious issues affecting India and Bangladesh.
Shri Mukherjee held multiple portfolios in Indian cabinet, external affairs, Finance, Defence etc. That notwithstanding, he never took his eyes off from the happenings in Bangladesh and always used his good offices in all seriousness and on all occasions requiring effective intervention – behind the scene or by visibly pro active.

Right from the Bangladesh independence in 1971, Pranab babu was always proactive, intensely pursuing the developments including Sheikh Mujib’s return from imprisonment, his installation as the Prime Minister, tragic assassination and the trail of sensational developments impinging on India’s geo political landscape due to rise in power of Pro Pakistani, right reactionary forces who usurped power by facilitating a military coup and exterminating Mujib.

Photo: Author
It’s told by knowledgable quarters that Pranab babu proved as a sheet anchor to the bereaved family of Sheikh Mujib at the time of grief and stood as a great pillar of strength to them. He was also the bridge between them (family members) and Shrimati Indira Gandhi in comprehending and reacting rather quickly to the unfolding events in Dhaka.
The bloody coup was followed by counter coups and taking many tolls and pushed Bangladesh into a turbulent mode. Changes of successive regimes, imposition of Martial Law, Ershad’s rise and Zia assassination were hallmarks of Bangladesh contemporary history in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. One man who held the hand of the distressed and at the same time taking into account India’s security interests is none other than Pranab Mukherjee who kept a watchful eye on the disturbing occurrences.
Hasina eventually came to power and was voted out after 5 years but Pranab Mukherjee maintained relations with all and helped solving age old problems of water sharing and Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) accord facilitating return to Bangladesh thousands of Chakma refugees to Bangladesh. In brief, whenever Bangladesh ran into rough weather, Shri Mukherjee steadied the ship and things remained on course keeping Indo – Bangla relations intact and on course. Beauty of Shri Mukherjee’s political foresight and dexterity has been inspiring confidence amongst the BD opposition leaders also. Almost all of them hold him in immense respect and acknowledge his vision and hold on the nuances of BD politics.
Bangladesh gratefully acknowledges all the doings of our ex president and today he is on the BD soil. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered protocol to the visiting ex president bestowing all the honour as due to a visiting Head of State. So much privilege and esteem Shri Mukherjee enjoys even today.
His Bangladesh programme is a packed one. Not only the President and the Prime Minister are hosting banquets in honour of the visiting dignitary, he is being flown to Chittagong on the 15th by a government VVIP helicopter when he arrives in Chittagong university to be awarded a D.Litt degree. In Chittagong, Shri Mukherjee is expected to be accorded a civic reception and on his part, he will present a cheque on behalf of the Indian High Commissioner to Preetilata Trust in furtherance if its multifarious activities.
Very significantly, Pranab babu is also visiting, in Chittagong, the memorial of Surya Sen aka Masterda, the famous revolutionary, known for the Chittagong armoury case.
Earlier in Dhaka, Shri Mukherjee delivers the convocation address at the East West University and the Nikhil Bongo Sahitya Sammelan. So far no meetings have been fixed with any political leaders. That signals that whole gamut of the trip has been kept apolitical. It’s assessed that abundant caution is being exercised so as to keep Pranab babu away from any political event lest it is wrongly interpreted as the general elections are due at the end of the year or next year.
Extensive media coverage is seen in the BD press and electronic media on Shri Mukherjee’s visit. On the whole, the visit will go a long way in reinforcing ties between India and Bangladesh ensuring that at least there is one immediate neighbour who can be relied upon and vice versa. His presence on BD soil will also help secular and pro liberation forces rallying around Sheikh Hasina, which in effect, will help neutralise communal and divisive forces.
(The writer is a security analyst on counter terror)