Date of first Publish: 07/06/2015
Unable to sign the Teesta River Water Sharing Treaty, Narendra Modi will come across as impotent as Manmohan Singh during his 6-7 June state visit to Bangladesh. On the Mamata Banerjee front, though, Modi has fared somewhat better than Singh. But Banerjee has clearly told Modi - thus far and no further!
In 2011, Singh got stood up by Banerjee ruining his Bangladesh trip. This time, she is going to Dhaka alright but has distanced herself from Modi by flying in separately, flying out long before Modi, and refusing to check into the same Dhaka hotel as Modi. Evidently, she wants the whole of Bangladesh to know that she is her own woman independent of Modi.
Modi - like Singh - won't be signing the long overdue Teesta Treaty with Sheikh Hasina because it's still unacceptable to Banerjee. In a sense, three Prime Ministers - Singh, Modi and Hasina haven't managed to get around one Chief Minister! Ah democracy can do wonders, can't it?
Honestly speaking, the Land Boundary Agreement which Modi and Hasina will sign in Banerjee's presence - and the presence of several CMs of India's north-eastern states nobody is bothered or talking about - is no big deal. Modi bared his ignorance of contemporary history when he compared the clinching of the LBA to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
BJP national spokesman, MJ Akbar, wrote in Times of India that the LBA will "erase a dispute as old as Kashmir". I'm sure that the erudite former journalist, who happens to be my mentor, wrote that just to humour Modi because Kashmir and the India-Bangladesh border are simply not comparable and should never be mentioned in the same breath unless you are trying to pull a fast one.
With nothing worthwhile to do in Bangladesh like inking the Teesta pact, Modi can still make an impact if he takes the trouble of getting down from his high horse and apologising for all the horrible things he said about Bangladesh while canvassing for votes last year.
I would rather not repeat those nasty remarks at this auspicious hour in bilateral ties, but Modi should also utilize the visit to apologise for Home Minister Rajnath Singh's orders to the Border Security Force to resume shoot-to-kill policy and come down so heavily on cattle smuggling that the price of beef goes through the roof in Bangladesh bringing down consumption of cow meat.
But the most sensible thing I would sincerely advice Modi to accomplish in Dhaka is to thank Bangladesh publicly and profusely for allowing an estimated half a million Indians to live and work there, making them according to the World Bank, the fifth biggest remitter of foreign exchange to India after the diaspora in United Arab Emirates, USA, Saudi Arabia and UK.
This may sound like fiction against the backdrop of the commonly-held notion of Bangladeshis swamping India and living off it. Modi's BJP' in particular never tires of portraying Bangladesh as the exporter of illegal migrants out to destroy India. But the truth is that Indians too are migrating to Bangladesh in search of jobs and are sending pots of money home contributing to India's prosperity for which we should be grateful to the Muslim nation.
Quoting World Bank figures, Diksha Madhok wrote in Quartz India last year that: "Bangladeshi workers in India transferred more than $6.6 billion to their home country. It's not entirely a one-way traffic, though. Indians working in Bangladesh sent $3.7 million, making the eastern neighbour the fifth highest contributor of remittance inflows".
Similarly, Economic Times reported in December that the "bulk of remittances comes from three different categories of countries: Middle Eastern monarchies, Western developed nations and next door neighbours such as Bangladesh and Nepal".
Similarly, Silicon India published a list of 15 nations sending highest remittances to India - UAE, USA, Saudi Arabia, UK, Bangladesh, Canada, Nepal, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Australia, Singapore, Bahrain, Italy and Malaysia.
According to Silicon India, nearly 500,000 Indians live and work in Bangladesh, most of them in the burgeoning readymade garment and textile industries, Information Technology sector and NGOs. Both the number of Indian expatriates and remittances are poised to grow, says the report.
The Daily Star, Bangladesh's leading English daily, wrote in March that besides the official figure of $3.7 million remitted home by Indian workers, "an almost equal amount, if not more, is sent through hundi and other illegal methods".
There is, naturally, a lot of heart-burning in Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh over Indians bagging lucrative jobs. The Star noted that "while Bangladeshis generally do menial jobs in India and contribute to the economy through hard work in exchange for meager wages, most Indians are employed in attractive jobs in Bangladesh, earning handsomely and remitting millions of dollars to India".
"But what about Indians living and earning their bread in Bangladesh? What about well-paid jobs in Bangladesh that foreigners, mostly Indians, take away from Bangladeshis? Indians are employed with foreign companies, NGOs, garment sector, trading and almost all branches of business. They also have shops and business houses all over Bangladesh.
"Indians in Bangladesh do not do any specialised job but ordinary administrative work at all levels, for which there is no shortage of Bangladeshi candidates. For example, why does a British company need to appoint an Indian as a clerk or junior officer when there are many qualified people in the country who can do that job perfectly well? Bangladesh needs to control this."
Modi likes to address the diaspora wherever he goes. I don't know whether it is advisable for the PM to address an NRI gathering in Dhaka. But he should definitely acknowledge Bangladeshi generosity which has made it possible for half a million Indians to live and work there. If he can't bring himself to thank Bangladesh publicly, it will show us up as a Big Brother with no sense of gratitude.
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