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Presidential push to Eastern hopes

President Pranab Mukherjee’s maiden foreign visit to Bangladesh has assumed a significance far beyond the fact that this is his first since he took office in July last year. The historical and political importance of the presidential state visit comes in the wake of mass-scale protests in Dhaka’s Shahbag Square, demanding death penalty for the war criminals of 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, which India supported wholeheartedly. While the popular protests led by students, teachers, activists and other sections of the civil society, had been largely peaceful, violence broke out when members of the fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) started killing people after the International Crimes Tribunal sentenced one of the accused, the 73-year-old Delwar Hossain Saydee, the vice-president of JI, to death, who was found guilty of eight counts out of 20, involving rape, mass killings and atrocities during the 1971 freedom war against Pakistan. That Pranab Mukherjee, who was a key member of the cabinet under the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she sent troops across India’s eastern borders to assist Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to defeat the Pakistani forces, and facilitate Bangladesh’s liberation despite strong American reservations on the matter, is a crucial case in point.

Mujibur Rahman, the first president of independent Bangladesh, whose secular democratic Awami League took to power in 1971, was however, brutally murdered along with his entire family in 1975. The only member to survive the massacre was the current prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, who was in London when the slaughter happened. Hasina and her Awami League have always been particular about maintaining friendly bilateral ties with India, while the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which was in power from 2001 – 2006, has been instrumental in fomenting the fanatical and fundamentalist elements in the country, and also provide safe haven to terrorists from Pakistan. Clearly, Mukherjee’s visit during Hasina’s reign puts the spotlight on the future of Indo-Bangladesh ties and their joint efforts at cooperation on regional and security fronts.
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