As Prime Minister Modi embarks on his first visit to a foreign country post the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the significance of his Bangladesh visit is not just about diplomacy but it is also a message to West Bengal and Islamists.
Just a day before West Bengal heads to polls as the first phase of the West Bengal Assembly elections begins tomorrow, Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Bangladesh is hogging all the limelight for all the right reasons.
During his two-day visit, PM Modi will also be gifting 1.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Bangladesh.
Significantly, PM Modi’s decision to visit the Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple in Ishwaripur area of Shyamnagar will make him the first head of government of any country to visit the holy temple. The Jeshoreshwari Kali temple is dedicated to Goddess Kali, and is one of the 51 Shakti Peeths.
The visit has clear underlinings and subtle messaging to the Islamists. The message for Islamists is that PM Modi stands with the Hindus of Bangladesh, and the govt of Bangladesh must work to ensure their safety and religious freedom. Of late, Bangladesh has been riddled with radical Islamists with Hindus coming under increasing threat in the country.
The visit perhaps will also resonate with West Bengal Hindus for whom the condition of Hindus in Bangladesh is an emotive issue and will also help the BJP gain the sympathy of Bengal’s Matua community.
The Indian Prime Minister who will be participating in Bangladesh’s National Day celebrations said, “My visit will not only be an occasion to convey appreciation for Bangladesh’s remarkable economic and developmental strides under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visionary leadership, but also to commit India’s abiding support for these achievements.”
He added, “I will also express India’s support and solidarity for Bangladesh’s fight against Covid-19.”
Recently, speaking at a virtual seminar hosted by London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Bangladesh’s Gowher Rizvi, international affairs advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that Dhaka was more interested in joining the “Indo-Pacific relationship”, despite being part of Beijing’s ambitious neo-colonial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
“India is our most important partner and you cannot conceive of anything different. It would be suicidal to think differently,” said Gowher.
Speaking about China’s BRI and the Indo-Pacific, Gowher added, “We are part of China’s BRI but we are very willing to be a part of the Indo-Pacific relationship… we are not going to choose [between India and China],”
Gowher also pointed out that China had a role to play in Bangladesh’s growth story but it didn’t come at the expense of New Delhi. “China has a role in Bangladesh. They are an important part of our many development projects. But this is not in any way at the expense of our relationship with India.”