Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest visit to Bangladesh is designed to kill two birds with one stone. In the last decade, China has made startling advances in her influence upon India’s immediate neighbours which earlier had been closer to our nation. Apart from Pakistan, which had always sided with China, neighbours like Nepal and Sri Lanka had been pulled away from India’s orbit, while the recent coup in Myanmar has reinforced Chinese hold on that nation. This has made India desperate to assert her influence on Bangladesh, the remaining major neighbour, and stay in her good books. China, of course, has pulled out all stops to woo Bangladesh, a country which her rival India had been instrumental in creating. Not only has China become Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner, taking in a bulk of the latter’s exports, and levying no duties on them, she is also her biggest arms supplier. While India is yet to sign a water sharing treaty with Bangladesh on the Teesta, China has extended a 1 million US dollar loan for that river’s management. India, therefore, in recent years has had to make repeated thrusts at reinforcing the traditional ties with Bangladesh using socio-cultural affinities backed by economic assistance, the conferment of the 2020 Gandhi Peace Prize on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and participation by Modi in Bangladesh’s National Day celebrations during this visit being aspects of this essay.
While Modi, the Prime Minister, would be visiting the Bangabandhu mausoleum at Tungipara where Mujibur Rahman lies buried, Modi, leader of the BJP, would also be engaged in activities designed to kill the other bird – send a political message to West Bengal! That State is currently witnessing a no holds barred electoral battle between a well-entrenched Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by the redoubtable Mamata Banerjee, and the saffron brigade which is firing on all cylinders in an endeavour to wrest it from her. It is an open secret that West Bengal is home to the 1.8 crore-strong Matua refugee community which can influence results in 50 Assembly seats in the State. In fact, one of the primary objectives of the Citizenship Amendment Act brought in by the BJP is to grant the Hindu-Dalit Matuas, who had migrated from East Pakistan, Indian citizenship. The passage of the CAA had resulted in the Matuas shifting their allegiance from the TMC to the BJP, which had enabled the latter to win 18 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in 2019. In an unabashedly political gesture, during this “official” visit to Bangladesh, India’s Prime Minister would also be visiting a heritage site in Orakandi, the birthplace of Harichand Thakur, the founder of the Matua sect! It hardly needs reiteration, of course, that the illegal Bangladeshi issue which has been troubling Assam, also another poll bound State, is nowhere in the picture!