People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 17

April 25, 2010

 

MANIK SARKAR IN BANGLADESH

 

A Visit Tinged with Heartfelt Emotions

                            

                                                                   Gautam Das

 

TRIPURA and its capital Agartala are very much a part of the struggle that led to the emergence of Bangladesh. It was in the ďAgartala conspiracy caseĒ that the military junta of Pakistan implicated Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, legendary leader of the Bangladesh freedom movement, charging him with plotting to secede the then East Pakistan by means of an armed liberation struggle in collusion with Indian leaders, going secretly to Agartala in the 1960s. Sheikh Mujib was incarcerated following the accusation, though the Pakistani military rulers failed to convict him in court. No matter whether any such plot was actually there or not, Agartala became a recurring theme not only in Pakistan but internationally. Then, when the people of East Pakistan really waged a liberation war in 1970-71, after the military junta refused to allow Sheikh Mujib to form a government despite the massive mandate he had received, Agartala and Tripura became all the more famous. Tripura became the war capital of Bangladesh. While the sector commanders of Bangladesh freedom struggle conducted the war, the people of Tripura sheltered a large number of refugees who numbered more than double the then 15-16 lakh population of Tripura and extended them all sorts of humanitarian assistance. Close relation thus developed between the people of Tripura and Bangladesh.

Therefore, it was quite natural that Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkarís visit to Bangladesh on the occasion of the latterís 40th Independence Day this year took a distinctive dimension due to a deep and heartfelt warmth emotion. Although it was only a brief visit over March 26 and 27, the warm reception he received from the topmost leaders of Bangladesh government, the leaders of several political parties, artists, intellectuals, businessmen and industrialists was unprecedented. On the occasion of this yearís state programme of the Independence Day and National Day of Bangladesh, Manik Sarkar was the only foreign guest.

 

WARM

RECEPTION

As soon as Sarkar reached Dhaka on March 26, in a mid-day flight, he was overwhelmed with ovation. On his reaching the state guest house ĎPadmaí after having spent a few minutes at Sonargaon Hotel, Bangladesh external affairs minister Dr Dipu Moni accorded a cordial reception to him at the gate of the guest house. Expressing gratitude, the external affairs minister said she herself as well as the government of Bangladesh is highly elated at the Tripura chief ministerís arrival on the occasion of that red letter day for Bangladesh.

The Tripura chief ministerís discussion with Dr Dipu Moni centred on the issue of how the two neighbouring countries can forge mutual cooperation in the economic, commercial and other spheres. Expressing gratitude for the sincere support rendered to the people of Bangladesh by the people of Tripura and India during the liberation war, she said in order to carry forward our friendly relations, Bangladesh aspires to press mutual cooperation ahead with the people of Tripura and North East as well as the neighbouring countries in the region, viz Nepal, Bhutan etc in various spheres. She stressed on speedy implementation of the bipartite treaty and memorandum of understanding signed during Sheikh Hasinaís India tour last January. Manik Sarkar expressed gratitude at the invitation offered to him on the occasion of the National Day and paid respect to the legendary Sheikh Mujibur Rehmanís memory as well as to the freedom struggle martyrs.

Sarkar pointed out that eight issues related to Tripura featured in the joint memorandum signed during Sheikh Hasinaís India visit. These included declaration of Ashuganj river port of Bangladesh as a port of call, facilitating the use of Chittagong port, Agartala-Akhaura railway connection etc. He requested the Bangladesh external affairs minister to facilitate the use of Chittagong port by building a bridge on the river Pheni at Subroom, upgrade the road between Brahmanbaria and Agartala, and facilitate the single-bus travel between Agartala and Kolkata without any trans-shipment as well as the import of commodities through small water vessels to Sonamura and Udaipur in Tripura via the rivers Gomti and Meghna. Sarkar also mooted the proposal of organising a joint cultural function on the occasion of Rabindranath Tagoreís 150th birth anniversary, involving the artists of both countries in order to strengthen the bonds of common cultural traditions. He extended an invitation to the Bangladesh external affairs minister to visit to Tripura on the occasion of the liberation war friendship ceremony, due to be held in Agartala towards the end of this year.

Promising to consider the Tripura chief ministerís proposal, Dr Dipu Moni said without mutual cooperation the aspiration of both the countries for speedy progress cannot be crowned with success. She also accepted the invitation for Tripura visit.

Later on, the two dignitaries addressed a joint press conference. Sarkar told newsmen that both the countries would work together for gradual improvement of relations. He expressed gratitude to Bangladesh for facilitating the transport of heavy machinery for Tripuraís Palatana power project through the Ashuganj river port. He said Tripura would have no objection to the sale of a minimum of 100 MW power to Bangladesh from Tripuraís share of the power to be generated from the proposed gas super-thermal plant.

 

INDEPTH

DISCUSSION

On March 26 afternoon, Sarkar met President Jillur Rehman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a state reception at Banga Bhavan, hosted by the president Jillur Rehman. Here the Tripura chief minister was the only foreign guest among a few thousand invitees and was seated beside the president and the prime minister. In reception, the president said he was highly elated that the Tripura chief minister had joined the reception ceremony. He also had taken shelter in Tripura during the 1971 liberation war, the president informed. Several cabinet ministers including home minister Sahara Khatun, finance minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhit, the prime ministerís advisers Gauhar Rijvi and H T Imam also met Sarkar.

In the evening, Sarkar called on Sheikh Hasina at the prime ministerís secretariat, Gana Bhavan. Though the meeting was scheduled for half an hour, the discussion continued for more than one hour. He was grateful to the Bangladesh government and its people for inviting him to on the Independence Day. Sarkar told the Bangladesh prime minister that the people of Bangladesh and Tripura are like a single family. The people of Tripura have an emotional relation with the Bangladesh liberation war, a relation which he hoped would grow stronger in the days to come. 

Regarding Sheikh Hasinaís India visit last January, he said her historic visit had paved the way for extension of bipartite relations between the two countries. He extended an invitation to the prime minister to visit Tripura at a convenient time on the occasion of the liberation war friendship ceremony, for inauguration of a park associated with the memory of the liberation war and for the Tripura University programme of conferring D Litt upon her. The prime minister expressed gratitude to the Tripura government and its people for sheltering the Bangladesh refugees during the 1971 liberation war. She also accepted the invitation to come to Tripura.

The two dignitaries held discussions on development of bipartite commercial relations and various other issues of mutual interest. The Tripura government had decided to allot building for establishment of Bangladesh trade centre in Agartala, Sarkar informed. Tripura is also interested in importing several commodities including fertilisers from Bangladesh.

Sheikh Hasina informed the Tripura chief minister that Bangladesh would have no objection to India building a bridge on river Pheni between Subroom and Ramgarh in order to use the Chittagong port. She urged the chief minister to supply 200 MW of power from the Palatana plant. She also informed Sarkar that her Government had allocated necessary fund for upgradation of the road link between Bramhanbaria and Akhaura.

The prime minister said a joint struggle of South Asian countries is necessary for eradication of poverty and common social evils of the region. Dr Dipu Mani, advisor Gauhar Rizvi, secretary to the prime minister and also the Indian high commissioner Rajeet Mitter were present during the discussion.

Parliament member and left-wing Workersí Party president Rasheed Khan Menon hosted a dinner in the honour of chief minister Manik Sarkar on March 26 night. Besides the Workers Party leadership, Bangladesh Communist Party president Manjurul Hassan Khan and general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim as well as other left, secular and democratic leaders were also present. In response to this felicitation, Sarkar said there was no question of the people of Tripura refusing assistance to the Bangladesh liberation war. The people of India, including those of Tripura, deem it as their moral duty to stand by a freedom struggle. The people of Tripura take pride that they were privileged to actively assist the Bangladesh liberation war. A history of this war cannot be written without mentioning Tripura. The people of Tripura sheltered the Bangladesh refugees at that time on purely humanitarian grounds and contributed to their war. It can never be forgotten that a number of citizens of Tripura, alongside Indian troops, had sacrificed their lives in this war.

The CPI(M)ís Tripura state secretariat member Gautam Das accompanied Manik Sarkar at the banquet held by the Workersí Party.

On March 27 morning, Sarkar paid floral tribute to the martyred liberation warriors as well as Indian soldiers at Savar.

 

INCREASING

COOPERATION

On March 27 midday, he met the top ranking industrialists and businessmen of Bangladesh for an exchange of opinion under the auspices of Indo-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In the meeting presided over by the chamberís chief Abdul Mutlab, H T Imam advisor to the Bangladesh prime minister mentioned his and his compatriotsí stay in Agartala in 1971. a former Bangladesh cabinet secretary, Imam said the helping hand extended by the people of Tripura at the time is unparalleled in world history. He opined that the all-out endeavour launched by the Bangladesh government under Sheikh Hasinaís leadership for the peopleís emancipation from hunger, poverty and illiteracy cannot be crowned with success unilaterally. The only way is to forge ahead together with the neighbours.

The Tripura chief minister said that the joint Indo-Bangladesh memorandum had flung open the gateway of the solution of outstanding bilateral problems and now the time has come for speedy advancement. He urged the Bangladesh industrialists and businessmen to avail of the Tripura governmentís and the Indian governmentís incentives package for investment in Tripura.

On March 27 afternoon, on the eve of the chief ministerís return to Tripura, a delegation of intellectuals, led by Kamal Lohani, director general of Bangladesh Fine Arts Academy, came to meet him. They sought his support for conducting the Indo-Bangladesh liberation war friendship ceremony on a regular basis in order to strengthen the friendly relations of the people of two countries.

Bangladesh minister for liberation war affairs, A B Tajul Islam, too made a courtesy call on the chief minister.

The Tripura chief ministerís brief Bangladesh tour has undoubtedly made a positive contribution to the deepening of Indo-Bangladesh and especially Tripura-Bangladesh relation of amity and friendship.

It may be mentioned here that the Sheikh Hasina government accorded sanction to the construction of a bridge over Feni river within a week after Manik Sarkarís Bangladesh visit.