Space For Rent

Space For Rent
Thursday, June 18, 2015, Ashar 4, 1422 BS, Shaban 30, 1436 Hijr


The establishment of political trust
Enayetullah Khan
Published : Thursday, 18 June, 2015,  Time : 12:00 AM,  View Count : 24
It can be tempting to view the visit of Narendra Modi to Dhaka, which took place last week, as a quintessential personal triumph. Undoubtedly, the Indian leader's charisma, his sheer relish for the spotlight, coloured proceedings during the 36 hours he spent here in a way few visiting heads of government or state have done before --- certainly not his predecessor, the almost diffident Dr Manmohan Singh. Not that this should surprise anyone who has followed the rise of the former Gujarat chief minister closely, in particular his surge to 7, Racecourse Road (the official residence of Indian prime ministers) in 2014.
BJP's decisive victory in India's national elections, in particular the fact that it won enough seats to govern on its own (it chose not to), owed much to the sheer force of Mr Modi's personality. He is a masterful political operator, something that was on display in Dhaka as well. Yet it would be the height of intellectual laziness to view the result solely through the prism offered by Mr Modi's performance. A believer in technology, he at times made several campaign appearances at once through use of holograms, his self-proclaimed '56-inch chest' always to the fore as he spoke to Indians of the acche din to come if they voted for him. With his tea-seller-to-prime minister story, it had all the makings of something transformative.
Yet it is equally true that the Congress, Modi's opponents, squarely stood out as a spent force in the run-up to the election. Cosy but bloated and rudderless, their entire image grated with that
of the aspirations of modern India. Other factors, like the sudden slump in the economy post-2011, that put them out of the race with China for another generation at least, too played their part.
Similarly, if we can get ourselves to look beyond the mesmerism on offer from Mr Modi, we may realise some of the salient gains from the visit for Bangladesh, limited as they were. Firstly, there is simply no room for denying that when he took over, Mr Modi represented something of an unknown quantity as far as his intentions to do with Bangladesh were concerned. The Awami League-led government's entire effort since 2010, at a recalibration of relations with India, had been carried out in partnership with the Congress. To be fair, the apprehensions were only present on this side of the border.
On the Indian side, there was never any question - whichever party comes to power in India will always work only with their best interests in mind, and these are well-defined across party lines.
As long as they continued with their overture towards Delhi in general, Awami League had nothing to be worried. Yet the apprehension was there. So the starting point of the gains comes from the way Mr Modi did away with them during his stay, like an unwanted tweet. This has succeeded in instilling the political trust in the relationship, without which no progress is possible. Mr Modi's magnetism, from the way he took his time to chat with the young girl who presented him the bouquet as he stepped off his plane, to the stirring declaration that his dream for Bangladesh is the same as his dream for India, all underpinned by an impressively slick social media operation (for anyone wondering, his tweets are managed by a member of staff), by the time he boarded his flight back to Delhi, it was all but left for someone from the government to say: "Congress who?"
The end points of some of the other gains, unfortunately, are set a bit distantly in the future, but we must not ignore them. Bundling transit and transhipment together under the more catchy (and free) heading of connectivity. But if it means Bangladesh's roads and overall communications infrastructure witness upgrades to cope with some of the heavy-duty traffic they'll have to endure with the movement of Indian goods, then so be it. That after all, is the express intent behind the terms of the new $2 billion line-of-credit offered by Delhi during Modi's visit, which will be used for infrastructure projects in which most procurement must favour Indian firms. But it will leave us well-positioned for a day when the breadth of connectivity is more all-encompassing, like a thread that runs through nations. It may be some time coming still, but surely that is the path our world is set on, even despite some of the xenophobia that from time to time rears its ugly head. For reasons of geography, it is impossible for Bangladesh to join in this march of humanity by circumventing India. For his part, Mr Modi showed an admirable grasp of the reality that for India, in turn, to take the place it sees for itself in the family of nations, it needs Bangladesh by its side. Repetition tends to dwindle it, but it remains an essential insight. To quarrel about gains and losses is anyway short-sighted. The mutual recognition of both countries' significance to each other leaves us well-placed for far bigger
matters.

Enayetullah Khan is Editor-in-Chief, UNB and founder, Gallery Cosmos











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