Friday, September 9, 2011

The Embarrassment Of A Visit

Many people I know are upset because the Indian prime minister's visit has been a big let down for them. It was high on promise but low on delivery or something else that's hard to explain. Or, may be they are making too much fuss about it. May be it was meant to be like this. A humble host got carried away because a prominent guest was coming. 

Did India ever promise to give what we took for granted? What were agreed between the two prime ministers in January 2010, then between two foreign ministers and afterwards two foreign secretaries? Was everything put in black and white, or was it one of those things better left unspoken?

I am not upset, but I am confused. How could we be so far off the mark that so little happened when so much was expected? And how could our foreign minister still insist that she hoped the Teesta agreement was going to be signed after the Indian foreign secretary had told the press in New Delhi that nothing would be done without a nod from West Bengal. By then it was clear that Mamata Banerjee had thrown a monkey wrench into the Manmohan visit.

Upon what did our foreign minister base her vain optimism? Why did she think that after the Indian announcement she could still pull it off by a stroke of her wishful thinking? Was it her inexperience that she failed to read between the lines? Or, was it something she knew about the Indians that the Indians didn't know about themselves?

Come to think of it, water sharing had already hit the rocks when Indian Water Resources Minister Salman Khurshid never showed up for his meeting. He was supposed to arrive in Bangladesh in August, which he never did. Did anybody from our side ever bother to find out what had happened? Did anybody put on the thinking cap that it spelt trouble for the water deal(s)?

Joe Valachi was the first Mafia member who had publicly acknowledged the existence of the Mafia in the United States. This same Joe had also confessed, "You can imagine my embarrassment when I killed the wrong guy." In so much as the Indian prime minister is always welcome in this country, whose embarrassment is it that he came on a wrong visit because it was for the wrong reason?

I say it because may be all along India was thinking of this visit as a goodwill gesture whereas Bangladesh was thinking of something more. It has been as embarrassing as bringing in a birthday cake to a wedding anniversary. But how did it happen is the question that has been bugging people. Did the two sides talk about these things? Who failed to understand whom? How could two sides go away with two different notes from the same meetings?

It is Machiavelli who explains to his would-be prince that the very notion of men being basically virtuous is the falsehood that the unscrupulous tell to exploit the gullible. Who was unscrupulous here and who was gullible between the two countries? Was it us the unscrupulous who lied to us the gullible? 

There are already whispers that bygones are bygones and both countries should move on. Some of our high-placed officials are busy scavenger hunting, looking for treasure in trash. In their desperate bid to save their faces, they refuse to accept the Indian premier's visit has been anything less than a success. 

The fact remains that the visit has been badly managed both in preparation and perception. It has been a success that an Indian prime minister came to Bangladesh on a state visit after 12 years. It has been a success that border protocol was signed and the Tin Bigha corridor will remain open round the clock from now on. Discerning eyes might pick up a few more brownie points missed out by crude minds.

But, on the whole, the visit has left Bangladesh-India relations badly chewed in public imagination. People on this side of the border were excited. The goodwill for India in the country was at its highest point in many years. 

A friendly government is sitting in power. Indian Congress President Sonia Gandhi came to accept an award in belated recognition of Indira Gandhi's contribution to the independence of Bangladesh. Two countries jointly celebrated the 150th anniversary of Tagore. Indian cultural teams have been regular phenomena in Bangladesh since this government took office.

This visit was expected to be icing on the cake, sort of a climax of an enduring era of good feelings between two nations. All said and done that momentum has been disturbed. India has left a friendly government hung out to dry. Its ego bruised, this government surely knows that it hurts.

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