Dhaka, March 5: The Bangladesh government has severely criticised Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia for refusing to meet India’s President, Pranab Mukherjee, who left for Delhi this evening after a three-day visit.
“It is a departure from democratic norms and courtesy. It should not have happened. She had sought an appointment to meet the President and it was given. It was expected that she would meet and discuss bilateral issues. It’s very unfortunate for her party and for her that the meeting was called off,” Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni said.
“Pranab Mukherjee is a respected leader and also a Bengali. As Bengalis we take pride in being gracious and hospitable. He (Mukherjee) has also chosen Bangladesh for his first foreign trip since taking over as the President... (Khaleda Zia’s refusal) has demonstrated the ‘difference’ between the two main parties in Bangladesh,” she said at a briefing on the visit and the talks.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Zia was originally scheduled to meet Mukherjee yesterday. But shortly before Mukherjee took off from Delhi for Dhaka the Indian high commission was informed by an email from the party that she was calling off the meeting because of violence feared during a Jamaat-e-Islami-sponsored hartal.
Moni said the talks with the Indian delegation were substantive and that political ups-and-downs would not disrupt the relationship between the peoples of the two countries.
Mukherjee has met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and government ministers.
Mukherjee was given a rare honour during the visit when he was felicitated as a friend of the 1971 liberation war. In public function after public function, Mukherjee talked about his memories of that time, and his association with leaders of the liberation struggle.
By taking a helicopter from Dhaka this afternoon to meet relatives of his wife in Bhadrabila, Mukherjee also emphasised his personal connect with Bangladesh where he is often described as “our son-in-law” and “the first Bengali President of India”. He invoked the name of Jahanara Imam, the icon of the Shahbag demonstrators who are demanding the death sentence for war criminals.
Moni said it was also reassuring for Dhaka that New Delhi had stated “from the highest political level and the highest office of the state that they are committed” to work out the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and an agreement on the sharing of the Teesta waters.
The LBA is opposed by the BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress. The Bengal government could not agree with the water-sharing formula at the time of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in September 2011.
Moni said Bangladesh was also “taking a comprehensive look at the larger issue of connectivity both at the bilateral and at the sub-regional level”. India desires access to Bangladesh’s Chittagong port from its northeastern states and also wants transit facilities through Bangladesh.