Hasina coming only for cricket but will run into Mamata thrice
It is far more than a game, this cricket.
Cricket chronicler Sir John Frederick Neville Cardus’s sage remark sums up the mood in Dhaka hours before the first pink ball is bowled at the Eden Gardens on Friday.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is flying to Calcutta with a delegation of cabinet ministers and senior officials to watch the first day-and-night Test in India. “She is going to Calcutta only for the cricket…. There is nothing more to it,” said an official in the Prime Minister’s Office in Dhaka.
Hasina and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee will formally flag off the Test between India and Bangladesh on Friday.
A day before Hasina’s 12-hour visit to Calcutta, Mamata said she would meet the Bangladesh Premier thrice — once in the afternoon while ringing the bell at the Eden, then at her hotel room and again at the stadium during a cultural programme at the end of the day’s play.
“We in Bengal love Sheikh Hasina…. I will meet her twice at the Eden and also pay her a courtesy visit at 6 in the evening at her hotel,” Mamata said on Thursday.
Sources at Nabanna and the Bangladesh deputy high commission in Calcutta said that around half an hour had been earmarked for the one-to-one meeting at the hotel.
Although Mamata has spelt out that it will be a courtesy call, the evening rendezvous at the hotel could add another dimension to Hasina’s visit.
Hasina is carrying special gifts for “the Didi and the Dada” of Bengal: Panjabi pyjamas and sweets for BCCI president Sourav Ganguly who has invited her, and sweets and sari for Mamata.
The two leaders from two sides of the border have known each other for years. Hasina had been the first international caller to wish Mamata on her electoral victory in 2011.
The bonhomie, however, suffered a setback a few months later in September when the newly appointed Bengal chief minister pulled out of a trip to Bangladesh, citing her opposition to the Teesta water-sharing deal then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to sign with Hasina in Dhaka.
Since then, the pact has become the elephant in the room in India-Bangladesh bilateral relations.
That no one wants to talk about it became clear when Hasina, while announcing her plan to visit Calcutta on Ganguly’s invitation, made it clear that there was no point “mixing Teesta with cricket”.
Diplomats on either side repeated the same line, asked whether the visit could play a role in resolving the impasse.
They may be right, but there is little doubt that Hasina — often accused of sacrificing her country’s interests before India — desperately wants the deal to come through. Delhi too is keen to see the deal through as it would silence Hasina’s critics in Bangladesh.
Hasina had arrived in Delhi on October 3 amid great expectations in Bangladesh about some progress on the Teesta water-sharing agreement, but the deal eluded Dhaka.
A source in Dhaka said that as no one knew whether Mamata would rethink her opposition to sharing the Teesta waters — in July the chief minister had told the Assembly there wasn’t enough water in the Himalayan river — efforts were afoot to de-link Teesta from the latest visit as Hasina could not risk another disappointment back home.
“But knowing our Prime Minister, there is little doubt that she would broach the issue with Mamata whenever they meet one to one,” the source said.
If Mamata concedes or at least mellows her stand, perhaps Hasina’s legacy would doff its hat to the great Cardus, who had also said: “We remember not the scores and the results in after years; it is the men who remain in our minds, in our imagination.”