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How Sheikh Hasina handled Jyoti Basu over Bangladeshi intrusion issue

  • Published at 01:57 pm May 25th, 2018
  • Last updated at 04:09 pm May 25th, 2018
Sheikh Hasina, Jyoti Basu
Former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, left, and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, right Collected from Bangla Tribune

The Bangladesh prime minister might recall her meeting with the then West Bengal chief minister that took place two decades ago

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is visiting the West Bengal to inaugurate the Bangladesh Bhaban at the Visva-Bharati University.   

Two decades ago, the university conferred its highest award “Deshikottam” on Sheikh Hasina, during her first stint in office. 

This time she might recall the incidents of her previous visit that took place in January 1999, especially her meeting with the then West Bengal chief minister, Jyoti Basu, reports Bangla Tribune.  

Many people do not know that during the meeting held in Kolkata, the two leaders had an altercation over the intrusion of Bangladeshis into the state and the way Sheikh Hasina managed it, is historic.

“There is no denying that Sheikh Hasina personally respected Jyoti Basu. Everybody is aware of Jyoti Basu’s role in the historic Ganges treaty between Bangladesh and India signed in 1997. Even so, a sensitive issue like intrusion was raised in their meeting,” said Dev Mukherjee, the then Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh. 

The current disputed issue between the two neighbouring countries is Teesta water sharing deal and back then the so-called intrusion was the issue of conflict. 

During that period, BJP-led government was in power in India and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister. The BJP was vocal against Bangladeshi intrusion in major cities like Delhi and Mumbai. The issue reached such a magnitude that the left leaning government of the West Bengal state could not ignore it. 

A former bureaucrat, who was aware of the Sheikh Hasina-Jyoti Basu meeting, said the former West Bengal chief minister told Hasina such a huge influx of Bangladeshis have become a burden for India’s economy. 

Jyoti Basu said his state had to face the pressure largely because most Bangladeshi intruders settled in the West Bengal, only a few of them migrated to Delhi and Mumbai, said the bureaucrat.

He also said both Muslims and Hindus were among the intruders.

The veteran communist leader told the Bangladesh prime minister that every day many people entered Malda and Murshidabad, the West Bengal’s bordering districts with Bangladesh. These people work for the day and return to Bangladesh in the evening after earning money.

Jyoti Basu said there was no problem with these people, but they were in trouble with those who stay back. 

He told Sheikh Hasina Dhaka must take back the “illegal Bangladeshis.” 

Sheikh Hasina remained silent for a few seconds, maybe she could not expect such behaviour from the person who she respected a lot.

Then the Bangladesh prime minister said: “I do not believe a single Bangladeshi national is living in India illegally. If any of them does, then show me a list. You just cannot make a complaint. I want the India government to hand me a list of illegal Bangladeshis.

“Besides, the situation in Bangladesh is not so bad that people will cross the border and live in your country. And why would they do so?” she said explicitly. 

This statement has become a template for Bangladesh’s reply to intrusion. Later, the BNP-led four-party alliance government also followed the same stand on intrusion. 

India could not hand Bangladesh a list of illegal Bangladeshi yet after 20 years. 

The next day Sheikh Hasina attended the convocation at Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan to receive her award. She showed no sign of discontent at the event. 

Former Indian envoy to Bangladesh Dev Mukherjee said: “Both Sheikh Hasina and Jyoti Basu were statesmen. They had the political and diplomatic prudence. So they talked about a bilateral issue and addressed it successfully.”

Coincidentally, 20 years after during her West Bengal visit there is an issue of conflict with the state government—the Teesta water sharing deal. 

However, it is not yet clear whether during her two-day visit on Friday and Saturday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will have a scope to hold talks with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

If any meeting is held then she will not miss the chance—hopefully she will not hesitate to bat straight any “googly” thrown by Mamata Banerjee, the way she hooked Jyoti Basu’s “bouncer.”

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