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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bangladesh Prime Minister cancelled a planned stopover at Kolkata, India

Photo: V.V. Krishnan/The Hindu


Criticism at home feared.

BANGLADESH PRIME Minister Sheikh Hasina's adviser did not want her to linger in India for fear of criticism at home.

Gowher Rizvi, her Foreign Policy Adviser, “sabotaged” her planned stopover in Kolkata during a “transformational” 2010 visit to India as he believed any delay in returning to Dhaka would give her opponents time to “put their spin” on the visit before she had a chance to tell the nation about it.

Dr. Rizvi, who taught at a U.S. university before joining the Hasina government, believed that even the 24-hour delay in the Prime Minister returning home to accommodate her visit to Ajmer after finishing her meetings in New Delhi, was too much.

Dr. Rizvi confided this to the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh James F. Moriarty hours ahead of the January 10, 2010 visit.

The conversation, reported by Ambassador Moriarty in a cable sent on January 10, 2010 (243013: confidential), revealed the hopes Prime Minister Hasina and the Indian government pinned on this visit for improving strained ties with India, and the domestic difficulties of such a venture for the Bangladeshi leader given the country's confrontational politics.

Dr. Rizvi told the Ambassador that pre-visit negotiations with the Indian side had been held very close within the Bangladesh government. The Foreign Minister had been brought into the loop only in the last week before the visit. Dr. Rizvi was dismissive of the Foreign Ministry bureaucracy. According to him, it “lacked creativity and vision.”

Contrary to the media focus on what new agreements the Prime Minister would sign in India, Dr. Rizvi revealed that in his negotiations with the Indians, the focus had been on implementing past agreements on transit and connectivity that had long been dormant. Two advisers in the Prime Minister's office had been drafted to help in the rapid implementation of these agreements.

“He told the Ambassador he thought the Prime Minister was making a mistake by delaying her return to Dhaka until January 13, following a one-day pilgrimage to Ajmer. Rizvi confided that he had ‘sabotaged' the PM's plan to prolong her stay in India further by adding an additional stop in Kolkata,” Mr. Moriarty cabled.

Dr. Rizvi had argued in favour of an immediate return to Dhaka following the conclusion of bilateral talks on January 12.

At his insistence, it had been planned that the Prime Minister would address Parliament on her return from India to outline the results of her visit.

But he feared that the 24-hour delay would allow the media and the opposition to put their spin on the visit before Prime Minister Hasina got a chance to say her piece.

Dr. Rizvi was not far off the mark, as the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Khaleda Zia, mounted a vociferous campaign against the visit calling it a “sell-out” to India. #

Fist published in The Hindu, Chennai, India on March 15, 2011

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