By Nadine Shaanta Murshid for AlalODulal.org
“Go back the many years you spent as a chai-wala and think from his perspective. Your past will determine the future. Or not.”
Dear Prime Minister Modi,
Welcome to Dhaka. I know that all known (and unknown) dignitaries have already welcomed you to this great city of ours, but as my “pen pal” (as my friends affectionately call you) I thought you deserve at least another letter from me, where I list some of the pertinent issues that we – India and Bangladesh – should be dealing with together.
- Teesta. Yes, Sir, we know your local representative from West Bengal is not too keen (or keen at all). We also know why. So do you. Didi has her own politics to play. With 2016 being election year, negotiating on Teesta would make her look weak. She simply can’t afford to. But something tells me that you can. In fact, that’s what you want. So feel no fear, make it happen, and the “force will be with you.”
- The enclaves-swap. Thank you for the relative ease with which you negotiated the land agreement. The exchange, so far, has been pretty smooth if popular media is to be believed. But you took the cake with that message you had for the Hindus in our parts; one can’t but shine in the glow of your magnanimous heart that is open to them all. How grateful they must be, an opportunity to be Indian citizens! But you do realize, don’t you, that this idea of creating a Hindu state reeks of bigotry? Just like it does when your ideological counterparts talk about creating an Islamic state by driving away and/or killing members of non-Muslim groups? Perhaps, you don’t, so let me tell you: don’t do it. Extremism is no longer cool. Ask Bin Laden. Or his sons. Or even George Bush. He knows a thing or two about it as well. (While you’re at it, perhaps address the Gujarat riots and ensure that Muslims in India don’t feel marginalized?)
- The barricade in the rivers, or the militarized borders, that are being proposed by your government (starting from the Sundarbans) in the name of reducing illegal transport of goods and people will only prevent the free roaming of the Royal Bengal Tigers. Let’s re-think this plan. Do we really want to prevent India from being a top destination for tourists in search of spirituality? Or, worse, do we want a border that looks like the US-Mexico border where unaccompanied children are abused and killed in the name of protecting the borders? No, right? I didn’t think so. I’m glad we can agree.
- Let’s also stop labeling people in Assam (and the Northeast) as “Illegal Bangladeshis” please? They don’t like it. We don’t like it. It’s a complete lose-lose situation. (Please please refer to my last letter for details: https://alalodulal.org/2014/05/14/open-letter-to-narendra-modi/.)
- From what I know, we, Bangladesh, have helped greatly with your issues with “terrorism” and other security related matters, and while it is unclear what that exactly means, there seems to be consensus on both sides that our help has benefited you. Don’t believe me? Just google Manik Sarkar. (I say this as a reminder that we are friends, and friends have each others’ backs.)
- Visa-free entry to India. Possible? No? Okay. Then just make it simpler to negotiate. Just like we were a good sport about making the Kolkata-Agartala transit deal, which was, if you remember, our bargaining chip for Teesta. Transit for Teesta, we called it (or maybe it was just me). And now you have “Transit” while we’re still awaiting “Teesta.” Something has to give, Mr. Modi, something…
- The upcoming test series. The Indian cricket team will be here in Dhaka, following in your footsteps, for a one-off test series. While that is just a ‘game’ I am sure you will see a lot of angst on this side of the border. And, trust me it has nothing to do with the cricket game as such —other than that umpiring fiasco in the World Cup— but connected to all of the above, and some more, like the mindless border killings that still go on every now and then, for one. So, let’s in true sportsman spirit play a gentleman’s game, is all I ask.
Lastly, I hope you are enjoying the precious 36 hours in Dhaka. It’s probably less humid and hot than Delhi, even though we’re experiencing a heat wave. That’s just how we roll. And here’s a warning: everyone will want something from you, and you may not be in a position to give all of them what they want. A good response is: I will think about it. And once you say this, really think about it. Go back the many years you spent as a chai-wala and think from his perspective. Your past will determine the future. Or not.
Nadine S. Murshid