India is our true friend: Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina

Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina says 'India is true friend' as both countries sign 7 pacts

India and Bangladesh have scaled up trade and economic engagement besides implementing a number of connectivity and infrastructure projects

Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina jointly inaugurated a digital exhibition on Mujibur Rahman and Mahatma Gandhi on December 17. Credit: PTI

Premier Sheikh Hasina on Thursday told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India is Bangladesh’s true friend and expressed her gratitude to the country for the support during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan, as the two countries signed seven agreements to enhance bilateral ties.

Addressing a virtual summit with Modi, Hasina said that she is happy to meet her Indian counterpart again, “particularly on this month of victory”.

On Wednesday, Bangladesh celebrated the 49th anniversary of its victory against Pakistan.

Bangladesh won the war against Pakistan on December 16, 1971 with Indian support.

“December evokes in all Bangladeshis the spirit of joy, freedom and celebration as we recall with deep gratitude our ‘Father of the Nation’ Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Under whose dynamic leadership we earned our great independence,” she said.

“India is our true friend,” the Bangladesh Prime Minister said.

During the summit, India and Bangladesh signed seven agreements to expand cooperation in diverse areas, and restored a cross-border rail link which was in operation till 1965.

Seeking enhanced integrated ties with India to move up to the regional and global value chains, Prime Minister Hasina said: “I believe both our countries can move up the global and regional value chains by further integrating our economies taking advantage of available synergies.

“We believe India will play an even more important role in the global economy through your policies taken”.

She said that the two economies appeared to have developed a growing inter-dependence as a huge number of Indians are employed in Bangladesh's manufacturing and service sectors while India receives its "highest number of tourists and medical patients from Bangladesh”.

“We happily recognise the growing mutual dependency of the economies of Bangladesh and India," Hasina said.

She described the ongoing connectivity initiatives between the two next-door neighbours as a catalyst to enhance economic and trade ties.

The two premiers reopened the railway connectivity on the route between India's Cooch Behar and Bangladesh's northwestern Chilahati, 55 years after it was stalled during the 1965 India-Pakistan war.

Hasina mentioned that throughout 2020, the two countries witnessed a number of initiatives such as trade through railway routes, high-level visits and meetings, capacity-building initiatives, the first trial run of Indian cargo from Kolkata to northeast India and above all, cooperation on Covid-19.

She said that Bangladesh’s relations with India have embarked on a "landmark moment" coinciding with the 50th year of establishment of bilateral ties.

“Yesterday (Wednesday), Bangladesh celebrated 50 years as an independent nation. Bangladesh and India have also stepped into the 50th year of establishment of diplomatic relations,” she said.

Hasina said that Bangladesh's founder Bangabandhu’s birth centenary celebrations were underway while "just a few months ago, we concluded celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of your Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi”.

"In Bangladesh, we released a special postal stamp as a mark of tribute to Bapuji,” she said.

Hasina conveyed her gratitude for India's “so spontaneous" response to jointly mark these important occasions.

“The crowning glory of our joint commemoration would be your presence in Dhaka for the celebrations on March 26, 2021”.

Hasina and Modi had their last meeting in October last year in New Delhi.

She said the Covid-19 appeared to have affected most the people-to-people contacts and "our hopes to welcome you in Dhaka earlier this year could not be fulfilled” due to the pandemic.

“Yet, I commend the manner in which concerned authorities on both sides have taken forward our bilateral cooperation during these trying times, as per directives of our last summit,” she said.

Hasina commended her Indian counterpart's handling of the pandemic "in one of the world’s most affected and populated zones" and “apart from the health care packages, the economic packages introduced under your initiative of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' is admirable”.

“I hope India will contribute significantly in recovery of global economy,” the Bangladesh Prime Minister said.

She paid rich tribute to members of the Indian armed forces martyred in the 1971 Liberation War.

“I pay deep homage to the three million martyrs who laid down their lives. I pay tribute to the members of the Indian armed forces martyred in the war and to their families. I pay my gratitude to the government and the people of India who extended their whole hearted support for the cause of our nation,” she said.

The war in 1971 broke after the sudden crackdown at midnight past on March 25, 1971 in the erstwhile East Pakistan by the Pakistani troops and ended on December 16. The same year Pakistan conceded defeat and unconditionally surrendered in Dhaka to the allied forces comprising the freedom fighters and the Indian soldiers.

Officially three million people were killed during the nine-month long war.

Modi and Hasina jointly inaugurated a digital exhibition on Mujibur Rahman and Mahatma Gandhi in an effort to celebrate the life and legacies of the iconic leaders.

The ties between India and Bangladesh have witnessed a significant upswing in the last few years. Both sides have scaled up trade and economic engagement besides implementing a number of connectivity and infrastructure projects.