In one of the strongest diplomatic affirmations of friendship between two nations, the High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Singapore, this evening in his opening speech, quoted from the Indian epic The Mahabharata while speaking about the close ties that his country has with India.
Mr Tauhedul Islam was speaking at the Golden Jubilee celebrations (Maitri Diwas) of Indo-Bangladesh relations at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hall in the Singapore Indian Fine Arts campus. Opening his speech with a quote from Bhishma, one of the central characters of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, he asked rhetorically “What is friendship?” the question asked by Bhisma when he was dying in the Battle of Kurukshetra. “It is a friend who is there when you are in need. We are here to tell the story of such a friendship. The Bangladesh-India friendship,’ said Mr Islam.
Responding warmly, Indian High Commissioner Mr P Kumaran said “the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war was the fight of the brave people of Bangladesh…It was India’s honour to be a part of this moral struggle,’ he said. The millions fleeing from persecution (by the then West Pakistan) were received with open arms by India. By the end of the war, he said, India had taken in more than 10 million refugees from Bangladesh.
Today marks 50-years since India became the first country to recognise the birth of a brand-new nation in its eastern border. On December 6, ten days before the liberation of Bangladesh, India decided to formally acknowledge the new country. This day will be commemorated by the two nations each year as ‘Maitri Diwas’ or ‘Friendship Day’, adding one more layer to the memory of Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan and India’s role in its liberation. The decision to mark Maitri Divas was taken by the two prime ministers, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka in March this year.
Professor Tommy Koh, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-large was the Guest-of-Honour. He regaled the audience with anecdotes about his close ties to Bangladesh from pre-liberation days and noted that in 1971, after he returned from his first posting as ambassador to the United Nations, he helped the UN Association in Singapore to organise a fund-raising campaign to help the refugees. “So the people of Singapore empathised with the people of (the then) East Pakistan (now known as Bangladesh) and sought to help them,” he said.
The celebrations included a musical concert by artistes from SIFAS performing songs by the two Bengali greats – Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam.
The holding of Maitri Diwas is a reflection of the deep and abiding friendship between the peoples of India and Bangladesh that has been forged in blood and shared sacrifice.
The occasion will be observed in 18 countries across the world. Meetings, exhibitions, and seminars will be organised by either the Indian or Bangladesh missions in the UK, Australia, Singapore, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Qatar, France, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, UAE and the US.
Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League have stressed how grateful they are to India and former prime minister Indira Gandhi for the pivotal role India played in the struggle for independence. Unlike the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Sheikh Hasina has made friendship with India the centre-stage of her foreign policy in the region.