In the presence of Mamata Banerjee and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a barb that must have stung the West Bengal Chief Minister. And it didn’t go unnoticed by anyone present on the sprawling grounds of the historic Visva Bharati in Shantiniketan on Friday 25 May, as the PM delivered a political speech at the convocation ceremony the 97-year-old institution.
In his address to students and other attendees at the ceremony, Modi began his speech with an “apology” for the lack of drinking water facility at the university.
“As a chancellor of Visva Bharati, I apologise to all of you. While on my way here, some students complained to me with gestures that there is no availability of drinking water. I apologise for the inconvenience caused,” said the PM as those present in the audience broke into loud cheers and chants of ‘Modi-Modi’.
The ‘apology’ may have had many undertones. One of the major agendas for the visiting Bangladeshi PM is solving the Teesta water sharing dispute with India.
While PM Modi had told Hasina in April 2017 that he hoped for an “early solution” to the water dispute, the West Bengal CM has been adamant on not increasing the share of water as demanded by Bangladesh on the grounds that doing so would impact the agricultural production in north Bengal.
Since water is a state subject, the dispute cannot be solved without Banerjee’s consent.
Acknowledging Hasina’s visit, Modi said India and Bangladesh are two nations whose interests are connected.
“Our welfare is connected by cooperation and coordination. Be it culture or public policy, we learn a lot from each other. One such example is Bangladesh Bhawan,” said the Indian PM, drawing attention to the Bangladesh Bhawan building in Shantiniketan that will be inaugurated by the two PMs.
Addressing the students, the PM said, “I have come here as an Acharya. I am here because of this great democracy.”
The PM, who is the Chancellor of Visva Bharati University, recognised the contributions of the University in nation building and praised ‘Gurudev’ Rabindranath Tagore as an international luminary and guiding light for nations.
“It won’t be an exaggeration to state that Gurudev was an international citizen and remains to even now,” said Modi.
On the occasion, the Indian PM also mentioned the chairs in countless international universities named after Tagore.
“Gurudev believed that every human is born for one or the other achievement. Education has an important role to play in the life of every child to achieve his target,” he said.
“Gurudev used to say that education is not restricted to universities alone. He wanted Indian students to know the happenings around the world. He used to say that we should know about other cultures but should not forget our national identity,” added Modi, who was attending his first convocation since coming to power in 2014.
Earlier in the day, Modi, dressed in his trademark crisp kurta, was greeted by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a specially-built helipad at Shantiniketan around 10.15 am.
He then welcomed Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Shantiniketan, the quaint town near Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, for an ‘informal summit’ between the two leaders.
After a quick exchange of pleasantries, the two leaders proceeded to the venue of the convocation ceremony. The West Bengal CM accompanied the two leaders and West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi to the venue amid ‘Modi-Modi’ chants.
As per the day’s itinerary, the convocation ceremony will be followed by the ‘informal summit’ at 1 pm, after which the two PMs will inaugurate the Bangladesh Bhawan.
Modi and Hasina are scheduled to talk over a gamut of topics which may include the Teesta water sharing issue and the Rohingya refugee crisis. Last time the two leaders met was on the sidelines of the Commonwealth summit in April.
After the talks, Hasina will proceed to Kolkata and visit Rabindranath Tagore’s residence in the city. It is here that she will hold a meeting with Mamata Banerjee and discuss the crucial water sharing issue.
Hasina, who faces a general election in her country in six months, is banking on a positive outcome of the talks on Teesta water sharing.
Besides the water sharing issue, Banerjee also differs on the Rohingya refugee crisis from the positions of both Modi and Hasina.
During her stay in Kolkata, Hasina will attend an Iftar party to be organised by the Bangladesh high commissioner. Chief Minister Banerjee has been invited to the event.