Ahead of Dhaka visit, PM speaks to Sheikh Hasina (Third Lead)

July 5th, 2011 - 12:34 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday spoke to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina, soon after his two-day visit to the eastern neighbour Sep 6-7 was announced, to give her a sense of the highest importance that New Delhi attaches to its relations with Dhaka.

Brushing aside a row over his remarks about anti-India sentiments in Bangladesh, Manmohan Singh called up Sheikh Hasina to tell her he was “looking forward” to the visit and “to renewing contacts” with his old friends in Dhaka.

“Following the official announcement of his visit to Bangladesh on Sep 6 and 7, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh called the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, to say how much he was looking forward to the visit and to renewing contacts with his old friends there,” a release put out by the ministry of external affairs late Monday night said.

“India attaches the highest importance to relations with Bangladesh and that a strong and productive partnership between the two countries is in the interest of the two peoples and the people of South Asia as a whole,” Manmohan Singh said during his phone call.

Sheikh Hasina, in response to Manmohan Singh’s sentiments, said she “personally” and the people of Bangladesh are “waiting eagerly” to receive him and there were high expectations from the visit, which she hoped would be a historic one.

Manmohan Singh conveyed his warm personal greetings to her and through her to the people of Bangladesh.

“The visit would provide an opportunity to give added momentum and high level political direction to bilateral ties, which have been intensifying steadily in recent years,” the release said.

The Indian prime minister noted with “satisfaction” that there has been an increase in high-level exchanges, with Vice President Hamid Ansari visiting Bangladesh recently.

“Goodwill existed among the political parties in both countries and encouraging people-to-people contacts was a priority in the relationship,” the release quoted Manmohan Singh as saying.

Both leaders decided to instruct their officials to work towards making the Indian prime minister’s visit “successful and substantive.”

Manmohan Singh’s visit is poised to be a landmark trip, during which New Delhi is expected to unveil a raft of concessions, including a further easing of textile imports, signalling a new phase in improving bilateral ties.

In Dhaka, the Bangladesh government also announced the visit, saying it “is expected to infuse fresh dynamism into the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional relationship between the two countries”.

“The two sides have been working towards making the visit by the Indian Prime Minister a successful and a fruitful one,” the Bangladesh government said.

The announcement of the prime minister’s visit by both sides on the same day indicated their conscious effort to play down the controversy triggered by Manmohan Singh’s off-the-record remarks in an interaction with Indian editors last week about 25 percent of Bangladeshis being under the influence of the “anti-Indian” Jamaat-e-Islami, a rightwing Islamist political party.

These remarks created a storm in Bangladesh and were splashed in all Bangladeshi dailies.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna is scheduled to pay an official three-day visit to Dhaka, beginning Wednesday, to review bilateral ties and prepare for the Manmohan Singh’s visit.

The trip is expected to pacify hurt feelings in Bangladesh over Manmohan Singh’s “off-the-record” remarks that were inadvertently released by his office. That portion of his interaction with select editors was later removed from the official website.

However, Krishna denied his visit was a damage-control exercise, saying, “The prime minister has been one of the consistent champions of India-Bangladesh relations.”

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