When Sheikh Hasina visited Delhi, some of us called on her at the Bangladesh High Commission. Envoys from other countries also came and congratulated her, among them Pakistan’s then Deputy High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah, who told Sheikh Hasina that Prime Minister Imran Khan had conveyed his best wishes. Imran Khan had already spoken to her over the phone for about 15 minutes before she left Dhaka.
So, what’s the big deal, one might ask. Isn’t this all part of routine diplomatic engagement?
Indian officer in Delhi however found the development disturbing. “Did you know that Sheikh Hasina was invited by Imran Khan to Islamabad?” Extending such an invitation was routine and part of diplomatic courtesy, I argued. He remained unconvinced.
Strategic relations are changing. In 1971, Bangladesh was formed after it fought its Liberation War against the Pakistan army. But that’s already history. Virtually half a century have gone by since then. And Pakistan and Bangladesh seem eager to normalise relations and move on. Should Indian sensibilities and the fact that Indo-Pak relations have again touched rock bottom matter more to Bangladesh?
China, Afghanistan, Iran -- all countries want to maintain good relations with Dhaka. Everyone understands the geo-strategic importance of this small South Asian country. That Pakistan and Russia too will seek good relations and trade relations with Bangladesh should not come as a surprise therefore.
India for once is doing a smart thing by sending Vikram Doraiswami to Dhaka as the High Commissioner. It may have something to do with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s own stint as the High Commissioner in Dhaka. He was pro-active and his stint had helped enhance the importance of the Indian High Commission there. Shringla had also been a Joint Secretary in charge of Bangladesh and knows the country well. His understanding of Bangladesh is also better because he is from Darjeeling in West Bengal.
Vikram Doraiswamy(45), although a Tamilian, can speak a little Bengali. It is because his mother-in-law is from Bengal and his wife is comfortable speaking in Bengali. From the 1992 batch of the IFS, he was India’s High Commissioner in Afghanistan and was in charge of various international organizations and summits. He also served as a secretary to Dr Manmohan Singh on the Race Course Road, in keeping with the tradition of deputing a young officer as personal secretary to the PM.
Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and National Security Advisor, introduced the practice of appointing two personal secretaries to the Prime Minister. One, an IAS officer who would focus on the country’s internal affairs, and maintain the channels of contact between the Cabinet, Chief Ministers and governors and the Prime Minister. The other, an IFS Officer. He would be the Prime Minister’s liaison officer with foreign ministers and all other statesmen in the world. Manmohan Singh continued with the practice.
Doraiswamy, who studied History at Delhi University, was also a journalist. After his training ended in 1994, he went to Hong Kong and learnt Mandarin. In 1996, he went to Beijing. He worked there for four years. Vikram became the Deputy Chief of Protocol in Delhi. Then, in New York, he became a Political Counselor in Indian Permanent High Commission to the United Nations. Later, in South Africa’s Johannesburg he became the Consul General. After coming to Delhi, Vikram was in charge of SAARC for several years. In 2012, he was in charge of managing the BRICS summit.
Another plus point in his favour is that he is said to enjoy the confidence of both Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and Foreign Secretary Shringla. Another advantage is that Sheikh Hasina also knows him well.
Earlier this year, Shringla took part in a programme in Dhaka. There he publicly said that the Indian government was engaging with Myanmar to create a favourable environment for the return of Rohingyas from Bangladesh. Quoting poet Nazrul Islam, he said: let’s divide ecstasy and misery equally, because in the era of globalisation, happiness and sorrow recognise no boundaries and appear at every door in the same way.”
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior Delhi based journalist. The views expressed are personal)