Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina blended cricket with diplomacy as she watched the first day’s play of the maiden day-night Test with pink ball between Bangladesh and India at the historic Eden Garden stadium in Kolkata on Friday evening when she was in the company of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Considerable bonhomie was on display between the two leaders which went beyond politics. Ahead of her visit, Hasina had said that her trip to Kolkata for the inauguration of the Test by ringing the giant bell along with Mamata at the Eden was purely for cricket on an invite from Sourav Ganguly, President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
When the paparazzi requested Hasina, who was the guest of honour at the Eden, and Mamata to stand next to each other for a photo session with skippers Virat Kohli and Mominul Haque before the start of the Test, the Bangladesh PM said “ei toh captain” pointing to the Chief Minister.
Mamata presented a photograph of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to Hasina who was in the City of Joy, as writer Dominic Lapierre called Kolkata, for a whirlwind tour on Friday.
Culture has always been the powerful cross-border bond between India and Bangladesh. On Friday, cricket was added to it with the presence of Hasina and Mamata at the Eden.
The national flags of India and Bangladesh fluttered across the Eden Garden all through and their national anthems “Jana Gana Mana” and “Aamar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomaye Bhalobasi” were played before the start of the match.
Hasina also sat next to Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar and the two were seen in conversation for sometime. Asked to comment on the Bngladesh team’s performance in the first innings of the Kolkata Test, Hasina said “I think we are doing not good when it comes to playing cricket. But we feel we will do better as we continue to play.”
Despite cricket being the main purpose, political activity could not be totally avoided during Hasina’s visit.
Hasina and Mamata met for more than an hour at the Taj Bengal Hotel from around 6.15pm on Friday discussing bilateral relations.
The meeting assumed significance as an agreement on the Teesta river water-sharing has been in limbo for 11 years now. Emerging from the meeting, the Bangladesh PM told media persons that she wants friendly and cordial relations between the two countries to flourish and continue. We want this cordial relationship to remain like this for ever.”
Hasina said "we would always remain grateful for the role played by India during our liberation war. We will never forget it. India gave shelter to more than one crore refugees from Bangladesh."
She said she had come to Kolkata with the blessings of the people of Bangladesh.
We are two neighbouring countries and we share a very cordial relationship.
Coming out of the meeting with Hasina, Mamata said “she had a very “cordial” meeting with Hasina discussing bilateral ties. However, she did not elaborate or mention the issues discussed.
"Had a very cordial meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister. It was just a courtesy meeting. We discussed a lot of matters regarding bilateral ties," the Chief Minister said.
"Hope the relationship between the two countries will flourish further in the days to come," Mamata said without specifying any issue discussed.
This was the first meeting between Hasina and Mamata in more than a year since they had met in Kolkata in April 2018 when the Prime Minister had paid an official visit to India and went to Santiniketan.
Mamata has been resisting the Teesta deal, which is a vital lifeline for northern Bangladesh particularly during the lean season, since September, 2011 when she refused to sign the agreement and opted out of a visit to Dhaka along with the then Indian PM Manmohan Singh.
The Indian government has since then repeatedly assured Bangladesh that New Delhi was committed to the Teesta deal but was trying to bring the West Bengal Chief Minister on board because water is a state subject.