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Modi likely to sign 20 agreements during Bangladesh visit

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Agartala/Guwahati: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Dhaka from Saturday is likely to see the signing of 20 agreements besides talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on boosting trade, connectivity and anti-terrorism measures.

Chief ministers of several northeastern states, though they are not accompanying Modi, have requested him to raise the issues of infiltration, border trade and connectivity with Bangladesh.

According to a top Bangladesh government official in Agartala, Modi’s 36-hour stay in Dhaka is likely to see both sides ink as many as 20 agreements.

“Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh could not sign the Teesta treaty due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The Teesta water sharing pact will cast a shadow during Modi’s tour,” Tapas Dey, a known expert on Bangladeshi affairs, told IANS

Dey, who visited Bangladesh this week, told IANS: “Though Teesta has been a most fundamental issue for decades, this time both the Awami League government and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have agreed that the issue has some internal implications in Indian politics.”

BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, who refused to pay a courtesy call on Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in Dhaka in March 2013, is likely to call on Modi.

“This time the BNP has been very positive towards the visit of the Indian prime minister. Modi might meet Khaleda Zia on June 7 on the latter’s request,” Dey said.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who along with other northeastern chief ministers accompanied Manmohan Singh on his Bangladesh visit in September 2011, said Modi’s trip would strengthen bilateral ties.

“The visit is expected to immensely benefit the northeastern states,” Sarkar told IANS. He said it was after Tripura’s pushing that New Delhi agreed to supply 100 MW electricity from a state power plant to power-starved Bangladesh.

Sarkar, a popular face in Bangladesh, said that Dhaka helped “a lot” to tame decades of terrorism in Tripura. He said some camps of northeastern militants still existed in Bangladesh.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has urged Modi to take up issues concerning his state with Hasina.

“Modi should take up the matter of boosting water and surface communication between Assam and Bangladesh and introducing rail links to enhance trade and commercial ties. He must also raise the issue of cross-border infiltration,” Gogoi said in a statement.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma wants more ‘border haats’ (markets) along the India-Bangladesh border.

“Modi can discuss with Hasina about a strategy to develop road connectivity between northeast India and Bangladesh and to use Chittagong port for exports,” Sangma told IANS over telephone.

On June 7, Modi and Hasina would, over video conferencing, jointly inaugurate a ‘border haat’ at Kamalasagar in western Tripura’s Sipahijala district, which borders Brahmanbaria district of Bangladesh.

The ‘border haat’ will be the second in Tripura and the fourth on the India-Bangladesh border. The Indian commerce ministry is footing the cost of the border haats to boost trade in local produce.

Modi and Hasina are to flag off two bus services: between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh as well as between Dhaka and Guwahati via Meghalaya capital Shillong and Bangladeshi city Sylhet.

The trial runs have already been conducted.

Both sides are likely to ink an agreement on coastal shipping and effective use of water ways, on tackling human trafficking, besides operationalizing the historic land (enclaves) swap agreement.

“Setting up Special Economic Zones in Bangladesh by India is likely to be discussed,” a Bangladesh official told IANS on the condition of anonymity.

Noted economist Sekhar Paul told IANS: “Economic cooperation between India and Bangladesh must go hand in hand with strong political support.”

Modi met Hasina on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September and at the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November.

India shares a 4,096-km border, including 1,116-km riverine one, with Bangladesh, the longest border India has with any of its neighbours.

Besides West Bengal (2,216 km), the four northeastern states of Tripura (856 km), Meghalaya (443 km), Mizoram (318 km) and Assam (263 km) together share 1,880 km of border with Bangladesh. (IANS)

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Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

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1300 applicants after the new rule came in. Wikimedia commons
1300 applicants after the new rule came in. Wikimedia commons

In India, earlier it was mandatory for Muslim women to travel with mahram if they wanted to go for Haj. However, now Muslim women aged above 45 will now be allowed to go for the pilgrimage without ‘mahram’ in a group of at least four.

“1300 Muslim women have applied to perform Haj without ‘mahram’ and women from different parts of the country from Kerala to north India, have expressed their wish to go for the Haj pilgrimage,” said PM Modi on Mann Ki Baat.

A five-member panel

Earlier too, Centre had recommended women above 45 years to embark on haj pilgrimage in a four-member group without a male relative.

A committee was formed by Union ministry of minority affairs to review the existing haj policy and suggest a framework for new rules for 2018-22. It listed several recommendations which included permitting women to go for the pilgrimage without a male relative.

1.4 lakh people from India participate in Haj every year. Pixabay
1.4 lakh people from India participate in Haj every year. Pixabay

Controversy

In his last Mann Ki Baat address of the year on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to Muslim women, highlighting his government’s attempt at facilitating women’s travel for Haj pilgrimage without a male companion.

“For decades, injustice was being done to Muslim women but there was no discussion on it. Even in many Islamic countries, this practice does not exist,” the PM said.

“Our Ministry of Minority Affairs issued corrective measures and we eased this restriction by phasing out a tradition that had been in practice for the past 70 years,” Mr. Modi pointed out.

However, many claims that these rules are made by Saudi Arabia, not the Indian Government.

“It is the Saudi Haj authorities that have allowed any Muslim women above 45 years from any country without a Mehram to do Haj. It does not behoove the PM to take credit for what a foreign govt has done,” said AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi.

Saudi Arabia had updated the rules on haj back in 2015, as their embassy website shows.