India-Bangladesh Friendship on London Centre Stage

An evening to remember: A unique Indo-Bangladeshi party, or Maitri Divas dinner as it was called, was held at London’s Marriott Grosvenor Hotel on Monday evening. It was on December 6, 1971, that India recognised Bangladesh as an independent country, after doing much to liberate it from Pakistan. Indian support for Bangladeshi Independence is not forgotten in Bangladesh, not by most anyhow. London, which is home to large numbers of Indians and Bangladeshis, was clearly quite the right place for a party to mark that Golden Jubilee. It was refreshing to see so many Indians and Bangladeshis blend together at a common event.

On song: There could hardly be an Indo-Bangladeshi evening without Runa Laila. And, of course, there she was to sing, what else, ‘Dama Dam Mast Qalandar’ after a Bengali song. That really did get the guests going, after an hour and a half of speeches. And never mind that she only lip-synched to her own track. It’s been some time since she burst into the world of South Asian singing with that one, her first rendering is almost as old as Bangladesh itself.

A sari affair: If anyone outshone Runa Laila, it was two other remarkable ladies in saris: Indian high commissioner to London Gaitri Issar Kumar and Bangladeshi high commissioner Saida Muna Tasneem, the first woman in that position. It was the two ladies who brought the event together, and then conducted it with remarkable grace on stage and among the guests. High Commissioner Gaitri Kumar is quite as competent as she is charismatic. High Commissioner Saida Tasneem clearly brings much passion and dynamism to her work.

Reliving the past: The Indo-Bangladesh event in London offered a trip down memory lane for many who were around and adult enough those heady days. Indian intervention broke Pakistan in two to create Bangladesh. The event brought guests footage of Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh who was given strong foundations by India. The most poignant moment of the evening was a minute of silence in memory of those who died for the creation of Bangladesh, among them thousands of Indian soldiers.

Lord knows: Lord Swraj Paul brought the reminder that evening that Britain had been slow to recognise Bangladesh. He should know, he says Mrs Gandhi called him to speak to him about this, and he had been in touch with British leaders from his early days in Britain. That reluctance is of course documented but should surprise no one in retrospect either. Britain’s Foreign Office still has a strong lobby more sympathetic to Pakistan than to India.​

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