New Delhi, Jan 4 (IANS) Bangladesh has formally invited President Pranab Mukherjee to visit the country and the trip could take place in the early part of 2013, making it possibly the first foreign visit of his tenure.
"We are ready to welcome him (President Mukherjee) anytime.. the formalities of the visit are being processed by the respective foreign ministries," said a diplomatic source, declining to be identified.
Bangladesh President Mohammad Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have "formally invited him (Mukherjee) to visit and President Mukherjee has agreed in principle", the source said.
The visit "is likely to be in the early part of this year", the official told IANS.
"All dignitaries of the Bangladesh government who have met President Mukherjee have all requested him on behalf of the prime minister (Sheikh Hasina) to visit, and he has always accepted," the official said.
He added that the "MEA (ministry of external affairs of India) is working on it, and whenever they suggest the dates, Bangladesh is ready to welcome the president.. even in the next ten days".
The external affairs ministry, when contacted by IANS, declined to say anything. "When the visit is confirmed it will be officially notified," said an official.
"India is the most trusted friend and neighbour to Bangladesh, most loved friend to Bangladesh and the fact that the president is visiting Bangladesh, and that too President MukherjeeHe is highly respected in Bangladesh, not only as president but also as a person," the Bangladesh official added.
"We believe it is an honour for us" to welcome Mukherjee to Bangladesh, he said.
Mukherjee would also be conferred Bangladesh's top award for his contribution to the 1971 independence war that brought freedom to Bangladesh. Former prime minister Indira Gandhi was posthumously conferred the Bangladesh Swadhinata Sanmanona award in 2011. Congress president Sonia Gandhi received the award in Dhaka.
"President Mukherjee is on the list (for the award).. when he comes we will organize a function and give it to him," the official added.
Relations between India and Bangladesh have been on the upswing ever since Sheikh Hasina took power in 2009. Hasina visited New Delhi in January 2010 and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Dhaka in September 2011.
Mukherjee had last visited Bangladesh when he was union finance minister in May 2012, barely two months before assuming the office of president on July 25. He had gone to Dhaka to attend the concluding ceremony of the year-long Joint Celebrations of the 150th Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.
All visiting Bangladesh ministers, including Agriculture Minister Begum Matia Chowdhury, who visited India since July 2012 have met President Mukherjee. A delegation of Bangladesh lawmakers who visited India in November as part of Track 2 diplomacy also met the president. Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia called on him at the Presidential Palace in October 2012.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)