Dhaka, March 4 (IANS) President Pranab Mukherjee Monday expressed confidence that Bangladesh's democratic traditions would grow stronger with time and the people would preserve democracy with their "constant vigil" - as a strike called by an Islamist party entered the second day amid clashes that have claimed over 70 lives.
Mukherjee, addressing a convocation ceremony at Dhaka University after accepting a doctorate conferred on him, said: "You have been steadfast... You know that it means respect for the rule of law and building of strong institutions along with free speech and a vibrant media. I am confident that democratic traditions in Bangladesh will grow stronger with time and that you will preserve democracy with your constant vigil."
The Indian president landed in Dhaka Sunday amid a two day strike called by the Jamaat-e-Islami to protest the death sentence awarded to JI chief Delwar Hossain Sayedee for the 1971 war crimes, including rape and genocide. Over 70 people have been killed in clashes.
Addressing the students of the university, located close to Shahbag Square - the scene of massive protests by the youth demanding death penalty for those guilty of war crimes, Mukherjee said: "Young men and women like you are the engine of socio-economic development of our region.
"The future of Bangladesh is in your hands. You should know that you have a past which is steeped in glory, and a future that is full of promise. I have been deeply impressed by the maturity, awareness and involvement of the youth of Bangladesh in the task of nation building."
The Shahbag protests are the largest the country has witnessed in the past 20 years. Spearheaded mostly by students active on social media platforms like Facebook, twitter and blogging forums, the protests have galvanised thousands to demand death penalty for those guilty of war crimes, mostly Jamaat activists.
Mukherjee said India and Bangladesh are interlinked like no other nation on earth.
"Within our resources, India remains committed to supporting the comprehensive development of Bangladesh and the aspirations of its people," he said.
Both countries need to grow together to maximize their economic cooperation potential, he said.
Four northeastern states - Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam - share a 1,880-km border with Bangladesh, and a large number of people reside just along the border.
"...the geographical location of Bangladesh is an advantage that must be fully explored and exploited. Bangladesh lies at the cross-roads of South and South-East Asia... India and Bangladesh can lead the way towards greater integration within our region and beyond in South East Asia," he said.
Bangladesh has been pushing for opening up more trading routes in India's northeast, which would help in boosting the GDP of both countries.
Referring to the two outstanding issues between India and Bangladesh, Teesta and the Land Boundary Agreement, Mukherjee said the Indian government proposed to introduce a Constitutional Amendment Bill in Parliament to give effect to the provisions of the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh and its 2011 Protocol. We are committed to working closely with Bangladesh to avoid any untoward incidents on our border. We can together make it a gateway of peace and mutually beneficial cooperation.
On Teesta, he said: "The sharing of the waters of our common rivers is a high priority for us. We have successfully forged agreements in the past and are hopeful of arriving at an early accord on the sharing of the Teesta waters."
"Looking at you, I am convinced that the future of Bangladesh is bright. I wish you all every success in making the dream of Sonar Bangla a reality. India will stand by your side as you shape the destiny of your country."