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Modi in Bangladesh: CHECKMATING CHINA, By Gaurav Kumar Jha, 10 June, 2015 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 10 June 2015

Modi in Bangladesh


By Gaurav Kumar Jha

(Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University)


“We cannot love India”, wrote Tahmima Anam, a Bangladeshi novelist in The Guardian in 2007. “The relationship is too unequal for romance, and our neighbour is too aggressively self-interested to be embraced as a generous parent”. From this abysmal point 8 years ago, the wheel has turned around whereby Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit was hailed by the Bangladeshi media as “memorable” and a “watershed” which has accelerated the momentum.


Bangladesh, with which India shares a 4,096 km long border and is an important aspect of the NDA’s foreign policy saw Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj make her first foreign visit to Dacca last June giving New Delhi ample time to settle the contentious Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) issue which was unanimously passed in Parliament.


This set the tone for Modi’s visit ensuing a new period in Indo-Bangla strategic and economic ties in energy cooperation, space and nuclear accord, bilateral trade, infrastructure, education, health and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries via regional transit.


With 22 bilateral agreements under his belt, Modi underscored the “two nations are bound by the threads of history, religion, culture, language and kinship – and, of course, passion for cricket”, adding, “the future I dream for India is the future I wish for Bangladesh.”


The centre piece was clearly the LBA for which the Instruments of Ratification were exchanged. Further, both countries pledged a zero tolerance policy on terrorism and signed MoUs on cooperation in human trafficking, fake currency and narcotics smuggling. New bus link connecting Agartala-Dhaka-Kolkata and Guwahati- Shillong-Dhaka were inaugurated, resulting in the distance from Kolkata to Agartala being reduced from 1650 km via ‘chicken neck’ to 500 km.


Besides, to counter China’s cheque diplomacy, India announced a second $2 billion line of credit for Bangladesh, the largest line of credit extended to any country by New Delhi barring Afghanistan, for “developmental projects particularly in the area of public transport, roads, railways, inland waterways, ports, ICT (information and communication technology), education, health etc.”


To improve security, agreements were concluded to combat human trafficking, smuggling and circulation of fake Indian currency notes. Given that Bangladesh is a major transit point for fake Indian currency. A major concern of New Delhi vis-à-vis militants attacking Indian assets and taking refuge across the border was addressed with Modi and Sheikh Hasina reiterating their commitment to “their respective territories would not be allowed to be used for any activity inimical to the other.” Recall, the Bangladesh Premier had handed over four militants wanted by India for staging attacks in north-east India soon after assuming power in December 2009.

Another major breakthrough of the visit is in transport and connectivity wherein  India has successfully removed Bangladesh as one of the pearls in China’s strings, given Dacca agreeing to permitting Indian cargo ships to use its Mongla and Chittagong ports.

Pertinently, the Chittagong port developed by the Chinese had always been suspiciously viewed by India since its initiation. Ships will now ferry cargo from Bangladesh to Indian ports instead of going via Singapore as earlier.

Further, to lessen the burgeoning close to $6 billion trade deficit of the $6.5 billion bilateral trade, a pact was signed to set up an economic zone which would allow Indian companies to set up a manufacturing base therein and export goods to India. Reportedly, nearly a dozen companies have shown interest in setting up industries there.


The visit also fostered closer ties in energy cooperation between the two nations whereby India has established itself as a primary collaborator in Bangladesh’s energy sector. Indian companies engaged in power generation, transmission and distribution, if given an opportunity, shall assist Bangladesh in its target of achieving an installed capacity of 24,000 megawatts (MW) by 2021. New Delhi has agreed to increase power export from existing 500 MW to 1,000 MW.

Towards that end, New Delhi has agreed to consider Dacca’s proposal “to allow import from India to Bangladesh additional power in a phased manner through construction of an additional grid interconnection in western Bangladesh”. Along-with construction of a pipeline for the export of diesel from West Bengal to Bangladesh.

The two countries have agreed to hold an annual dialogue “to undertake comprehensive energy sector cooperation including areas of coal, natural gas, LNG, supply of petroleum products in the sub-region, renewable energy, oil and gas pipelines”.

Additionally, an inland water transit trade pact was initialed which will allow use of rivers of both countries to promote trade among India’s north-eastern states and adjoining parts of Bangladesh. Dacca, on its part, will gain access to Nepal and Bhutan through Indian territory. Modi and Hasina also signed a pact to promote maritime cooperation in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean.


However, despite making immense headway, there are considerable challenges for taking this bilateral relationship to a higher level.


One of the most heated issue is the agreement on Teesta river. Though Sushma Swaraj clarified prior to Modi’s departure that an agreement on Teesta was not on the cards, the Prime Minister indicated in Dhaka that the deal is still alive.


“Our rivers should nurture our relationship, not become a source of discord. Water sharing is, above all, a human issue. It affects life and livelihood on both sides of the border... I am confident that with the support of state governments in India, we can reach a fair solution on Teesta and Feni Rivers. We should also work together to renew and clean our rivers,” he said.


With 54 transnational rivers between the two neighbours and only one Ganga river accord concluded, undoubtedly, this matter shall continue to be an issue of conflict, competition as well as cooperation.


The second unfinished agenda: No talks took place on climate change and its impact on the socio-economic life of people. Scientists forecast, the drying up of water sources in the Himalayan glaciers and subsequent rise in sea levels shall drive up the menace of migration from Bangladesh to India resulting in the possibility of further tension.


Overall, Modi’s visit took bold initiatives in continuation with principles of non-reciprocity of the Gujral doctrine. Excepting the Chinese who have accused the Prime Minister of leaving Bangladeshis ‘thirsty’ and ‘frustrated’(Xinhua, China’s official news agency), most analysts agree that Modi has deftly taken forward policies and initiatives of his predecessor Manmohan Singh to newer heights. Namely, Bangladesh as an equal and honourable partner, a process which seems irreversible. ----INFA.


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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