Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to Bangladesh this weekend is significant in view of the importance he reposes in the ‘neighbours first’ policy. Although his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, was the first international leader to invite him to visit Dhaka, Modi’s meeting with Hasina will take place after he has completed one year in office.
Bangladesh is important primarily for connectivity with India through Bangladesh to the North-East States and also for the maintenance of security. The Modi regime is keen on both the issues.
Modi will go to Dhaka armed with a parliamentary nod for the land boundary agreement. The presence of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the signing ceremony of the LBA in Dhaka is a feather in his cap, as Ms Banerjee had opposed it earlier.
Modi had reached out to Banerjee earlier and the result was a thaw in their relationship. She changed her stand only after extracting a significant compensation package from the Modi Government. With the growing influence of regional satraps like Banerjee and Jayalalithaa, this bonhomie is a good beginning for India’s foreign policy and Modi’s own theme of cooperative federalism.
Modi’s visit to Bangladesh is also significant as during the past four decades or so, Indo-Bangladesh relations have seen many highs and lows. Despite the positive role played by India, some contentious issues between the two countries remain unresolved.
These range from diplomatic to economic and trade, border security and boundary lines, sharing of common and trans-boundary waters, communication and transit, illegal immigration and regional and national security against insurgent networks.
After the Sheikh Hasina Government took over in 2008, positive changes in the bilateral relations have led to a considerable movement on almost all issues of contention. Bangladesh is also important in Modi’s Act East policy as it is the gateway to the East.
Both New Delhi and Dhaka realise the need to support each other for economic prosperity as well as to keep the region peaceful.While Hasina needs New Delhi’s support to deal with her opponents in Bangladesh and strengthen her own base, Modi wants to improve the relations with the neighbours.
Modi’s main aim during the two-day visit from June 6 will be security-related transit corridor in the North-East. About two lakh Army and paramilitary forces are deployed in the North-East States to combat the insurgents. It will also help improve economic connectivity.
Dhaka is ready to renew the existing transit facility. Part of the security concern also relates to China. New Delhi has long been concerned about Beijing’s military cooperation and its growing influence with Dhaka as well as in the neighbourhood. Modi wants to counter this by his outreach to Dhaka.
The highlight of this visit will be to show case the LBA. By delivering on the LBA, Modi has taken the first step to bail out Hasina, who needs all possible support. If Modi delivers on Teesta in the near future, Hasina’s stock with her people will soar further.
The two leaders will also address the issue of trade-gap, which is still high. Bangladesh’s imports from India stood at $4.45 billion in 2014-2015 while exports stood at $396.43 million during the same period.
New Delhi has already provided better market access to Bangladesh to reduce the trade imbalance. But Dhaka feels that there is a need to iron out some regulations, which keep the non- tariff barriers an irritant.
Modi’s bonanza of a two billion dollar credit to Bangladesh will boost Ms Hasina who is struggling to shake the image of an Indian stooge. This will help her show that New Delhi has addressed Bangladesh’s concerns as much as she has helped India on the security and connectivity front. The credit line is meant for building infrastructure like roads, bridges, power projects and ports in Bangladesh, which will help in connectivity between Nepal and Bhutan to Bangladesh through India.
Besides the LBA, there are other economic agreements that can improve trade and connectivity including renewals of the revised trade agreement between India and Bangladesh and the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade.