Enriching the ties: India and Bangladesh
The Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, arrived in New Delhi on April 7 for her 4-day visit. During this period, 22 agreements were sealed between the two countries. The wide-ranging talks included key sectors of defence and civil nuclear. This comes as a major boost to bilateral ties. This is her first bilateral visit to India in seven years after January 2010. Upon her arrival, Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally received Sheikh Hasina at the airport. India's relation with Bangladesh is also telling of the Indian Union's strategic concern to look upon Bangladesh as part of its geo-strategic sphere of influence. Beijing's growing influence, with the recent signing of a strategic partnership agreement with Dhaka during Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent visit, also presents a compelling backdrop. Besides promising $40 billion in investments and selling two submarines, China has sought to usurp India's influence in the country. On the terror front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's singular focus on Pakistan-sponsored terror has received the unflinching support of the Bangladesh government - a real convergence of interests. Within the international community, Bangladesh has proven to be India's greatest supporter in its recent conflagration with Pakistan. The recent spike in terror-related violence in Bangladesh is indeed a potent backdrop to the signing of a major defence agreement between the nations. India set to announce a line of credit of $500 million for the supply of military hardware to Bangladesh, and Bangladesh, in turn, has addressed almost all of India's security concerns vis-a-vis ISI operations, terrorists, FICN, etc. Highlights include facilitating training and study tours for personnel in mass media and public relations between the two countries. India willing to help Bangladesh modernise its railway network: Dhaka-Kolkata Maitree Express to have more frequent trips, four trains from Dhaka and four from Kolkata every week.
Bangladesh is India's largest trading partners in South Asia with the volume of bilateral trade between the two nations standing at $6.6 billion.
Although there are estimates that trade between the two countries will cross $10 billion by 2018, there is scope for much improvement. The balance of trade heavily works in India's favour, but given the relative sizes and economic potential of both nations, one can expect such an outcome. Anti-India forces in the country have argued that the massive trade deficit impinges on Bangladesh's economic sovereignty. The same forces, however, seem to have no problem with the trade deficit the country shares with China, which incidentally is a lot bigger. Nonetheless, there must be a concerted effort to reduce this deficit, as Bangladesh currently imports goods worth $5.45 billion from India, while exporting just $690 million. The crucial Teesta deal was set to be inked way back during then PM Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh in September 2011.
But it was postponed at the last moment due to objections by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Teesta water holds great significance for Bangladesh, especially in the leanest periods from December to March. The Centre reportedly will not go ahead without taking the West Bengal on board.
The Bangladeshi Prime Minister's visit is also marked by a few symbolic gestures. The two Prime Ministers released the Hindi translation of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's book 'Unfinished Memoirs'. Rehman was the founding figure of Bangladesh and father of Hasina. Sheikh Hasina also paid tributes to Indian soldiers who died in the Liberation War of 1971 that gave birth to her country and met veterans who had served in the war which led to the break-up of then East Pakistan and the formation of an independent Bangladesh. The Khwaja Mouinuddin Chisti dargah committee in Ajmer welcomed her at Buland Darwaja where she offered prayers.