By John Rozario
After almost three years, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is coming to Delhi again on a state visit on September 5. This will be her last visit to India before the national parliamentary elections in Bangladesh at the end of next year. Delhi is looking forward to this visit with good reason.
India and Bangladesh to make this visit fruitful; Diplomatic activities on both sides are also on the rise. Meanwhile, the preparation team of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh has also reached Delhi. They are currently finalizing the various logistical details of the trip.
Sheikh Hasina will visit Delhi on September 5 (Monday). However, there is no bilateral meeting on that day, but it is said that she will have a courtesy meeting with the Indian guests at the premises of the Bangladesh Embassy in Chanakyapuri.
During her visit to Delhi in March 2017, Sheikh Hasina entered the Rashtrapati Bhavan of India. The then President of India was Pranab Mukherjee; Whom Sheikh Hasina used to call ‘Kakababu’ (Dear uncle) due to personal and family harmony.
September 6 (Tuesday) is the main ‘business day’ of Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi. Bilateral meetings will begin that morning after his ceremonial welcome at the Rajghat Gandhi tomb and guard of honor at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Apart from the delegation-level meeting, a private meeting (summit) of the two Prime Ministers will also be held on the same day. At the end of the day-long meeting at Delhi’s Hyderabad House, it was decided that a joint declaration would be issued in the presence of the two Prime Ministers, Sheikh Hasina, and Narendra Modi.
Sheikh Hasina will address the platform of major business associations like CII or the Indian Chamber of Commerce in India the next day (September 7, Wednesday) morning. She will present the picture of how both parties can benefit if Indian investors invest in Bangladesh.
However, it is clear that the much-awaited Teesta agreement is not seeing the light of the day even in this visit. The top officials of the two sides admitted in private discussions that the Teesta agreement tangle should not be so much expected to be resolved during this visit.
Observers believe that the possibility of finalizing the trade agreement called ‘CEPA’ (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) between the two countries during Sheikh Hasina’s visit is bright. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently approved the draft of this agreement in the cabinet meeting. Now just waiting for India to agree on this. It is being touted as a landmark agreement for free and duty-free trade in hundreds of goods between India and Bangladesh.
Besides, just before Sheikh Hasina’s visit, the meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) of the two countries is being held in Delhi after more than a century. It is expected that the JRC will agree on the water sharing or water management of several important common rivers of the two countries, which will be finalized during the Prime Minister’s visit to Delhi.
On the invitation of her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to travel to India during the first week of September. After her visit, it is anticipated that Indo-Bangladesh relations will improve significantly. The connection between Dhaka and Delhi has improved tremendously, which calls for raising the bar even further.
To make that happen, however, some concerns like water sharing on shared rivers and reducing the trade imbalance between the two nations must be addressed. The PM’s planned visit presents a chance to settle the problems.
An issue that requires special attention is the agreement on sharing the waters of transnational rivers, such as the Teesta. According to a report in this publication, senior representatives from the water resources ministries of the two nations met in New Delhi on Tuesday to discuss the unsolved concerns surrounding the water-sharing of six trans-border rivers. Unfortunately, according to media reports, there is no chance of signing the much-discussed Teesta water-sharing agreement; rather, the two nations simply agreed to progress the subject by starting a new dialogue.
However, the two nations decided to share water from the Kushiyara River in order to irrigate 5,000 hectares of land in Sylhet’s Zakiganj upazila’s bordering regions. This agreement might be signed during Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India if it is agreed upon at the JRC meeting. The enormous trade imbalance favoring India over Bangladesh is another cause for concern. The deficit needs to be closed in the upcoming years.
While this is happening, Bangladesh will express its displeasure over industrial garbage entering the country through bordering regions in Brahmanbaria’s Akhaura upazila. Additionally, Dhaka will urge Delhi for comprehensive flood forecast information so that it may promptly issue flash flood warnings for the regions of Sylhet and Rangpur. If the two nations coordinate their efforts to resolve the outstanding difficulties, everyone will benefit.
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, is making her third official trip to India since her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, took office in New Delhi. The two South Asian neighbors’ relationship is shaped by irreplaceable geography and irrevocable history, but there have been signs of improvement recently.
It is reasonable to believe that the results of this visit will help advance bilateral relations in a number of ways. In a number of areas, there has been noticeable development over the past few years—and in some cases, exponential progress. The most notable of these have been in the area of multimodal connectivity, including energy connectivity, trade with a sharp increase in exports from Bangladesh to India, infrastructure projects financed by India, defense ties, security cooperation, cultural cooperation, and general people-to-people contact. These will almost certainly be reemphasized as a result of the visit.
A new development has emerged in the last ten years or so that has given the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India a new facet. Both Dhaka and Delhi have come to understand how crucial it is for Bangladesh to expand its numerous relationships with the Indian states that are its neighbors to the north and east. Due to the fact that Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura all share borders with Bangladesh, relations with these three states have improved significantly. There is also a historical component to this because all three of these nations were instrumental in aiding Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971 and offered refuge to countless refugees fleeing the Pakistani atrocities.
There is no need to reiterate the numerous and long-standing connections between West Bengal and Bangladesh. However, it is reasonable to believe that Bangladesh will make all the necessary efforts to find a solution to the long-standing Teesta water-sharing issue. In order to serve the interests of both parties, this thorn must be removed. For Bangladesh specifically, Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura have enormous prospects for trade, investment, and connectivity. This is of tremendous significance to the local administrations in all three states.
Therefore, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in September should be a chance for Dhaka and Delhi to expand their relations beyond the bilateral framework and become a member of the greater Asia-Pacific framework. It should be a natural progression of the existing relationships to work as partners in the greater Asia-Pacific area.
Any summit visit between Bangladesh and India carries significant significance and is closely watched. No exception will be made for the upcoming one.
Notably, this one gains further significance as Bangladesh and India prepare for their respective national elections in 2023 and 2024. As both parties are anticipated to reaffirm their commitments to further broadening and deepening the historical and strategic relations, bilaterally as well as in the broader regional context, the agreements and understandings reached in Delhi may serve as parts of a roadmap for the long-term future. The twin concepts of mutual benefit and accommodation will have to be the guiding principle in this and must be viewed as such.