Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited India during 7- 10 April. There were very “productive” talks between the two Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina during the visit. Prime Minister of Bangladesh said that the two countries have immense scope for cooperation. Bangladesh is looking to launch more trade channels with India, increase the number of border markets and open up routes closed since the 1965 India-Pakistan war, to take economic links between the neighbours to the next level. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held extensive discussions with Ms. Hasina on ways to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.
The two heads of the state had on their agenda among other issues two major issues viz, deals for defence cooperation and a forward movement on sharing of the waters of common rivers, especially Teesta. While there were signing of agreement with regard to the first, the second important issue, i.e., water sharing moved very sluggishly. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed hope that a solution to this matter would be found during the tenures of the respective governments in Dhaka and Delhi, there was not much development in this regard in the Joint Statement issued following the official talks.
The outcomes of the visit were more on the positive side. More than 20 deals in variety of areas were and signed between the two countries. Among the important agreements we may count positively that India offered to sell an additional 6o megawatt of electricity to Bangladesh and a commitment to enhance connectivity with new rail and road connections. India also offered a concessional credit line of $ 4.5 billion to cover costs related to variety of projects. The two countries also agreed on cooperation on peaceful nuclear technology and in outer space. They also agreed on enhancing the ongoing cooperation on combating trans-boundary terrorism and violent extremism. The materialization of defence deal by signing of two major documents- one a framework Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and the other a $ 500 million line of credit for the Bangladesh military- is a remarkable achievement.
Giving special treatment to Bangladesh
Bangladesh and India have deep historical and cultural relations and there are many important interfaces between the two countries due to geographical proximity and cooperation in various areas. The bilateral ties between the two South Asian neighbours have been on an upward curve, especially since 2010 there has been four exchanges of visits at the level of heads of government. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went beyond the protocol this time in a clear break from standard protocol practices. He chose to personally receive his Bangladesh counterpart at the airport, showing that Bangladesh is a very important strategic partner of India, despite being a small country. This could be seen in perspective of China’s excessive efforts to cajole away India’s traditional partners and close neighbours through cheque diplomacy and other symbolisms like friendship bridges.
The Teesta issue
The Teesta water sharing is an outstanding issue between the two countries. During the current visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister, the Prime Minster of India emphasized the urgency of an early solution to the river water dispute. But no reference was made to the Joint River Commission, JRC, which was launched as early as 1972 specifically for this purposeand no firmer pledge made to cut down to zero the killing of Bangladeshis at the border. The Teesta issue had been made complex due to apprehension of shortage of water supply in the state of West Bengal, as expressed by the Chief Minister of the state. The two leaders also discussed Padma-Ganga Barrage project and management of common rivers.
Eluding Teesta Agreement
The Teesta issue came on the verge of solution several times, but the West Bengal Chief Minister expressed her apprehensions on all such occasions keeping her own constituencies in mind. It seemed during former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in 2011 that some concrete win- win agreement is going to happen, but it was opposed by West Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee on the apprehension of reduction in the water share of the local population. Keeping in view the concerns of the West Bengal CM, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Modi invited Chief Minister Banerjee to Delhi at the time of the visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister. However, the West Bengal CM continued to express her concern on loss of water share of the local population especially when there is dry season. Ms. Banerjee also offered an an alternative solution, suggesting that water from four other rivers in West Bengal be diverted to Bangladesh on the grounds that there was not enough water in Teesta to share. However on the practical grounds the alternative proposal was rejected by both the Indian media and Bangladesh officials. The latter also said that they would count more on the pledge made at the highest level from India. The Indian government is committed to the resolution of the issue can be understood from the gestures shown by the leaders of India. During his official visit to Dhaka in 2015, Prime Minister Modi commented that “rivers should nurture the India-Bangladesh relationship and not become the source of discord”.
Two dozen Agreements
India and Bangladesh signed (April 8) nearly two dozen agreements (annexed at the end of the article) comprising defence and civil nuclear cooperation during the Bangladesh PM’s current India visit. Twenty-two agreements were signed in the area of defence, nuclear energy, cyber security and media, though the two leaders witnessed the signing of only four pacts – on the judicial sector, a $4.5 billion development assistance line of credit, on outer space and on passenger and cruise services. In addition, India has offered a new $500 million line of credit specifically for defence purchases.Announcing an additional line of credit of $500 million to Bangladesh for military supplies, Mr. Modi said it would be driven by the country’s requirement.
Business Chambers six point agenda for enhancement of trade and investment
Leading industry bodies of India and Bangladesh, the FICCI and the FBCCI brought out (April 8) a six-point agenda to boost trade and investment between both the neighbouring nations. According to FICCI statement, B2B meetings were held with the high-powered Bangladeshi business delegation accompanying the Prime Minister. The delegation comprised businessmen representing sectors such as automobiles, cement, insurance & banking, ready-made garments, shipping, IT/ITeS, food and beverages, jute, power, renewable energy, real estate, electronic & print media, packaging, poultry, education, health and pharma, chemicals and telecommunication. The six point agenda included setting up a Joint Task Force on Tariff and Non-Tariff Barriers and another Joint Task Force to promote Indian investments in Bangladesh in the focus areas of infrastructure, education, healthcare, power and tourism. The agenda also included connectivity initiatives for expansion of sub-regional cooperation among BBIN (Bhutan-Bangladesh- India-Nepal) countries to cover links through road, rail, rivers, sea, transmission lines, petroleum pipelines and digital.
Abdul Matlub Ahmad, President, FBCCI, who is leading the Bangladesh business delegation, said Bangladesh was on a sound economic footing with forex reserves of $32 billion, adding that the government has decided to retain $25 billion and release the rest for investments overseas with India emerging as a favoured destination. Nahid Rashid, Commercial Counsellor, Bangladesh High Commission, New Delhi, encouraged the industry on both sides to raise all issues for timely resolution.
Proposals for joint investment
The six point agenda also included pursuing joint investments and a road-map for cooperation in the Bay of Bengal in exploration of hydrocarbons, marine resources, deep sea fishing, preservation of marine ecology and disaster management. It also included collaboration in knowledge sharing to facilitate innovation and research and forming a partnership on skill development.
Honouring Indian heroes
A significant event during this visit was the honour of supreme sacrifices made by members of the Indian Armed Forces during its Liberation War in 1971. At the event, held at the Manekshaw Centre in Delhi, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in the presence Indian Prime Minister, honoured seven of the Indian heroes who had laid down their lives for Bangladesh’s independence. She said at the occasion, “History of Bangladesh has been written by blood of the Indian martyrs, along with those of Bangladesh.” These families were carefully chosen – four from the Army and one each from Air Force, Navy and the BSF. A total of seven families have been chosen for the programme — four from the Army and one each from Air Force, Navy and the BSF. They are — Shaheed Lance Naik Albert Ekka, PVC; Shaheed Major Anup Singh, MVC; Shaheed Subedar Malkiat Singh, MVC; Shaheed Sepoy Ansuya Prasad, MVC; Shaheed Lieutenant (CDO) Samir Das, VSM, NM; Shaheed Squadron Leader A.B. Samant and Shaheed Lance Naik Mohini Ranjan Chakrabarty, Vrc. Award given by Sheikh Hasina, daughter of ‘Bangbandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rehman – first Prime Minister of Bangladesh who spearheaded Mukti Bahini towards liberation of the country – has symbolic meaning in the history of South Asia. While thanking Prime Minister Hasina for the honour, Prime Minister Modi announced additional 10,000 scholarships for children of Mukti Jodhas (Freedom Fighters), multiple entry visas for Mukti Jodhas for next 5 years and free medical treatment for 100 Mukti Jodhas under special medical scheme. The programme was manifestation of the coming close of the two countries and without naming Pakistan, the two countries alluded to the atrocities committed by the forces against the people of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh had also honoured earlier Indians from all walks of life who played a role in the country’s liberation: top Army generals and officers, political leaders, activists, journalists, doctors and diplomats, among others. In the past Bangladesh has also honoured, among others, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, Lt Gen JFR Jacob and Arundhati Ghose. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had taken up the project to honour sacrifices of 1971 war in 2009. In July 2011 the Bangladesh government conferred the Bangladesh Freedom Award, the highest civilian award for a foreign national, on former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Later Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pranab Mukherjee were also given the award. In 2012, Bangladesh honoured former Indian defence minister Jagjivan Ram forty-one years after it won independence, describing him as a war hero who was “instrumental” in the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan. The citation mentioned that he had consolidated and coordinated the war strategy with great efforts by providing training, arms and supplies to Bangladeshi freedom fighters. The country also honoured some Indian leaders as with the ‘Friends of Bangladesh’ award – received, respectively, by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and PM Narendra Modi.
List of Agreements /MOUs during Bangladesh PM’s India visit (April 07-10, 2017)
- MoU on Defence Cooperation Framework between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic
- MoU on Defence Cooperation Framework between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
- MoU between National Defence College, Dhaka, Bangladesh and National Defence College, New Delhi, India for enhancing cooperation in the field of national security, development and strategic studies
- MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
- Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Cooperation in Peaceful uses of Nuclear Energy
- Arrangement between The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board(AERB) of the Government of the Republic of India and The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority(BAERA) of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for the Exchange of Technical Information and Co-operation in the Regulation of Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection
- Inter-Agency Agreement between Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP), Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India and Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission(BAEC), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Cooperation regarding Nuclear Power Plant Projects in Bangladesh
- MoU between the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) of the Government of the Republic of India and Information and Communication Technology Division of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Co-operation in the field of Information Technology and Electronics
- MoU between the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Republic of India and Bangladesh Government Computer Incident Response Team (BGD e-Gov CIRT), Bangladesh Computer Council of Information and Communication Technology division, Ministry of Post, Telecommunication and IT On Cooperation in the area of Cyber Security
- MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on EstablishingBorder Haats Across the Border between India and Bangladesh
- MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh onBilateral Judicial Sector Cooperation
- MoU between the National Judicial Academy, India and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on Training and Capacity Building Programme forBangladeshi Judicial Officersin India
- MoU between the Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships (DGLL), Ministry of Shipping, the Government of the Republic of India and the Department of Shipping, Ministry of Shipping, the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Concerning Cooperation on Aids to Navigation.
- MoU between Geological Survey of India (GSI) and Geological Survey of Bangladesh (GSB) on Mutual Scientific Cooperation in the field of Earth Sciences for Research and Development.
- MoU & SOPs on Passenger and Cruise Services on the Coastal and Protocol Route between the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Government of the Republic of India.
- MoU on Development of Fairway from Sirajganj to Daikhowa and Ashuganj to Zakiganj on Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route between the Ministry of Shipping of the Republic of India and The Ministry of Shipping of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
- MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Cooperation in theField ofMass Media.
- Audio-visual Co-production Agreement between the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
- MoU between GoI and GoB for extending Defence LOC of USD 500 million.
- Agreement between Bangladesh And India for the Regulation of Motor Vehicle Passenger Traffic (Khulna-Kolkata route) and SOP of the Agreement
- MoU between the Government of the Republic of India (GoI) and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (GoB) for Extending a 3rd Line of Credit (LoC) by GoI to GoB
- Financing Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India & the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for the Construction of 36 Community Clinics in Bangladesh.