Beginning tomorrow, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh will be in India on a 4-day State visit. It comes at a crucial time, and is of considerable importance for both the countries. New Delhi-Dhaka ties are at their best, and the present government in Bangladesh is the most friendly for India in many decades.
Be it trade, improvement in connectivity, transit facility for Indian goods through Bangladesh, implementation of the land boundary agreement, exporting power, expanding railway cooperation or enhancing people to people contact, the relationship has attained a new height. The absolutely smooth exchange of enclaves under the historic Land Boundary Agreement proves that given mutual understanding and cooperation all hurdles can be overcome.
Soon after coming to power, Hasina addressed a major security concern of India when she shut down the anti-India rebel camps operating within Bangladesh, and took stern measures against the rebels. Her government continues to fight the various terrorist organisations that have mushroomed in Bangladesh, and gained in strength over the years posing a grave threat to the security of both Bangladesh and India. The ongoing cooperation between India and Bangladesh on tackling the menace of cross-border terrorism is making a positive impact on the fight against terrorism across the subcontinent, besides strengthening the security of India’s eastern border.
After the Bhartiya Janata Party government came to power in New Delhi, there was some trepidation in Bangladesh about what India’s policy would be towards the Muslim-majority neighbour. However, New Delhi’s friendly gestures allayed the apprehension, and Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Bangladesh in June 2015 completely changed the scenario.
I had had the privilege of being present at the jampacked Banga Bandhu Auditorium on 7th June 2015 as PM Modi addressed the who’s who of Bangladesh. His declaration, ‘hum sirf pas pas hi nahin, saath saath bhi hein…‘ [“we are not only by your side, but are also with you (in achieving your dream of the Golden Bangla)] received a rapturous approbation of the audience. It also touched the right chord in the hearts of the common men across the country. He won them over completely and convinced them of India’s sincerity in resolving all the outstanding issues between the two neighbours. From a much maligned ‘big brother’, India overnight became a partner in development, ready to stand by and help her neighbour.
The effect of such emotional upsurge is short-lived, and is difficult to sustain. The delay in solving the outstanding issues – most prominent among them being the sharing of the Teesta waters – has not only been affecting Sheikh Hasina’s popularity among her people, but it has also eroded India’s credibility. Not unexpectedly, the opposition parties criticised Hasina’s decision to visit India, as they felt Bangladesh would gain nothing from it. Lack of an agreement on Teesta is the main weapon in their arsenal. They also are averse to Bangladesh entering into any defence cooperation agreement with India as that, they feel, would be a treaty of ‘bondage’.
To silence these criticisms and enhance her popularity Hasina must show some significant ‘gains’ for Bangladesh from her India visit. India, on its part, is unlikely to disappoint a trusted friend. We must, however, wait a few more hours to officially know the extent to which New Delhi would live up to Dhaka’s expectations. May the visit be a grand success.