Modi in Bangladesh: Developments and Disappointments

23 Jun, 2015    ·   4893

Ambassador Harun ur Rashid provides a Bangladeshi perspective of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Dhaka

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Bangladesh has ushered in a new era not only for New Delhi-Dhaka relations but for the sub-region (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) in a significant way. This was made possible via the signing of 22 agreements and Memoranda of Understandings on a wide range of sectors, including multi-modal connectivity. It is a new dawn for sub-region connectivity.

The agreements will also open up the sub-region in an unprecedented scale for investment, trade, people-to-people contact, all of which will have multiple positive effects on the sub-region. Furthermore, India-Bangladesh relations have reached a new high. This could result in Bangladesh becoming a hub of economic activities in the sub-region. It is reported that the World Bank could lend over $1 billion to Bangladesh to implement a number of regional connectivity projects for boosting trade and investment among Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan.

It is good to note the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) came into fruition after 41 years, thereby removing a major obstacle to the resolution of humanitarian problems faced by the inhabitants of the enclaves in both countries. The 1974 LBA stated that the boundaries of Muhuri River, Feni River, Hakar Khal and Baikari Khal would be rectified. However, it is unknown as to whether any solution regarding this issue was discussed and agreed upon with India during Modi’s visit.

According to some analysts, since India will make most of the benefits, it would have been desirable that New Delhi provide either $1 billion or $500 million of the $2 billion credit suppliers’ loan in grants to Bangladesh. For a country with a GDP of $2 trillion, $500 million or $1 billion is considered a peanut.

However, we should also remember that gains in each and every case, tangible or intangible, are not comparable and unlikely to be equal; Bangladesh may gain more than India in some areas and vice versa.

While several positive measures were taken, some disappointments too took place.

First, although bilateral relations have improved due to Modi’s visit, the magnitude of the achievement is perceived to have been greatly diminished due to the non-signing of the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement. Bangladeshi people expected that Modi, who won with a large mandate, would be able to ensure the signing of the water sharing agreement.

Second, although both prime ministers noted that discussions relating to sharing waters of the Manu, Muhuri, Gumti, Dharla and Dudkumar rivers were taking place at the technical level under the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC), the date  for holding the 38th Ministerial Meeting of the JRC was left open-ended. It is unclear when the JRC will meet next.

Third, Prime Minister Modi spoke about increasing tourism between the peoples of the two countries. However, unlike what the Bangladeshi people expected, he did not extend visa-on-arrival or e-visa facilities for Bangladeshis wanting to visit India. This took place even though Modi extended e-visa facilities for Chinese tourists in mid-May.

Fourth, although Modi reportedly stated that “People thought we were paas-paas (close to each other) but also saath-saath (together),” it is seems inconsistent with India’s fencing of the 3,300-kilometre border with Bangladesh. The fencing has always been perceived as India’s unfriendly sentiment towards the people of Bangladesh.

Despite all these disappointments, we congratulate both the prime ministers for the bold vision of a new pathway for progress and prosperity to eliminate poverty – a common enemy for the sub-region as Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently indicated.  It is hoped that border killings for whatever reasons ends, Bangladesh’s trade deficit is drastically reduced, and the sharing of waters of all common rivers become a reality.

Furthermore the Hasina government’s friendly policy toward India is vindicated in the eyes of the Bangladeshi people, and Prime Minister Modi’s visit will not only boost Bangladesh-India relations but may also act as a catalyst for stronger sub-regional architecture via the implementation of the agreements signed.