Bangladesh is all set to roll out a red carpet welcome to Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he arrives here tomorrow on his maiden visit amid expectations that the two-day trip will open new vistas in bilateral ties. The capital is decked up with big hoardings carrying photographs of Modi besides life-size cutouts of him, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
As signing of the land boundary agreement (LBA) between the two countries would be a major highlight of the visit, hoardings carrying the photographs of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman inking an agreement in 1974 to settle the vexed border issue have also been put up in various key areas of the city.
Also, large cutouts of Gandhi and Rahman could be seen on the streets as a token of an age-old relationship between the two countries and India’s role in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Earlier this month, the Indian Parliament had passed a historic constitution amendment bill seeking to settle India’s 41-year-old border issue with Bangladesh. The bill will operationalise the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary agreement that provides for exchange of 161 enclaves between the two countries.
The two sides will sign a pact to implement the historic agreement in presence of Banerjee. Interestingly, posters and banners, carrying her photographs have also been put up along the around 14-km stretch from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to the main city, along with Modi’s. Various localities of the city have been decorated to welcome Modi and security across the city has been tightened as gun-totting personnel could be seen in all the prominent areas.
Ahead of his visit, Modi yesterday said in New Delhi that he was looking forward to it with a great sense of “enthusiasm and delight” as the two sides readied a host of pacts to be signed, including one on enhancing connectivity. “It is with a great sense of enthusiasm and delight that I visit a nation with which India’s ties have been very strong,” Modi said in a statement. Lauding role of Prime Minister Hasina for playing an “important role” for making the bilateral ties “strong”, Modi said: “I am certain my visit will be beneficial for the people of both our nations and in the larger good of the South Asian neighbourhood.”
Referring to the LBA, Modi said it marked a “watershed moment” in India’s ties with Bangladesh. The Prime Minister will have a tight schedule here as besides holding detailed talks with his Bangladesh counterpart Hasina, he will attend several programmes and pay a visit to the Memorial of the 1971 liberation war.
Besides signing pacts to improve connectivity between the two countries, there will be efforts by both the sides to enhance trade. Bangladesh is an important trading partner for India, with two-way trade in 2012-2013 standing at USD 5.34 billion and India’s exports to Bangladesh accounting for USD 4.776 billion besides imports of USD 0.564 million.
Modi and Hasina will flag-off the bus service between Kolkata and Agartala via Dhaka and the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus service. The two countries are keen to strengthen railway connectivity, particularly to revive railway links which were in existence prior to 1965.
The two countries are also set to sign a coastal shipping agreement to facilitate sailing of small vessels from India to various ports in Bangladesh which now go through Singapore. India will also push for involvement of Indian companies in setting up of ports in that country. The issue of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement is also likely to figure in the talks Modi will have with Hasina.
India feels improving connectivity with Bangladesh will help linking the Northeastern region with Southeast Asia. On the trade front, there will be efforts to spur Indian investment in Bangladesh and an MoU may be signed to facilitate setting up of Special Economic Zones by Indian companies in that country.
The current volume of bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh are on an upswing ever since the Hasina government came to power in January, 2009 and the Indian side will make every effort to strengthen the relationship considering its strategic interests. Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-km-long border, most of which is porous, and both the countries are likely to try and find ways to enhance security cooperation, particularly to further contain northeast insurgent groups.
The Hasina government has taken steps against northeast militants who used to take refuge in Bangladesh. There has been perceptible decline in activities of Pakistan-backed fundamentalist elements in Bangladesh, and Modi would like to further cement bilateral ties with the Hasina government considering India’s strategic interests. India has already announced that the long-pending Teesta water-sharing pact with Bangladesh will not be signed during the visit.
The Teesta deal was set to be inked during the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September, 2011 but was postponed at the last minute due to objections by Banerjee, who had also dropped out of the Prime Ministerial delegation. Teesta water is crucial for Bangladesh, especially in the leanest period from December to March when the water flow often temporarily comes down to less than 1,000 cusecs from 5,000 cusecs.