The virtual Summit between India and Bangladesh was another successful attempt which amplified the deep and shared bond between the two neighbours. The meeting came just a day after the Victory Day celebrations on 16 December; the day Bangladesh won the 1971 Liberation War over Pakistan. The commemoration of the Liberation War, was one of the highlights of the 50-year old India-Bangladesh friendly ties. Incidentally, it was also the first bilateral meeting between the two Prime Ministers after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Dhaka in March 2020 was postponed in light of the outbreak of COVID-19.
Prior to this meeting, Bangladesh and India signed seven memorandums of understanding (MOU) in the areas of hydrocarbon, agriculture, collaboration between New Delhi museum and ‘Bangabandhu’ museum, trans-boundary elephant-conservation, a high-impact community development project, terms of reference of India-Bangladesh CEO forum, and a trilateral deal to procure waste management equipment for the sewerage project in Barishal.
During the virtual meeting the two Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated a digital exhibition on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Mahatma Gandhi to celebrate the life and legacies of these leaders. A postal stamp issued by the Government of India to commemorate the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was also unveiled. The trans-border rail route between Chilahati and West Bengal’s Haldibari which has been inoperative for almost 55 years was also re-launched virtually. It was decided to operationalise the route when the COVID situation improves.
Prime Minister Modi expressed satisfaction over the current state of bilateral relations and said that Bangladesh is one of the most significant pillars of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Ever since his government has come to power, it has focused on maintaining strong bilateral relations with Bangladesh. Both sides also expressed satisfaction on how various decisions taken during the official visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Delhi in October 2019 have progressed.
On the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian Prime Minister assured that vaccines would be available to Bangladesh as and when they are produced in India. Prime Minister Hasina urged for early signing of an interim agreement to share the Teesta water, as was agreed upon by both the governments in 2011. Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s sincere and continued efforts in this regard. Both leaders also focused on the need to conclude the Interim Agreement on sharing of waters of six joint rivers: Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.
Both leaders discussed the importance to address the non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation such as port restrictions and quarantine restrictions to take full advantage of South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). Prime Minister Hasina requested that any amendments in the Government of India’s export-import policy be conveyed in advance as India’s export of essential commodities influence Bangladesh’s domestic market. Discussion on trade also included early conclusion of an ongoing joint study on the prospects of a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), and the ongoing negotiations on the MOU between the Ministries of Textiles of both countries.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated India for being elected as a member of the United Nations Security Council and expressed Bangladesh’s expectation to see India assist in the repatriation process of the Rohingyas to Myanmar. Prime Minister Modi Bangladesh for supporting India in its election to the United Nations Security Council. Both countries agreed to work together for reforms of the UN Security Council, combating climate change, attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and protection of the rights of migrants.
Both leaders deliberated upon early operationalisation of the Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement between Bangladesh, India and Nepal, Bhutan. Dhaka also conveyed its wish to be connected with the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project. Moreover, Prime Minister Modi invited Bangladesh to join the New Development Bank or BRICS Bank, a multilateral institution which mobilises resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in emerging economies.
The ongoing pandemic is expected to transform the geo-strategics and geo-economics for both countries. Keeping that in mind, the virtual meeting signifies a new boost in bilateral relations. Both countries should have been working for peace and prosperity by burying small differences in order to progress.
Script: Dr. Paulami Sanyal, Research Analyst,
Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies Analyses