Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina concluded her four-day visit to India. During her visit, Hasina met newly-elected President Draupadi Murmu, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Hasina paid a visit after three years and it is significant for both the countries.
Hasina held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Modi to further strengthen the relations in the areas of railways, space technology, science and technology, and judiciary. During her visit, she gifted a book to PM Modi based on the March 7 speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Both the countries have signed seven agreements, including Kushiyara river water sharing, railway personnel training, collaboration in IT sector, capacity building programme for judicial officers, cooperation between India’s CSIR and Bangladesh’s BCSIR, on space technology, and on information broadcasting.
In addition to that, the two Prime Ministers have jointly inaugurated unit-1 of Maithree power plant, which is a 1320 megawatt coal fired power station located at Rampal of Bangladesh. Through this plant, Bangladesh can overcome the severe power crisis which it is facing now. The power plant is being constructed by Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC), a 50:50 joint venture of India’s NTPC and Bangladesh’s BPDB. It is one of the biggest thermal power plants in Bangladesh. Exim Bank of India funded
USD 1.6 billion to the BIFPC and BHEL of India awarded the construction of Maithree thermal power plant. Two leaders agreed to expedite the implementation of a proposed high capacity 756 KV transmission line from Katihar in Bihar to Bornagar in Assam through Parbatipur in Bangladesh, which helps Bangladesh to import the power from Nepal and Bhutan through India as part of the BBIN initiative.
Hasina sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support to stave off West’s criticism on Bangladesh’s human rights record. The Modi Government has promised to play a constructive role for the safe, stable and early return of Rohingyas to Myanmar
The two premiers jointly unveiled the 5.13 km-long Rupsa broad gauge rail bridge, which connects the Khulna city to Mongla port, which is the second largest port in Bangladesh after Chittagong. This would improve the sub-regional trade and help other countries in the region for their transport. India is also supporting Bangladesh for upgrading the Mongla Port with an estimated cost of USD 530 million, it will help increase maritime links not only for Bangladesh but also for North East India, Bhutan and Nepal.
Bharat has extended nearly USD 9.5 billion concessional loans to Bangladesh including for taking up several connectivity projects including the construction of 126 km long from Khulna to Darshana broad gauge railway line project with cost of USD 312 million and transforming the meter gauge to broad gauge of 57 km long from Parbatipur to Kaunia with cost of USD 120 million and road constructions. These projects will further enhance the multimode transport on the South west part of Bangladesh.
Bharat became the biggest exporter for Bangladesh goods in Asia. Modi said in his speech that both the governments will expedite the discussions on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) deal. Bharat will be the first country to have the FTA with Bangladesh. The trade deal will cover the fact that it will boost the economy and investments in Eastern Bharat and North East.
Sheikh Hasina has given the green signal for this pact notwithstanding China and Japan have been seeking its nod for long. This agreement will boost intra-regional trade in South Asia which is poorly connected in terms of trade when compared with European, North America and ASEAN countries. After this pact, 25 per cent of peak tariff on 415 Indian merchandise goods will be reduced and it will boost the USD 17 billion of India’s exports to Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina is expecting the proposed trade agreement would help Bangladesh to export jute products, cotton garments and steel scrap to India and reduce the trade deficit with the subcontinent. In the last year alone, Bangladesh incurred a trade deficit of USD 14 billion with India, which is a heavy burden for Bangladesh. With this deal, Bharat’s exports may surpass the Chinese exports to Bangladesh, currently India stands at 19 per cent of Bangladesh’s imports and China stands at 33 per cent of Bangladesh imports. Despite the positive developments, Sheikh Hasina is facing scrutiny from the Western countries for human rights violations.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet visited Cox’s Bazar and other places in Bangladesh last month, where Rohingya refugees of Myanmar are camping. Bachelet called for independent probe on disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh. On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina is also unhappy with the world response over the Rohingya refugee crisis. Sheikh Hasina has been facing the Rohingya issue domestically and requesting international community, including Bharat, for repatriation to Myanmar. As Hasina is facing elections next year, it is crucial for her to address this issue to convince Bangladeshis. In this visit, she sought PM Modi’s support on the West’s allegations. The Modi Government has promised to play a constructive role for the safe, stable and early return of Rohingyas to Myanmar.
Before her arrival to India, she stated that their country policy is “Friendship to all, malice to none”. Before arriving in India, she inaugurated the eighth Bangladesh-China friendship bridge constructed by China. It seems, she has used a China card to get more funds from Bharat for the construction projects in her country. China has been investing in Bangladesh under the Belt and Road Initiative. After Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s economic crisis, the Sheikh Hasina Government stopped exploring the option of relying more on Xi Jinping’s China. However, Sheikh Hasina wants more from Bharat as opposition parties criticise her of being pro-Bharat. She also knows that, though China is richer, Bharat is an intimate neighbour.
Understanding Bharat’s difficulties, Sheikh Hasina has maintained a cautious relation with China. To please the Modi Government, Sheikh Hasina participated in last month’s Janmashtami celebrations and promised that she would stand with the Hindu community, which has 13 per cent of vote share in Bangladesh. Bharat’s support is crucial her to counter the opposition alliance for the next year’s elections.