How Modi won over Bangladesh


New Delhi: With India backing the hanging of war criminals by the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government, there has been a paradigm shift in the mindset of the Bangladeshi people.

However, the change was obvious. It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his expert team of foreign ministry diplomats who worked relentlessly to improve India’s image in the subcontinent.

Progress on outstanding bilateral issues got hindered by bureaucratic inertia and lack of political will on India’s part. Bangladesh has repeatedly sought an Indian response to its demand for the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers on Bangladeshi products. Little diplomatic steps were taken on the Land Boundary agreement and on a water-sharing agreement for the Teesta river.

Under the last Manmohan Singh-led regime, India failed to meaningfully reciprocate Bangladesh PM Hasina’s overtures. Meanwhile, the India-Bangladesh cordiality under Hasina faced flak from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which has never failed to lambaste the government for perceived subservience to India.

A $1 billion loan deal with the Hasina government, the largest line of credit received by Bangladesh under a single agreement was not enough to win the hearts of the Bangladeshis, who claimed that India’s one-sided withdrawal of Teesta water would turn their country into a desert.

Modi’s success in marshalling the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) in Parliament has undoubtedly settled a 41-year-old border dispute with Bangladesh which facilitated the exchange of enclaves between the two countries.

Modi’s dynamic foreign diplomacy has embalmed the Bangladeshis who were duly upset with the slow pace in the implementation of these agreements.

Notably, both sides signed a number of deals including enhancing connectivity to ensure greater people-to-people contact during Modi’s visit earlier this year. Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina flagged off the bus service between Kolkata and Agartala via Dhaka and the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus service.

The two countries also inked a coastal shipping agreement to facilitate sailing of small vessels from India to various ports in Bangladesh which now go via Singapore. India will also push for the involvement of Indian companies in setting up of ports in that country.

The issue of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement also featured in the Modi-Hasina dialogue. The agreement, sans Pakistan, is likely to be inked soon.

India feels improving connectivity with Bangladesh will help in linking the North Eastern region with Southeast Asia. And with the positive approach from Bangladesh, the issue will see the light of the day very soon.

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