Modi-Hasina a new spring in bilateral ties!

Modi-Hasina a new spring in bilateral ties!

Subir Bhaumik,
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Indian PM Narendra Modi with Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina: Who will really steer the course?

Strange as it may sound, the number 22 may have something to do with Narendra Modi’s handling of Bangladesh. Twenty two agreements and MOUs were signed when Modi visited Dhaka in June 2015 — just as many were signed on Saturday during Sheikh Hasina’s ongoing visit to India (April 7-10). For Modi, it is always more the merrier — he loves to hog the limelight and he knows numbers count for his huge fan brigade. But when Modi rushed to the Palam airport to receive Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, breaking all protocol and upsetting his security detail, he did drive home the centrality of Bangladesh in India’s foreign policy design. Indian foreign office spokesman Gopal Bagley described Hasina’s visit as the ‘beginning of a new spring in bilateral ties’. MEA mandarins say this could be a model India may begin to showcase to the rest of the region. 

The MOUs and agreements signed this time reflect a much higher level of cooperation in critical areas like defence, outer space, nuclear energy and IT/Electronics. The symbolism drawn from the 1971 war, in which Indian army and the Mukti Fauj fought together against Pakistan, did play out during the visit. Hasina’s paying respect to Indian soldiers who fell to liberate Bangladesh, was reciprocated by Modi in supporting Bangladesh’s pitch for getting March 25 recognised as Genocide Day at the UN. 

That collective memory is now going to cement real-time on-ground defence cooperation between the two neighbours as never before. The two defence cooperation MOUs will cover a wide range — from training and exchange of delegations to coordination of counter-terrorism operations to purchase of military hardware to intelligence sharing. India will supply spares even for China-made submarines and train the submariners — something that will not make Beijing terribly happy. Delhi has always worried that Bangladesh military officers of three services go to China or Pakistan for training — from higher command courses to levels much lower. With the second MOU between Defence Services Staff College at Wellington (situated in Tamil Nadu, Nilgiris) and Defence Services Command and Staff College at Mirpur in Dhaka, that will now change. 

But both sides stand to gain from this arrangement. Much as India may feel comfortable if more and more officers come to India for courses, the greater exposure to the Indian military system will help Bangladesh officers develop a better idea of its larger neighbour. Such an arrangement may help the two countries develop greater interoperability — but it is always useful to know your bigger neighbour better and how its military works. That helps even if you perceive the neighbour as a threat. Modi has said that the concessional line of credit of $ 500 million for defence procurement from India can be used by Bangladesh the way it wants. India is a net importer of military hardware but its Naval Production has been largely indigenised and one area of procurement could the fast patrol craft for coast guards made in Calcutta’s Garden Reach shipyard. Modi’s ‘Make in India’ has a strong defence component and the Russians manufacturing fighter jets to helicopters in India for supply to the Indian forces would surely not mind some extra market in neighbouring Bangladesh, whose Air Force is seeking to buy MIG fighters of an advanced variety.

India’s thrust may have been motivated by its desire to wean Bangladesh away from its dependence on Chinese military hardware, but there are clearly limits to how much India can supply, given the fact it buys much of its needs from abroad. In other areas like peaceful areas of nuclear energy and outer space, Bangladesh would stand to gain much. Modi was not wrong when he focussed on hi-tech as the new area for bilateral cooperation — if India’s Mars mission costs less than a Hollywood film, it can surely offer much to Bangladesh in outer space. India’s ever increasing supply of electricity and petroluem products will benefit Bangladesh in improving its energy security that is key to development.

The one area where Modi failed to deliver is finalising an agreement on sharing the waters of Teesta rivers. He promised an early solution and though he did not provide a time frame, he turned to Hasina and said, ‘only my government and yours can do this agreement.’ That would mean he is determined to deliver before the two countries face elections in 2018-19 — Bangladesh earlier than India. With Mamata Banerjee by his side, Modi assuaged ruffled feathers in Dhaka by saying Mamata has ‘as much warmth for Bangladesh as I have’.  

Officials in Modi’s PMO have already had close door dialogues in the last two days with officials from West Bengal. Modi’s Principal Secretary Nripendra Mishra has latched on to the Kalyan Rudra committee report that was commissioned by Mamata Banerjee and which suggested construction of reservoirs in Bengal to store surplus Teesta waters during monsoon for use in lean season.  It now seems Modi will prod Mamata to accept the Teesta deal, promising her central funding for reservoirs. Apart from water shortage for irrigation, such huge construction work will create jobs in North Bengal and some funds will surely flow into Trinamul party coffers via contractors.  Modi got Mamata to agree to the land boundary agreement by promising her liberal rehab funds for those who would come into Bengal for the agreement. He might take the same route and crack the maverick lady. Hasina’s own prodding, with President Pranab Mukherjee lending a helping hand, may also help “find a Bengali solution to a Bengali problem’. 

Modi also send another signal to placate Mamata — his close confidante and cabinet minister Rao Inderjit Singh bitterly criticised Bengal BJP leaders for marching with swords and tridents on Ram Navami day, describing it as a crime. Mamata has bitterly opposed these BJP marches and her police has filed a case under Arms Act againt BJP state president Dilip Ghosh for marching with a sword. Now Rai Inderjit’s pitch — that too in Malda — may soothe Mamata’s fraught nerves, worried as she is over a resurgent Hindutva agenda of the BJP in Bengal.

Modi has promised to find ways to curb the adverse trade balance — the Indian business leaders told the Bangladesh business delegation (largest to India in recent years) that they would do everything possible to help bring down the trade deficit. ” Let us know what you want us to do and we will do it,” was the message from the Confederation of Indian Industry. Hasina claimed that Modi had promised her to withdraw anti-dumping duty on Bangladeshs jute products. If that happens, it may set the tune for greater trade and B2B cooperation — both in areas of investment and more exports to the high Indian market.  

 

1 MoU on Defence Cooperation Framework between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Defence Secretary Principal Staff officer (PSO)
2 MoU between Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (Nilgiris), Tamil Nadu, India and Defence Services Command and Staff College, Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangaldesh for Enhancing Cooperation in the Field of Strategic and operational studies. Defence Secretary Principal Staff officer (PSO)
3 MoU between National Defence College, Dhaka, Bangladesh and National Defence College, New Delhi, India for enhancing cooperation in the field of national security, development and strategic studies Defence Secretary Principal Staff officer (PSO)
4 MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Chairman, ISRO & Secretary, Department of Space Chairman, BTRC YES
5 Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Cooperation in Peaceful uses of Nuclear Energy Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy Secretary, Ministry of S&T
6 Arrangement between The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) of the Government of the Republic of India and The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA) of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for the Exchange of Technical Information and Co-operation in the Regulation of Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Chairman, AERB Chairman, BAERA
7 Inter-Agency Agreement between Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP), Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India and Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission(BAEC), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Cooperation regarding Nuclear Power Plant Projects in Bangladesh Chairman, Project Advisory Committee, GCNEP, DAE Chairman, BAEC
8 MoU between the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) of the Government of the Republic of India and Information and Communication Technology Division of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Co-operation in the field of Information Technology and Electronics Foreign Secretary (Minister & Secretary, MeitY are not available) Secretary, ICT Division
9 MoU between the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Republic of India and Bangladesh Government Computer Incident Response Team (BGD e-Gov CIRT), Bangladesh Computer Council of Information and Communication Technology division, Ministry of Post, Telecommunication and IT On Cooperation in the area of Cyber Security Foreign Secretary (Minister & Secretary, MeitY are not available) Secretary, ICT Division
10 MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Establishing Border Haats across the Border between India and Bangladesh Commerce Secretary Commerce Secretary
11 MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Bilateral Judicial Sector Cooperation EAM (Minister & Secretary Ministry of Law & Justice are not available) Minister, 
Ministry of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs
YES
12 MoU between the National Judicial Academy, India and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on Training and Capacity Building Programme for Bangladeshi Judicial Officers in India Director, National Judicial Academy (NJA) Registrar General of Supreme Court of Bangladesh
13 MoU between the Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships (DGLL), Ministry of Shipping, the Government of the Republic of India and the Department of Shipping, Ministry of Shipping, the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Concerning Cooperation on Aids to Navigation. Director General (DGLL) DG, Shipping
14 MoU between Geological Survey of India (GSI) and Geological Survey of Bangladesh (GSB) on Mutual Scientific Cooperation in the field of Earth Sciences for Research and Development. Deputy Director General & HoD, GSITI DG, GSB
15 MoU & SOPs on Passenger and Cruise Services on the Coastal and Protocol Route between the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Government of the Republic of India. Secretary, Ministry of Shipping Secretary, Ministry of Shipping YES
16 MoU on Development of Fairway from Sirajganj to Daikhowa and Ashuganj to Zakiganj on Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route between the Ministry of Shipping of the Republic of India and The Ministry of Shipping of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Secretary, Ministry of Shipping Secretary, Ministry of Shipping
17 MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Cooperation in the Field of Mass Media. Foreign Secretary (Secretary, MoI&B is not available) Secretary, Information
18 Audio-visual Co-production Agreement between the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Foreign Secretary (Secretary, MoI&B is not available) Secretary, Information
19 MoU between GoI and GoB for extending Defence LOC of USD 500 million. Foreign Secretary Principal Staff officer (PSO)
20 Agreement between Bangladesh And India for the Regulation of Motor Vehicle Passenger Traffic (Khulna-Kolkata route) and SOP of the Agreement Secretary, (MoRTH) Secretary, Road Transport & Highways Division
21 MoU between the Government of the Republic of India (GoI) and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (GoB) for Extending a 3rd Line of Credit (LoC) by GoI to GoB Foreign Secretary Secretary, ERD YES
22 Financing Agreement between
the Government of the Republic of India
& the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for the Construction of 36Community Clinics in Bangladesh.

 

Image Above: PM Narendra Modi during his visit to Bangladesh presents the steering wheel of INS Vikrant to PM Sheikh Hasina during the exchange of memoriabalia in Dhaka in 2015. Vikrant was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy and played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade of Easy Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. Photo: PTI

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