External Affairs Minister SM Krishna today embarked on an official visit to Bangladesh during which he is expected to convey India's commitment to forging a strong and enduring relationship with the people and government of the neighbouring country.
During talks with the Bangla leadership, Krishna will review the entire gamut of bilateral relations ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's September 6-7- visit there.
Krishna's three-day trip comes against the backdrop of Singh's remarks last Wednesday about 25 % of Bangladeshis being anti-Indian which kicked up an uproar in that country.
The two countries have since downplayed the remarks with Krishna himself denying suggestions that his trip was being undertaken to repair the damage to bilateral relations following the prime minister's remarks.
The remarks by Singh were intended to be off-the-record but figured in the official transcript of the interaction between the Prime Minister and the Editors. The remarks were later edited out of the official transcript.
The high point of Krishna's stay in Dhaka will be Thursday's meetings when he calls on Bangla premier Sheikh Hasina and holds formal talks with Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Mo.
The two sides are expected to sign several "bilateral documents" on transit, a 15 year interim accord on Teesta river water-sharing, joint ventures in power sector and development projects under the one billion dollar Line of Credit extended by India in January last year during Hasina's visit to Delhi.
Krishna's visit is part of efforts to do the spadework for working out the "deliverables" by India during Singh's visit to Dhaka when New Delhi is expected to come out with a raft of unilateral trade concessions, including further easing of Bangladeshi textile exports to Indian market, and an agreement on border demarcation and adversely-held enclaves.
Media and strategic affairs analysts said Krishna's visit will not only bring up the opportunity for India to undertake the damage-control and downplay the row over Singh's remarks but also underline its commitment to "forging a stronger, enduring and a productive partnership" with Bangladesh.
In fact, there are already signs that the two countries are well on their way to leave the controversy behind them and move on. The fact that the announcement of Singh's visit was simultaneously announced in Delhi and Dhaka indicated their conscious efforts to play down the row.
The Bangladesh Foreign Ministry also made glowing references while announcing Singh's visit saying it "is expected to infuse fresh dynamism into the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional relationship between the two countries".
Krishna will also meet the leader of oposition Khaleda Zia, whose BNP and allies fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami have called a two day strike coinciding, to protest against Hasina goverrnment's move to do away with future parliamentary elections under a neutral caretaker government.
Krishna kicks off his engagement in Dhaka with a meeting with Bangladesh finance minister AMA Muhith discussing progress in implementation of the various projects under the Line of Credit, which is the biggest dose of foreign assistance by India, mainly relating to railway infrastructure in that country.
This will be followed by an interaction with senior Bangladeshi editors.
The visiting minister will also call on President Zillur Rahman at Banga Bhavan tomorrow. A dinner on the same day will be hosted by Dipu Moni for Krishna.
Krishna will lay the plaque of Kala Bhavan to be set up in Dhaka University with Indian assistance and speak at the Bangladesh Institute of Strategic Studies on India-Bangladesh relations on the final day of his visit before returning to New Delhi.