Offering concessions to Bangladesh in trade and sharing of river water, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will seek to give a major thrust to relations with India’s eastern neighbour, during a visit to Dhaka on 6th and 7th September.
The festering border and territorial issues between the two countries are also likely to be settled during the visit that an Indian official said would “have salutary impact on the politics of south Asia.”
Aware of the suspicion that India arouses in some quarters of Bangladesh, Singh will reach out beyond the government.
The PM will meet Khaleda Zia, leader of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and speak at the Dhaka University. India-Bangladesh ties have improved under the current government led by Sheikh Hasina of Awami League, but BNP has been traditionally unenthusiastic in relations with India.
Vice president Hamid Ansari and foreign minister SM Krishna too had meetings with Zia during their recent visits to Dhaka. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and home minister P Chidambaram have also visited Bangladesh in recent months.
Freer access for Bangladeshi textile goods — constitutes 75% of its exports — to Indian markets is expected to encourage a constituency for better relations as textile lobby is politically influential. India is likely to prune the 47 textile-related articles among the 61 items in the negative list of Bangladeshi export. Indian exports to Bangladesh stood at $4,586 million against imports of $512 million in 2010-11.
Water and border are equally in focus, “but special attention will be given on trade imbalance by reducing restrictions and helping Dhaka with developing manufacturing infrastructure,” said an official.
Singh’s visit is the first bilateral after AB Vajpayee’s in 1999. To give finishing touches to the series of pacts, NSA Shivshankar Menon made an unscheduled visit to Dhaka on Sunday where he met water resources minister Ramesh Sen, Hasina’s foreign affairs adviser Gawher Rizvi and economic affairs adviser Mashiur Rahman.
Two agreements on sharing of water of the rivers Feni and Teesta and power purchase are likely to be concluded. Two protocols on land boundary and tiger protection, MoUs on preservation of the Sundarbans, and a tie-up between JNU and Dhaka University are also on the cards. There are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India which could be exchanged.
Relaxing its resistance to improving connectivity, Bangladesh is using a $1 billion soft loan from India to develop road, rail and waterways. Bangladesh has also cracked down on Indian insurgent groups operating from its soil, leading to the arrest of some jihadi operatives and bringing Ulfa to negotiating table.