Narendra Modi.(PTI)
Narendra Modi.(PTI)

PM to visit Bangladesh on March 26

  • The two-day trip to Dhaka will be Modi’s first foreign visit in 15 months
By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2021 06:27 AM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make an overnight visit to Bangladesh on March 26 to join celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the neighbouring country’s independence in 1971, people aware of the matter said on Monday.

The two-day trip to Dhaka will be Modi’s first foreign visit in 15 months and will reflect New Delhi’s emphasis on its ties with Bangladesh which the PM has described as “an important pillar” of India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy. Modi last travelled abroad in November 2019 and had to scrap his travel plans over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Modi will be the chief guest at the main event organised by the Sheikh Hasina government to commemorate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s declaring the erstwhile East Pakistan as an independent country, Bangladesh, on March 26, 1971. India, which sided with Bangladesh, helped defeat Pakistani forces who eventually surrendered on December 16, 1971.

Ahead of the visit, Modi will on Tuesday inaugurate the “Maitri Setu” or friendship bridge between India and Bangladesh over the Feni river via video conference. Hasina is expected to send a recorded video message marking the inauguration of the key bridge that will give Sabroom in Tripura access to Chittagong port in Bangladesh, the people cited above said.

Sabroom is located just 80 km from the Bangladesh port and the name of the new bridge symbolises the growing bilateral ties. The 1.9-km bridge was built by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation at a cost of 133 crore.

With connectivity emerging as a key component in India-Bangladesh relations, Modi will also launch several other projects to ease the movement of goods and people between the two countries. This includes the laying of the foundation stone for a 232-crore integrated check post at Sabroom, which will provide new market opportunities for products from the northeastern states and help in seamless movement of passengers.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar, who was in Dhaka last week to prepare for the PM’s visit, described the deepening strategic ties between the two countries as a “360-degree partnership” and stressed that Modi’s visit will surely be a “very memorable” event.

The visit comes at a time, Indian officials say, when there is tremendous goodwill for the Indian government and its people in Bangladesh on account of New Delhi going the extra mile to make Covid-19 vaccines available to the neighbouring country.

New Delhi has supplied nine million doses of the vaccine to Dhaka, including two million as a gift from the people of India. The remaining seven million doses were sent on a commercial basis after Bangladesh decided to rely on Indian vaccines rather than those pushed by Beijing.

“India has kept the promise that it had made,” a senior government official said, a reference to Modi’s assurance to Hasina during their virtual summit in December. Modi had assured her that the doses would be made available to Bangladesh as and when India produced them, and also offered a partnership in vaccine production. It was at this summit that Hasina declared that “India is our true friend”.

Officials said it was on account of New Delhi delivering on its commitment that Jaishankar returned from Dhaka last week with the sense that Bangladesh’s opposition parties, which are often critical or suspicious of India, had appreciated the move on vaccines.

There are no big-ticket agreements planned during the PM’s visit. The two countries signed seven agreements in areas ranging from hydrocarbons to agriculture at the Modi-Hasina summit in December.

India and Japan are also looking to take up more joint development projects in Bangladesh.

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