News Analysis

Strong leaderships and economy key to cementing Indo-Bangla ties

Nadeem Qadir

22nd June, 2019 10:45:43 printer

After the recent elections in India that gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi a thumping saffron painted thumbs-up for a second five-year term, analysts said Dhaka-New Delhi ties was likely to be strengthened with  focus on the economic front depending on the strong leaderships in the two South Asian countries. The “chemistry” between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Modi would act as a catalyst to solve outstanding bilateral issues.

However, they said Modi must uphold his popular slogan “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka viswas” (Together we grow. Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India) and allay fears of the minorities, especially the Muslims.

The analysts cautioned about pushing India on sharing of water of the Teesta River on a bilateral plain and instead try to understand India’s mind for an amicable settlement with Hasina and Modi guiding the issue with their statesmanship. 

“Economic cooperation will help multiply cooperation between the two countries and it will benefit the people on both sides of the border,” said Humayun Kabir, a former diplomat and foreign policy analyst.

“India needs economic growth to create new jobs just like Bangladesh,” he added.

He said Bangladesh has already sent a message of the importance to India by sending President Abdul Hamid to Premier Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi. “It is the highest representation,” said the former ambassador to the United Sates and the acting president of the private think-tank Bangladesh Enterprise Institute.

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, BJP lawmaker and national vice-president of the ruling Bhartya Janata Party (BJP) spoke of increasing bilateral ties.

The way forward for the two countries was “development diplomacy” by which both Bangladesh and India would benefit, he said, adding that “we enjoy excellent relations … Prime Minister Modi greatly values the friendship we have with our eastern neighbour and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.”

One top Asian expatriate economist based in New Delhi agreed with Sahasrabuddhe on launching a “development diplomacy” which would be a “win-win” situation for both the countries, saying “Bangladesh must think of creating a sub-regional economic platform which would include the north-eastern Indian states and West Bengal to whip up huge trading possibilities that could change the fate of the region’s people.”

“It is far more convenient to do business in this sub-region than doing it in Delhi,” he said, adding that Bangladesh’s deep sea ports would garner revenues from those North-Eastern states,” he stressed mentioning Summit Group, Bangladesh’s top business conglomerate, for setting a Liquefied Petroleum project in West Bengal.   After achieving the significant milestone in 2016–2017 of becoming the only Bangladeshi company to successfully bid for an International Port project SAPL, via its wholly owned Indian subsidiary Summit Alliance Port East Gateway (India) Private Limited, it has recently completed the contract signing formalities with the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and handover of the Garden Reach Terminal (Kolkata) is very close, a spokesman told the daily sun.

On the Teesta issue, Indian BJP leader Sahasrabuddhe was optimistic saying “together we will find a solution.”

Anwar Hashim, a former diplomat, had some reservations over Teesta river water sharing issue and the citizenship factor in Assam, but he said “I would like to be optimistic as Bangladesh and India have enjoyed the best of ties under Modi’s last five years.”

The issues like the sharing of the Teesta river water that flows from the Himalayas through China, India and pouring into the Bay of Bengal after criss-crossing through Bangladesh would be solved in one way or the other because of the statesmanship showed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, who have a “very good chemistry.”

One India observer in Dhaka said India needed “trusted friend” Sheikh Hasina to keep a friendly eastern neighbour which was more or less free of Chinese influence and strong-handed diplomacy with Pakistani. “Sheikh Hasina could even play a role on Bangladeshi issues that also involved both India and China,” he said. Asked to comment, main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and former army chief Lieutenant General M. Mahbubur Rahman told the daily sun that working with China and India to find a solution to Bangladesh’s problem would be a welcome move.

“I think Prime Minister Modi with such a huge mandate will work to reach solutions with us for the benefit of the region,” he said.

Pallab Bhattachary, a veteran Indian journalist, said the key word to note from Modi’s victory speeches are “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka viswas” (Together we grow. Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India) which was to stave off the perception that his government pursued Hindu majoritarianism and discriminated against religious minorities.

“The prime minister emphasised the need for winning over the trust of the minorities as well as those who did not vote BJP. Hence ‘sabka viswas ... this has the potential to set a new paradigm for an inclusive narrative of nationalism provided it is followed up in letter and spirit,” he said.

Journalist Sanjaya Baru said the 2019 mandate to BJP meant it has replaced the Congress Party as the “natural and national party government. However, for it to govern as such the Modi government must take visible measures to win confidence of the Muslim community.”

“The BJP must end its obsession with individual food habits and social choices,” he wrote in India’s Firstpost newspaper.

India Today, the widely circulated weekly magazine, said it all when its editor Aroon Purie wrote in the June 3 Special Issue: “A word of caution. This victory is not a mandate for Hindutya and Prime Minister Modi would do well to reign in the extremist elements within his party. He needs to protect the unity of India because the electorate has united behind him.”

Political observers in India said Modi might have used “Hindutya” to come to power five years ago, but all his post-poll speeches have spoken of “inclusiveness,” which was aimed at allaying the fear of minorities especially Muslims.