Good start

There is reason for India and Bangladesh to draw satisfaction from External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Dhaka. For one, the atmospherics were positive. Swaraj struck the right notes in her interaction with the Bangladesh government.  Of the several decisions announced by India during the visit was to grant five-year multiple entry visas to Bangladeshi nationals under the age of 13 and above 65 years as against the current practice of issuing such visas for a year only. Besides, India, which is already supplying Bangladesh with 500 MW of power, will provide it with another 100 MW from the Palatana power project in Tripura. India also informed Dhaka of its plan to increase the frequency of the Dhaka-Kolkata Maitree Express and put in place a bus service linking Guwahati and Shillong with Dhaka. Still, it is hard to dispel the feeling that India could have been more generous on the visa issue. It should have extended the 5-year multiple-entry visa scheme to all Bangladeshis. At a SAARC meeting earlier this year, India had pushed for a liberalised visa regime for the region and at Dhaka, Swaraj spoke eloquently about enhancing connectivity. But by limiting the scope of the multiple entry visas, Delhi signaled its continued half-heartedness in opening its doors to Bangladeshis.

India-Bangladesh relations have improved remarkably in recent years. The Awami League government has done much to deny anti-India militant groups a base on its soil and handed over several senior ULFA leaders to India. However, this relationship could have moved many notches higher had the UPA government delivered on the Land Border Agreement and sealed a deal on the Teesta river waters. On both issues, it allowed politics to stand in the way.

Swaraj is said to have assured the AL government of India’s commitment to finalising agreements on the two issues. She must ensure both agreements are ready for signing when Hasina visits Delhi later this year.

Delhi-Dhaka relations that are mutually beneficial will deny anti-India forces a breeding ground in Dhaka. India cannot hope to strengthen relations with Southeast Asia so long as ties with Bangladesh remains tenuous. Swaraj has breathed new life into the bilateral relationship.

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