Modi's productive Dhaka visit

Of all Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trips abroad over the past year, the just-concluded visit to Bangladesh was perhaps the most productive. The high-point was the exchange of the instruments of ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), which settles their 4,100-km-long border dispute with India. The LBA provides for swapping of the 161 “enclaves” in both the countries.  This has significant implications for the roughly 51,000 “enclave” people, who were hitherto stateless. They will be granted citizenship now and this promises an improvement in their living conditions as they reap the benefits of citizenship. Of course, much will depend on how swiftly and effectively Delhi and Dhaka act to improve the ramshackle infrastructure, education and health facilities, opportunities for livelihoods, etc in the former enclaves. While the LBA is a feather in Modi’s cap, several of his predecessors deserve credit too. After all, the contents of this pact were finalised years ago and if it didn’t move towards implementation then, it was because the opposition parties, especially the BJP, acted churlishly to obstruct it. The progress achieved on the LBA now underscores the fact that when political parties are not needlessly obstructive, much can be achieved in furthering relations with our neighbours.

Besides the LBA, Modi’s visit saw the two sides signing 22 agreements and memorandums of understanding on trade and investment, security, infrastructure development, etc. India is extending a $2 billion credit line to Bangladesh for development of its transport infrastructure and two Indian power companies will invest $5 billion in its power sector.  The steps taken to improve transport, connectivity and infrastructure will have long-term impact on boosting trade and people-to-people interaction. India-Bangladesh co-operation will provide a fillip to the opening up of opportunities in the economically backward North-East.

However, there is disappointment in Bangladesh over the absence of progress on the Teesta deal. The river Teesta evokes deep emotions in Bangladesh; not only does it provide water for human consumption and agriculture but it also is a vital part of their culture, figuring in songs and art.  An agreement on sharing the waters of this river was on the cards during the UPA rule but objections from West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee put it on hold. Banerjee’s presence in Modi’s delegation on his recent trip raised hopes in Dhaka that the deal would be signed now. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Bangladesh should not have to wait so long for an agreement on the Teesta. Modi must persuade Banerjee to get on board a deal with Dhaka. That would be as historic as the LBA. 

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