India needs to do more for B'desh

India and Bangladesh signed 22 agreements covering defence, nuclear energy, cyber security and education during the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India. These can be expected to take bilateral cooperation, which is already strong, to new levels. India announced a concessional credit line of $4.5 billion for the completion of infrastructure projects in Bangladesh. This is the highest line of credit (LoC) offered by India to another country. Travel, trade and connectivity received a boost, too, with the launch of new passenger bus and train services and a cargo train between the two countries. India has been keen on deepening cooperation with Bangladesh, especially since last year when China sealed deals worth $25 billion with Dhaka, including one that resulted in the sale of two submarines to Bangladesh. During Hasina’s visit, India and Bangladesh not only signed defence-related Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) but also New Delhi extended Dhaka a $500 million LoC for purchase of military equipment. How effectively these defence deals will be in weakening Bangladesh’s robust defence ties with China remains to be seen.

Clearly, Hasina is not going back empty-handed; she has successfully bagged a string of lucrative deals. However, there will be disappointment at home as the two sides did not sign an agreement on the sharing of the waters of the river Teesta. All she got was an assurance of India’s “commitment and continued efforts” towards an “early solution.” It is time West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is blocking an agreement on Teesta, ends her obstinate opposition to the sealing of a deal. It would do wonders for India-Bangladesh relations as it will not only strengthen a pro-India Hasina’s position ahead of the general elections in Bangla-desh but will also create public goodwill for India in that country.

Bangladesh has been a good friend to India, backing India on counter-terrorism issues. The Hasina government, in particular, has been helpful by sending back to India Ulfa militants in its custody and shutting down militant camps on its soil. Yet, India has shown little concern for Bangladesh’s human security. In addition to not delivering on its promises of sharing more water with Bangladesh, its construction of a highly militarised fence along the India-Bangladesh border is far from friendly and is widely seen in Dhaka as a symbol of New Delhi’s high-handedness, insensitivity and hostility. Building goodwill among the masses should be the priority of India’s Bangladesh policy. That will serve to weaken Chinese influence far more than sale of military hardware. The Modi government must act quickly to change India’s image in Bangladesh. Presenting Dhaka with a deal on Teesta will be a good starting point.

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