On New Year, PM reaches out to leaders in neighbourhood

On New Year, PM reaches out to leaders in neighbourhood

Reuters file photo

Though normalcy in India-Pakistan relations remains as distant a prospect as it was a year ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent the first day of 2020 – tending New Delhi's ties with the rest in its South Asian neighbourhood.

Modi on Wednesday called up leaders of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan to greet them on the occasion of the New Year – a move, which seems to be aimed at ensuring that hitches do not turn into major irritants in India's relations with its other neighbours in South Asia.

Prime Minister, according to the Ministry of External Affairs, reaffirmed during his calls with the leaders of five South Asian nations India’s commitment to its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and the vision of “shared peace, security, prosperity and progress for all of India’s friends and partners in the region.”

Though India's new citizenship law added an irritant to its ties with Bangladesh, Modi tried to soothe the ruffled feathers in Dhaka when he called up the neighbouring country's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He congratulated her on being re-elected as the President of the ruling Awami League.

Bangladesh last week cancelled the visits of its Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan to India.

Dhaka is understood to be irked by the remarks made by Home Minister Amit Shah about religious persecution of minority Hindus in Bangladesh.

Shah made the remarks while piloting the Bill to amend the 1955 Citizenship Act through Parliament of India last week. The new law ensures citizenship to people of six non-Muslim communities – Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian – if they had to migrate to India from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on or before December 31, 2014 in order to escape “persecution on the ground of religion”.

Momen dismissed the allegation of persecution of minority Hindus in Bangladesh and said that the new law would weaken India's “historic position” as a “tolerant and secular nation”.

Speaking to Hasina on Wednesday, Modi, however, underlined the progress achieved in India-Bangladesh relations in 2019. A press-release issued by the MEA quoted him saying that the upcoming birth-centenary of Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the “Golden Jubilee” of the Liberation of Bangladesh as well as the 50th anniversary of establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties provided important milestones to further progress of the close ties between New Delhi and Dhaka.

Modi also called up Nepalese Prime Minister, K P Sharma Oli, and noted that the completion of Motihari (India) - Amlekhgunj (Nepal) petroleum products pipeline in a record time. The two leaders also agreed for an early inauguration of the Integrated Check Post in Biratnagar-Jogbani border point between India and Nepal and the housing reconstruction project in Nepal.

“We shared that the year 2019 proved to be successful in elevating bilateral ties to new height and expressed our confidence that the year 2020 will be equally successful in taking our relations to the next level by resolving pending issues,” Oli posted on Twitter. Though he did not elaborate on the “pending issues”, Nepal recently raised its pitch on its boundary dispute with India, asking New Delhi to withdraw Indian Army and paramilitary troops from Kalapani – a disputed territory on India-Nepal border near Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand.
Modi called up President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. The return of Rajapaksas to power in Sri Lanka fuelled speculation about China regaining its strategic edge over India in Indian Ocean region.

Modi also spoke to Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Prime Minister Lotay Tshering as well as Maldives Prime Minister Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and greeted them on the occasion of the New Year.