Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit helped cement ties
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina concluded her four-day visit to India. During her visit, Hasina met with newly elected President Draupadi Murmu, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi. Hasina paid a visit after three years and it is significant for both countries.
Hasina held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Modi to further strengthen relations in the fields of railways, space technology, science and technology, and justice. During her visit, she presented Prime Minister Modi with a book based on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s March 7 speech. The two countries have signed seven agreements, including the sharing of water from the Kushiyara River, the training of railway personnel, collaboration in the IT sector, the capacity building program for judicial officers, the cooperation between the Indian CSIR and Bangladesh’s BCSIR on space technology and information dissemination.
In addition to this, the two prime ministers jointly inaugurated the Maithree Power Station Unit 1, which is a 1320 megawatt coal-fired power station located at Rampal in Bangladesh. Thanks to this plant, Bangladesh can overcome the serious energy crisis it is currently facing. The plant is being built by the Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC), a 50/50 joint venture between India’s NTPC and Bangladesh’s BPDB. It is one of the largest thermal power stations in Bangladesh. Funding from the Exim Bank of India
$1.6 billion to India’s BIFPC and BHEL won the construction of Maithree Thermal Power Plant. Two leaders have agreed to speed up the implementation of a 756 KV high capacity transmission line project from Katihar in Bihar to Bornagar in Assam via Parbatipur in Bangladesh, which helps Bangladesh import electricity from Nepal and Bhutan via India under the BBIN initiative.
Hasina sought the support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to avoid criticism from West over Bangladesh’s human rights record. The Modi government has pledged to play a constructive role for the safe, stable and rapid return of Rohingyas to Myanmar
The two prime ministers jointly unveiled the 5.13 km long Rupsa Broad Gauge Railway Bridge which connects the city of Khulna to the port of Mongla, which is Bangladesh’s second largest port after Chittagong. This would improve sub-regional trade and help other countries in the region with their transportation. India is also supporting Bangladesh for the upgrading of Mongla Port with an estimated cost of $530 million, this will help increase shipping connections not only for Bangladesh but also for North East India, Bhutan and Nepal.
Bharat has extended nearly $9.5 billion in concessional loans to Bangladesh, including to undertake several connectivity projects, including the construction of a 126 km broad gauge railway line project between Khulna and Darshana at a cost of 312 million dollars and the transformation of the meter gauge into broad gauge of 57. km from Parbatipur to Kaunia with a cost of 120 million dollars and road constructions. These projects will further improve multimodal transport in the southwestern part of Bangladesh.
Bharat has become Bangladesh’s largest exporter of goods to Asia. Modi said in his speech that the two governments will speed up talks on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Bharat will be the first country to have the FTA with Bangladesh. The trade deal will cover the fact that it will boost the economy and investments in eastern Bharat and the northeast.
Sheikh Hasina gave the go-ahead for this pact as China and Japan had long sought its go-ahead. This agreement will boost intra-regional trade in South Asia, which is poorly connected in terms of trade compared to European, North American and ASEAN countries. After this pact, 25 percent of the maximum tariff on 415 Indian goods will be reduced and this will increase India’s $17 billion in exports to Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina expects the proposed trade deal to help Bangladesh export jute products, cotton garments and steel scrap to India and reduce the trade deficit with the subcontinent. Last year alone, Bangladesh recorded a $14 billion trade deficit with India, which is a heavy burden for Bangladesh. With this agreement, Bharat’s exports could exceed Chinese exports to Bangladesh, currently India accounts for 19% of Bangladesh’s imports and China 33% of Bangladesh’s imports. Despite the positive developments, Sheikh Hasina faces intense scrutiny from Western countries for human rights violations.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet visited Cox’s Bazar and other places in Bangladesh last month where Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are camping. Bachelet called for an independent investigation into disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh. On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina is also unhappy with the global response to the Rohingya refugee crisis. Sheikh Hasina faced the Rohingya issue domestically and appealed to the international community, including Bharat, for her repatriation to Myanmar. As Hasina is facing elections next year, it is crucial for her to address this issue to convince Bangladeshis. During this visit, she sought the support of Prime Minister Modi on the allegations from the West. The Modi government has pledged to play a constructive role for the safe, stable and speedy return of Rohingyas to Myanmar.
Prior to her arrival in India, she stated that their country’s policy was “friendship for all, nastiness for none”. Before arriving in India, she inaugurated the eighth Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge built by China. It seems that she used a Chinese card to get more funds from Bharat for construction projects in her country. China has invested in Bangladesh under the Belt and Road Initiative. After the economic crisis in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the Sheikh Hasina government stopped exploring the possibility of relying more on Xi Jinping’s China. However, Sheikh Hasina wants more Bharat as opposition parties criticize her for being pro-Bharat. She also knows that although China is richer, Bharat is a close neighbor.
Understanding Bharat’s difficulties, Sheikh Hasina maintained a cautious relationship with China. To please the Modi government, Sheikh Hasina took part in Janmashtami celebrations last month and promised she would stand with the Hindu community, which holds 13% of the vote in Bangladesh. Bharat’s backing is crucial for him to counter the opposition alliance for next year’s elections.