Analysts: Indian PM’s Dhaka Visit to Cement Past 6 Months’ Hectic Diplomacy

Yajnaseni Chakraborty and Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Kolkata, India, and Dhaka
2021-03-23
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Analysts: Indian PM’s Dhaka Visit to Cement Past 6 Months’ Hectic Diplomacy Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina waves to reporters before meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) in New Delhi, Oct. 5, 2019.
AP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit Dhaka on Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence and deepen what an Indian analyst called the leader’s “most successful foreign policy relationship.”

India reinforced those ties by conferring a prestigious peace prize this week on Bangladesh’s founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said on Tuesday his government was looking forward to Modi’s trip.

“We are waiting eagerly to welcome the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He will come on March 26 and attend the celebration of the golden jubilee of our independence and Mujib Year,” Momen told BenarNews.

“The Government of Bangladesh acknowledges with deep gratitude the decision of the Government of India to confer the Gandhi Peace Prize 2020 to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, posthumously for the first time,” the foreign ministry said in a press statement on Monday.

Mujib is affectionately called “Bangabandhu,” or “Friend of Bangladesh.”  He declared independence from what was then known as West Pakistan on March 26, 1971, following which the country fought a war and won freedom in December that year.

Modi is scheduled to meet with his counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, and Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, Momen said. The leaders may also sign some memorandums of understanding, but officials not have any details to release ahead of the visit.

In addition, Modi is scheduled to visit two minority Hindu temples.

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Members of the student wing of the ruling Awami League fight with members of a leftist student organizations alliance who were protesting the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Dhaka, March 23, 2021. [Sabrina Yesmin/BenarNews]

‘Modi’s first international visit since COVID-19 pandemic’

Not much new is expected to be announced on the bilateral policy front during this visit of Modi’s, said Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, a veteran journalist and member of India’s National Security Advisor Board.

“The broad picture is that this is the most successful foreign policy relationship that Modi has developed,” Chaudhuri told BenarNews.

For instance, he said that Manmohan Singh, the previous Indian prime minister, had been unable to sign a land boundary agreement with Bangladesh, but Modi, during his first term as PM, had been successful in doing so with Hasina’s government.

“A succession of projects such as power grids and gas pipelines followed. On the policy front, I don’t expect anything big this time, because a lot of it has been done already. It is more like continuing what we started on ports, highways, trade issues, and vaccines, which have been a big part of Indian diplomacy in the past six months,” Chaudhuri said.

The two neighbors signed an agreement to simplify their 2,500-mile border and untangle complex territorial rights in June 2015, when Modi was in his first term as PM and Hasina was his Bangladeshi counterpart.

The trip Friday will be Modi’s first international visit since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which “highlights the priority India attaches to Bangladesh,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said last week.

The visit will be akin to a social engagement, said Sreeradha Dutta, author of a book “Bangladesh at 50: Development and Challenges.”

“I don’t foresee Sheikh Hasina bringing up any controversial issues for discussion,” Dutta told BenarNews.

“India also wants to bask in the invitation to Modi at this very special event, particularly in the context of Bangladesh’s refusal to officially acknowledge, for a long time, India’s role in the liberation war.”

During a virtual summit with Modi last December, Hasina - who is Mujib’s daughter - thanked the Indian government and the country’s people for their support to her father’s cause.

India provided military and diplomatic support to Bangladesh guerrillas during the war.

“I pay tribute to the members of the Indian armed forces martyred in the war and to their families,” Hasina had said, according to state-run Press Trust of India.

“I pay my gratitude to the government and the people of India who extended their wholehearted support for the cause of our nation.”

Modi’s visit will come days after a protest by hardline Islamic group Hefazat-e-Islam, which demanded that Muslim-majority Bangladesh withdraw the leader’s invite to the independence celebrations because of his “anti-Muslim” views.

“At the golden jubilee celebration of Bangladesh’s independence and the celebration of Mujib Year, we should not host anyone whom the people of this country do not want to see, or whose presence would hurt the country’s people,” Junaid Al Habib, president of the Dhaka unit of Hefazat-e-Islam, told reporters on Monday. 

“We have this position because Narendra Modi is known globally as anti-Muslim.”

On Tuesday, Progoshil Chhatra Jote, an alliance of leftist student organizations, rallied at Dhaka University to protest Modi’s upcoming visit where they burned an effigy of the Indian leader and chanted anti-Indian slogans. As the group neared a campus center, fights broke out with members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student front of ruling Awami League, causing several injuries.

Modi last visited Bangladesh in June 2015 – his planned trip to Dhaka 12 months ago to attend programs marking the 100th anniversary of Mujib’s birth was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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