Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s two-day visit to Dhaka is part of India’s larger policy to boost relations with its neighbours as China seeks to draw them closer to it, foreign relations analysts said.
Even though India speaks of neighbourhood first policy, questions have been raised as to how sincere New Delhi is in implementing it, they said.
India-Nepal relations are tensed after India asserted control over the Kalapani-Lipulekh-Limpiyadhura region of Pithoragarh, which Nepal claims to be its territory, they said.
In response, Nepal issued a map depicting the region as part of the Nepalese sovereign territory.
Besides, Sri Lanka’s ties with China, especially in using Chinese money for many of its development projects over the last few years, created concerns for India.
Meanwhile, India-China relation is at one of its lowest points after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash between the troops of the two nations at Galwan Valley in mid-June.
Indians are now waging a movement to boycott Chinese products.
Analysts said Beijing-Dhaka ties have strengthened in recent years as China invested in various infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, which has concerned India.
Recently, China declared that 97 percent of Bangladesh’s exports to China would be duty free. The far-eastern country also sent a medical team to Bangladesh to help it deal with the pandemic.
On top of these, the phase-3 trial of a Chinese company’s Covid-19 vaccine was approved by Bangladesh Medical Research Council, even though the final decision for the trial was still pending.
Bangladesh and India have a few lingering issues.
The Teesta water-sharing deal could not be signed in last nine years and border killings rose in recent times. India’s National Register of Citizenship (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act surprised people in Bangladesh.
Against this backdrop, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech on August 15 said India was connecting with its neighbours — whether they are connected to India via land or the sea — with the partnership of security, development, and trust.
Prof Delwar Hossain, who teaches International Relations at Dhaka University, said, “Indo-China relations have deteriorated significantly after the June confrontation [at Ladakh]. So, India is seeking to correct the relations with the neighbours.”
Bangladesh is a close friend of India. Therefore, the first visit by a top Indian diplomat since the pandemic has been to Bangladesh, he said.
Prime Minister Modi wants to make sure that there was no misunderstandings between the two friends, he said.
The message conveyed by Modi to Hasina through Shringla Tuesday night was that India would continue to be with Bangladesh and take forward the relations.
Prof Delwar said pending issues need to be solved quickly.
For example, a number of projects under India’s $10 billion Line of Credit need to be completed at the soonest. The Teesta water-sharing deal has been left hanging for nearly a decade.
Bangladesh also has its own development plans and is not bound to rely only on India, he said.
Dhaka can obviously seek others’ assistance, and this does not mean in any way that the Dhaka-Delhi relations will be affected, he told The Daily Star.
Given rising tension between Delhi and Beijing, which is expanding its footprints in South Asia, India is now realising that it needs to really work to boost its ties with the South Asian neighbours, Prof Delwar said.
In an analysis, Indian newspaper Outlook India reported that ever since PM Hasina assumed power in 2009, she has been sensitive to New Delhi’s security and strategic concerns and violence and terrorism in Assam have come down, thanks largely to Hasina’s decision to hand over the ULFA leaders.
All insurgent camps were shut down and unlike the previous governments in Dhaka, Hasina made it plain that anti-India forces were not welcome. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) also got short shrift in Bangladesh, it said.
“But today, China is spreading its wings in Bangladesh, literally India’s backyard. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was on the phone with Hasina in an attempt to mend fences with her. The opportunity for China and Pakistan was provided by the ruling party’s [BJP] domestic agenda,” Outlook India said.
Prof Delwar said Bangladesh believes in friendship with all. “We all should follow this policy for our common good. We hope India will realise it.”
Former ambassador Humauyn Kabir thinks Shringla’s visit carries special significance.
Connectivity is a priority for India through rail, road, and waterways and India wants the projects under the India’s Line of Credit to be completed at the soonest.
Besides, the pandemic has brought a new dimension to global diplomacy and politics as the vaccine has become essential.
As India is a major vaccine producer. It is obvious that it would try to explore markets here, he said.
“India gave a good gesture by considering Bangladesh as a priority. At the same time, we also should have our options open,” said Kabir, acting president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute.
Munshi Faiz Ahmed, former chairman of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), said regional and global cooperation were more important than ever.
However, tension across the globe seems to be rising. Shringla’s visit, therefore, was crucial for strengthening collaboration on efforts to combat the pandemic, he said, adding: “We hope that we can extend our cooperation in conducting vaccine trials as India is doing. It can help make a better vaccine for us and ensure quick access to the life-saving drug.”
Faiz said India has the capacity to lead at the global stage, but before that it needs to prove itself at the South Asian level. “We hope India realises this and acts accordingly.”