New Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami has started his assignment in Bangladesh distinctly with vaccine diplomacy.
At the first interaction with the press in Dhaka on Thursday, he looked eager and spoke his mind with great warmth to thaw whatever tensions reported in the Indian media recently.
“We are committed to ensuring the fastest possible partnership with Bangladesh on all aspects of [Covid-19] vaccine development,” he told the media at his official residence, India House, just after presenting credentials to President Abdul Hamid in the evening.
Foreign relations experts said a priority collaboration for vaccine could serve as a strong catalyst to help India cement the cracks developed in its bilateral relationships with Bangladesh over time involving a host of issues, from water-sharing to geopolitics.
The new envoy appeared to be spot-on with his tasks in hand, observed Prof Delwar Hossain of International Relations at Dhaka University.
India will surely try to draw its neighbours closer in the changed global geopolitics where rivalry between India and China flared up following the clashes between the troops of the two regional powers, he said.
Interestingly, both the high commissioners — outgoing Riva Das Ganguly and Doraiswami — chose to depart from and arrive in Bangladesh through land ports, seemingly to signify India’s foreign policy priority on the connectivity with its closest neighbours.
Doraiswami arrived in Bangladesh on October 5 through Tripura border of India, three days after Riva Ganguly Das had left through Benapole border of Bangladesh after completing her one-and-a-half-year tenure here.
Asked about his priorities, Doraiswami on Thursday said he was hoping to bring the relationship back to where it was before the Covid-19 pandemic, which seriously hampered the peoples’ movement and economic activities.
“I would like to see specifically the completion of the projects to enhance connectivity,” he said.
The envoy said he would like to have more Indian businesses come to Bangladesh and do his best to sort out the issues that exist in the relationship and “fulfil your [Bangladesh’s] expectations”.
An air bubble agreement could be signed soon to begin flights between Bangladesh and India for the businesses, medical patients and officials as part of economic recovery, said officials.
Apart from Covid-19 vaccine cooperation, Bangladesh will expect the new envoy to push forward the unresolved issues, including water sharing of common rivers and border killings.
India is conducting phase-II trial of its own vaccine Covaxin, apart from eyeing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate as the likely first shot against Covid-19 to be available by the end of this year.
Doraiswami said when phase III trial of India’s own vaccine starts in India soon, the country would like to work with Bangladesh, providing an opportunity for vaccine trial here.
“If it works for you in Bangladesh, we can look forward to partnership in co-production and delivery of vaccine,” the diplomat said, adding that they want do it in a way that ensures provision of vaccines at the most affordable prices and the way that Bangladesh is comfortable with.
During his visit to Tripura, where he visited a number of projects connecting the Northeast of India to Bangladesh, before coming to Bangladesh, he said the Northeast was “central” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of stronger, resilient and modern India.
Talking to reporters after meeting Tripura Chief Minister Biplob Kumar Deb on October 3, Doraiswami said, “As we develop our relationship with Bangladesh, our most important neighbouring country, it is going to be of great value to both the countries if our connectivity, travel, trade and people-to-people ties grow. To achieve this, Tripura is critical, that’s why I am here.”
Upon arrival in Bangladesh on October 5, he visited Bangabandhu Memorial Museum on Dhanmondi-32 in Dhaka and paid rich tributes to the memories of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
On Friday, he visited the National Memorial in Savar and paid tributes to Liberation War martyrs by placing a floral wreath at the monument.
“Your Liberation War remains an inspiration to the world. It will always be our abiding honour to have offered you our support, just as we in India offer your bravery our respectful salute, nearly fifty years later,” he said.
Today, Doraiswami said, Bangladesh is equally respected for the remarkable improvements it has recorded in social indices and sustained economic growth at the fastest pace in South Asia.
The Bangladesh-India relationship is based on shared sacrifice, shared history and culture, and on the uniquely close ties of kinship, he said.
“I want to underline this point. There is not, and will never be, a diminution of the highest level of importance that Bangladesh holds in India,” he added.