New Delhi, Aug. 30: India is trying to stitch together a bilateral meeting between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina in New York next month to mitigate any diplomatic fallout of Parliament’s failure to endorse a land swap pact electorally crucial for the government in Dhaka.
The external affairs ministry and Bangladesh’s foreign office are coordinating to identify a date when the two Prime Ministers can meet on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in the last week of September, senior government officials here have confirmed to The Telegraph.
Opposition from the Trinamul Congress and the Asom Gana Parishad has prevented external affairs minister Salman Khurshid from tabling in the ongoing session of Parliament a constitutional amendment needed to ratify a Land Boundary Agreement the two nations inked in September 2011.
But India fears the deadlock in Parliament could hurt relations with Bangladesh beyond just the land agreement, aimed at swapping inhabited enclaves that each of the neighbours claims, but that is embedded inside the territory of the other. Hasina, who was invited by Singh to visit India this year, is now unlikely to make the trip ahead of national polls in Bangladesh where she was hoping to sell a done deal on the land pact with India to the voters.
“We have no indication from Bangladesh that Prime Minister Hasina will be visiting,” a senior official said. “Quite frankly,” another official said, “it just doesn’t make sense for her to visit now that the Land Boundary Agreement isn’t going to see the light of day before elections in Bangladesh.”
Any weakening in ties with Dhaka would be a setback for New Delhi, which has invested heavily in its diplomacy with Bangladesh over the past five years that Hasina’s Awami League has been in power.
India has historically had better relations with the Awami League than with the opposition Bangladesh National Party of Begum Khaleda Zia.
Relations between the nations suffered when Zia was Prime Minister from 2003 to 2008, though New Delhi has tried to insulate its ties with Bangladesh from power shifts there by reaching out to both parties. Bangladesh goes to polls by early 2014.
Officials here cautioned that the window for a meeting between Singh and Hasina in New York is slim. Singh arrives in the US on September 25, but in Washington D.C, and will hold a bilateral meeting with American President Barack Obama at the White House on September 26. He leaves the next day for New York, where he is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on September 28.
September 29, the only day Singh has for other bilateral meetings before he flies back to India, is also busy. Singh is currently scheduled to meet his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the morning of September 29 — an appointment that is at present clouded by tensions between the neighbours over the recent killing of five Indian soldiers along their Line of Control and ceasefire violations each nation has accused the other of.
“There’s a very small slit that’s available for a meeting with the Bangladesh Prime Minister,” an official emphasised, adding that Dhaka had not yet confirmed Hasina’s schedule for the US trip.
Many of the other world leaders are scheduled to speak at the UN General Assembly before September 28 and will leave the US before Singh can meet them for bilateral talks. But Singh will be meeting most top leaders at the St Petersburg G-20 summit earlier in September itself, and will meet East Asian leaders at a meeting of the East Asia Summit in Brunei scheduled for October, officials said.
Bangladesh though, is neither a part of the G-20 nor is it a member of the East Asia Summit gathering, adding to the impetus behind efforts to fix a meeting between Singh and Hasina on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.