New Delhi, Sept. 19: If Sheikh Hasina won’t come to India, India will go to Sheikh Hasina.
India is lining up a series of visits by ministers and top officials to Bangladesh to sustain the gains in its relationship with Dhaka under Hasina in the face of recent setbacks that have dashed New Delhi’s hopes of playing host to the eastern neighbour’s Prime Minister.
Minority affairs minister K. Rahman Khan returned yesterday from a four-day visit to Bangladesh. The same day, Subhash Joshi, the director-general of the BSF, completed talks in Dhaka with Major General Aziz Ahmed, who heads the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).
Senior officials from the finance ministry are expected to travel to Dhaka soon to resolve hitches over customs duties India levies on just a handful of Bangladeshi imports.
The visits are an effort to try and insulate the overall bilateral relationship from Parliament’s failure to even consider a land swap agreement that Hasina’s government was hoping would help it electorally in the coming national elections in Bangladesh, senior officials here said.
“We want to maintain the momentum in our relationship ,” an official said. “These high-level exchanges demonstrate our commitment to the strengthened ties, a commitment that isn’t limited to any one issue.”
Hasina’s Awami League was hoping the Indian government would at least introduce a constitutional amendment in Parliament’s monsoon session to ratify the Land Boundary Agreement the two nations agreed to when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka in September 2011.
The agreement envisages a direct swap of enclaves each nation claims are embedded inside the territory of the other. Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni, on a visit to New Delhi in July, had met the BJP’s Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, to seek his party’s support for the pact.
But foreign minister Salman Khurshid was prevented from introducing the amendment in the Rajya Sabha each time he tried during the monsoon session, obstructed first by the BJP and then by Trinamul and the Asom Gana Parishad.
“To us, the failure to even introduce the bill in Parliament was a major setback,” a Bangladeshi diplomat said.
That “setback” directly resulted in Hasina, who has traditionally had better relations with India than arch-rival Begum Khaleda Zia, deciding against an India visit earlier this month.
India is trying to stitch together a meeting between Prime Ministers Singh and Hasina on the margins of the UN General Assembly next week, but the Bangladeshi leader has been ambivalent on whether she will attend the global event.
New Delhi is hoping Dhaka recognises other initiatives —like easing visa restrictions and exempting most Bangladeshi imports from tariffs. India has also converted Rs 200 crore of a Rs 1,000-crore loan it awarded Bangladesh into a grant, and has already disbursed most of the aid.