Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina (left) before a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on Saturday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Sept. 30: Manmohan Singh spent last Saturday evening reassuring a sulking Sheikh Hasina, unhappy at unfulfilled promises.
Next Saturday, the Indian Prime Minister will deliver on a key commitment he had made to his Bangladeshi counterpart in 2010.
Singh and Hasina will jointly inaugurate a power transmission system that will send 500MW of Indian electricity across the Bengal border, cutting Bangladesh’s 1,500MW deficit by a third.
The power will be transmitted from a substation in Behrampore in Bengal and will join Bangladesh’s grid at Bheramara.
Unlike September 28, when the two Prime Ministers met face to face across a carpeted floor in New York, Singh will attend the inauguration of the power transmission line via videoconference — a medium his adversary Narendra Modi loves — top government officials here told The Telegraph.
India is pinning its hopes on the October 5 launch to re-energise its ties with Bangladesh, which have taken a hit over New Delhi’s failure to implement land swap and water-sharing pacts that Hasina’s traditionally India-friendly Awami League views as electorally critical, the officials said.
Bangladesh is expected to hold national elections within the next six months.
The joint launch will also give Singh an opportunity he desperately needs to showcase a diplomatic success after facing repeated pot shots from Modi over the UPA’s recent foreign policy challenges.
“This will directly benefit ordinary Bangladeshis and is a key moment in ties with Bangladesh and in challenging the perception of foreign policy failures that the government faces,” a senior diplomat said.
Singh has assured Hasina that his government intends to introduce in Parliament’s December session the constitutional amendment needed to implement the Land Boundary Agreement the two Prime Ministers inked in September 2011.
Singh had also agreed to the Teesta water-sharing pact during his visit to Dhaka two years ago.
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress has signalled in meetings with foreign minister Salman Khurshid that it will allow the introduction of the constitutional amendment in the coming Parliament session. But officials say there has not been even minor progress with Trinamul on the Teesta agreement.
Bangladesh officials see the power transmission project as a relief — as something their government can showcase as a success for its policies that domestic critics have dubbed “pro-India.”
“We are certainly still disappointed over India’s failure so far on the Teesta and land boundary agreements,” a diplomat at the Bangladeshi mission here said.
“But by fulfilling its third commitment — the power transmission line — India has given bilateral relations a fresh fillip.”
The two nations signed the agreement for Indian power export to Bangladesh in 2010 when Hasina visited India.
India will send 250MW unused power from its national grid, while Bangladesh will import the remaining 250MW from the private sector PTC India Limited. Bangladesh currently generates about 6,000MW.
India has over the past three years liberalised the visa regime for Bangladeshi students and business visitors, ended most import duties, and provided an uninterrupted supply of cotton bale that is critical to its eastern neighbour’s textile industry.
But these measures haven’t been as visible as legally guaranteed water from the Teesta, a pact to allow the swapping of enclaves, or power in Bangladeshi homes would be, officials said.
“Electricity from India at Bangladeshi homes will be visible,” the Bangladeshi official said.
“It’ll be a gift from India that will be hard for anyone, including our opponents, to ignore.”