Some basic principles of statecraft do not change with every change of government. This is particularly true of foreign policy. Sushma Swaraj, India’s new external affairs minister, did well to assure Dhaka during her visit there that she would try to complete the tasks initiated by Manmohan Singh’s government in order to improve India-Bangladesh relations. The fact that Dhaka was Ms Swaraj’s first trip abroad after assuming her new charge carried its own message. The government and the political class in Dhaka waited to receive the right signals from Ms Swaraj.Illegal immigration from Bangladesh into India had figured prominently in Narendra Modi’s election campaign in the eastern states of India. Understandably, there were some misgivings in Dhaka about how Mr Modi’s government intended to tackle the issue. Ms Swaraj did the right thing by not raising the issue with Bangladeshi leaders. Judging by responses from Dhaka, Ms Swaraj’s mission was successful. She seems to have succeeded in assuring Bangladesh that the strident political rhetoric of the Bharatiya Janata Party would not derail diplomatic initiatives nurtured over the years.
However, Ms Swaraj may have to attend soon to more substantive matters in India-Bangladesh ties. There are several issues that the previous regime in New Delhi left unresolved. Two of these — settling the land border and sharing the waters of the Teesta river — are of particular interest to Dhaka. The BJP had opposed the United Progressive Alliance government’s commitment to Dhaka on the land border agreement. Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s chief minister, scuttled, almost single-handedly, the move on the sharing of the Teesta waters. Bangladesh should not be made to suffer from turf battles among political parties in India. How New Delhi honours its commitments on these two issues is crucial to the stability of India-Bangladesh ties. The government of Sheikh Hasina Wajed had consistently acted on some of India’s security concerns. Its record in containing Islamic militancy in Bangladesh and in pushing insurgents from India’s Northeast out of its territory has been commendable. It is time that New Delhi delivered on its side of the bargain. India’s failure to do this could spell trouble for Ms Wajed. The perception that India cannot be trusted may harm its image in the region.