New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will begin a two-day visit to Bangladesh on Saturday that will see the two neighbours exchange the instruments of ratification of their 41-year-old land boundary pact.
Briefing reporters in New Delhi, foreign secretary S. Jaishankar described the trip as a “very historic visit" and the exchange of the instruments of ratification as the “centrepiece of the visit".
“For us, Bangladesh is an exceptional neighbour. It is in many ways a symbol of a society where democratic roots have taken hold under very difficult conditions. We support Bangladesh as a democracy. We note its commitment to a pluralistic way of life. We applaud it as a very responsible neighbour with whom we have developed a great relationship of mutual sensitivity," Jaishankar said.
Modi’s schedule in Bangladesh on Saturday includes talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, and flagging off two bus services linking India’s eastern and northeastern region with Dhaka.
On Sunday, he will interact with the members of the Bangladesh opposition parties and address a cross-section of Bangladeshi society. On the ratification of the land boundary pact, the foreign secretary said, “With the settlement of the land boundary and the earlier settlement of our maritime boundary, we have completely settled our boundary with Bangladesh. I cannot overstate the confidence and goodwill generated by the visit," he added.
Jaishankar was referring to Parliament last month unanimously giving the go-ahead to the land boundary pact signed in 1974 by then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi and her Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.
Known as the Indira-Mujib accord, the pact was not operationalized as it had not received parliamentary approval. Last year, India and Bangladesh also accepted the verdict given by an international tribunal demarcating their maritime boundary.
“For us, there are two concepts at play in this visit. At one level, it is once again an affirmation of our ‘neighbourhood first’ policy," Jaishankar said, referring to Modi’s idea of according priority to India’s neighbours. “It is also part of our ‘Act East’ policy because the possibilities of cooperation that would be opened up as a result of these developments really have a profound impact on our North-East and for our policies for the region," he added.
India’s ratification of the land boundary pact will have an impact “across the board" on the relationship and Modi’s visit will consolidate and deepen ties, Jaishankar said.
Given the fact that the boundary has been demarcated, it will help with better border management, he said. The “confidence dividend that arises from this will allow the two countries to do much more, including improving physical connectivity, telecom and Internet connectivity, developing coastal shipping and inland waterways, Jaishankar said.
Asked whether India-Bangladesh ties held lessons for other countries in South Asia, Jaishankar said both countries had discovered an enormous agenda of shared interest. “If you bring a positive bent of mind to a relationship, I think you will find things to do. So, perhaps, others should be more positive," he said. According to Jaishankar, India will be looking to expand its development cooperation with Bangladesh in the railways, power, health and education sectors. Already supplying 500 megawatts of power to Bangladesh, India will be looking to increase that to ease the energy distress in eastern Bangladesh, he said.
On the trade front, Jaishankar said India is committed to reducing the huge trade deficit between the two countries, another sore point with Bangladesh. Trade in 2014-15 was over $6 billion—overwhelmingly in India’s favour.
Indian investments in Bangladesh have also shown an increase, Indian industry lobby group CII said. Cumulative foreign direct investment from India in 2012-13 was $2.5 billion compared with $1.2 billion in the previous year.