New Delhi has embarked on an aggressive Neighbourhood First policy. Not only have Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government shown an urgent need to develop friendly relations with the neighbours, the BJP’s thrust on informal party to party engagements to boost relations is also increasing. BJP’s Vijay Chauthaiwale, who is in charge of handling the party’s foreign affairs department since 2014, is now in Dhaka at a time when India, Bangladesh and Nepal have pressed the pedal on finalising the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN MVA) pact.
On March 7 and 8, a meeting between India, Bangladesh, and Nepal on the same was held in New Delhi. Bhutan too participated in the meeting but as an observer.
Bhutan has decided to play the role of an observer and not be a full-fledged part of the agreement.
Chauthaiwale will meet senior officials and party members of Bangladesh’s Awami League.
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Amid changing geopolitical contours, this is Chauthaiwale’s first trip to Dhaka. Sources said he is expected to invite members of the ruling Awami League to India as well.
In a tweet he said, “Visiting Bangladesh on the invitation of Bangladesh Awami League to initiate party to party dialog. Looking forward to my first trip to Bangladesh.”
“The party to party meetings are becoming equally important for the BJP, though they fail to grab the headlines. Much of the groundwork is done in these meetings which are crucial for feedback and overall analysis of the status,” a foreign policy watcher who did not wish to be identified told India Narrative.
He added that for the BJP, the informal channel of engagements hold as much importance as the official government to government dealings to take relations forward.
Chauthaiwale was in Kathmandu in August last year just after the swearing in of Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Following his visit, a three member delegation of the Nepali Congress led by Foreign Minister and head of party's international department Prakash Sharan Mahat paid a visit to New Delhi in October.
Importance of regional connectivity
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has underscored the importance of regional connectivity. The BBIN initiative that envisages closer connectivity among the member countries through rail and road can be a game changer. The treaty will also help in increasing trade between the countries.
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Sources said that the party to party engagements will also help in taking the connectivity agenda forward.
South Asia is one the least integrated blocs in the world but reducing red tape will help in boosting regional trade. Consider this. For India, it is more cost effective to trade with the US or even Brazil than with the neighbours.
Currently, trade among the BBIN countries is just 6-7 per cent of the total trade though the potential is “much higher.”