PM Narendra Modi's Dhaka visit to showcase Act East policy, QUAD-Plus approach

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India and Bangladesh ties expected to be strengthened further with PM Narendra Modi's visit to Dhaka

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh later this month—his first international visit after the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic – has created unprecedented interest in the region and elsewhere. Modi’s trip underscores India’s thrust on Act East policy besides showcasing the importance of the geopolitical contours of Indo-Pacific region, Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation told India Narrative.

Modi is slated to take part in the celebrations marking 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence.

The visit outlines the commonality and shared history between the two countries. Both India and Bangladesh had been involved in the 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan.

An analyst on condition of anonymity also said that India may even be looking at a QUAD plus group to maintain balance in the Indo-Pacific region. QUAD or the Quadrilateral group is an informal security forum comprising four member nations including US, Japan and Australia besides India.

“The trip is of immense importance as it is a clear message that India remains firm on its focus in the neighbourhood. Not just that, while in the recent days, the thrust has been on the QUAD, this visit also is a message in itself to the neighbouring countries that India is looking at expanding co-operation and taking along the other nations in the region as well,” Bhattacharjee said.

Last year in October, in the backdrop of rising aggression from China, foreign ministers of the QUAD held an in-person meeting in Tokyo.

The QUAD has already made China worried. “The US has always wanted to formally establish a QUAD alliance, turning it into a basis for an ‘Asian NATO,’” the Chinese state owned Global Times in an article published last year said.

Sources also said that as India-Bangladesh ties strengthen, “China and Pakistan would have to be watched out.”

“Both countries will play a very important role in the political developments of the region as New Delhi and Dhaka get closer. Naturally it will not be taken very well by these two countries and that is something that New Delhi needs to keep in mind,” an insider said, requesting anonymity.

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Meanwhile Bhattacharjee said that there will be asymmetries in the India Bangladesh relation. For example the issue related to sharing of Teesta river water is a thorny issue, which has created confusion between the two neighbours remains unadressed.

“There are issues which have not been resolved. But there are areas in which both countries have made great progress,” Bhattacharjee said.

The Dhaka based think tank, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies said that practical grassroots projects between the two neighbours need to be the focus to advance the special relationship.

“The focus between the two countries typically has always been on big issues, but there is a need to prioritise local issues which may not hit headlines but impact the daily lives of the people living in the border areas. These small initiatives can have a far-reaching impact in building a stable relationship between India and Bangladesh,” said Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). Ahmed also said that there is further need to improve connectivity between the two countries, which in turn will push trade.

In December Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina held a virtual bilateral summit kicking off a new era in India-Bangladesh ties.

The two countries have worked towards improving connectivity. Rail connectivity between Haldibari in West Bengal and Chilahati in Bangladesh has been restarted after almost 55 years. India and Bangladesh are now working out the modalities to open up a bus route between Dhaka and Siliguri. The route is expected to be opened this year. That apart, India is also looking at fast-tracking the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India Nepal (BBIN) initiative, which will boost connectivity among the South Asian neighbours through rail and road.