Everybody knew, more or less, that there would be no breakthrough over the long-pending Teesta water sharing agreement right at the moment. In fact, the relationship between Bangladesh and India today is not confined within Teesta issue only. India’s relationship with Bangladesh is growing, widening and broadening on all fronts with no progress on Teesta front. It, the lack of desired progress over Teesta issue, truly hurts the people of Bangladesh what I believe Indian central leaders do understand, too.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi on October 5, had rightly pointed out the Teesta issue before Bangladesh and India signed an MoU allowing India to take 1.82 cusec water from the Feni river for drinking purpose of the people of Sabroom town in Tripura.
Prime Minister Hasina clearly conveyed her Indian counterpart that the people of Bangladesh are awaiting early signing and implementation of the framework of interim agreement for sharing of the Teesta waters, as agreed upon by both governments in 2011.
In response, Prime Minister Modi informed that his government is working with all stakeholders in India for conclusion of the agreement soonest possible. We remember, Teesta river water-sharing agreement had been postponed just hours before it was to be signed during the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September 2011. It could not be signed simply due to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition. So, it’s clear that the deal can only be signed once the Indian central government gets approval from the State Government.
During their latest talks in New Delhi, Prime Minister Hasina and Modi appreciated the decision taken in the Water Resources Secretary-level meeting in Dhaka for early start of the work on withdrawal of 1.82 cusec of water from Feni River for drinking purpose of the people of Sabroom town of Tripura.
They expressed satisfaction at the discussions in August 2019 in Dhaka between the Secretaries of Water Resources of both the countries and the subsequent formation of the Joint Technical Committee as well as formulation of the Terms of Reference to conduct the Feasibility Study of the proposed Ganges-Padma Barrage Project in Bangladesh for optimum utilization of the water received by Bangladesh as per Ganges Water Sharing Treaty 1996.
The technical level committee of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) has already been directed to expeditiously exchange updated data and information and prepare the draft framework of interim sharing agreements for the six rivers - Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar and to firm up the draft framework of interim sharing agreement of Feni River.
To keep up the momentum of the relations between Bangladesh and India, the two countries need to address the challenges that remain in water-sharing issues as both countries have 54 common rivers.
7 bilateral documents signed
Bangladesh and India signed seven bilateral documents, aiming to take the relations between the two countries to the next trajectory. Seven core issues – Rohingya crisis, water-sharing, blue economy, NRC, connectivity, business and trade; and education, youth and culture -- were prominently featured at the talks between the two Prime Ministers on October 5.
The documents were signed, exchanged, adopted and handed over after a meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi. The two leaders witnessed the signing and exchange of the documents – six new and another renewal.
The bilateral documents are MoU for providing a Costal Surveillance System, the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports for the movement of goods to and from India, MoU on withdrawal of 1.82 cusec of water from the Feni River by India for drinking water supply scheme for Sabroom town, Tripura, agreement over implementation of the Lines of Credit (LoCs) committed by India to Bangladesh, MoU between the University of Hyderabad and the University of Dhaka, renewal of a cultural exchange programme and MoU on cooperation in Youth Affairs.
The two Prime Ministers also jointly inaugurated three bilateral development partnership projects pressing e-plaques -- import of bulk LPG from Bangladesh, Vivekananda Bhaban (students’ hotel) at Ramakrishna Mission in Dhaka and Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute at the Institute of Diploma Engineers Bangladesh (IDEB), Khulna.
2020-2021: Two Historic Years
Bangladesh and India have emphasised the need for “greater cooperation” to commemorate the two important anniversary years in 2020 and 2021, two historic years in Bangladesh-India relations.
The birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman will be celebrated in 2020 and 50 years of Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, and the establishment of Bangladesh-India bilateral diplomatic ties in 2021.
To commemorate these two years, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart agreed to enhance cultural interactions between the two countries.
Indian Prime Minister Modi proposed to organize a ‘Festival of India’ in Bangladesh at a mutually convenient period during 2019-2020.
Prime Minister Hasina thanked the Indian Prime Minister for the proposal, according to an official document.
Both Prime Ministers directed the officials to expedite the work towards agreement between National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) and Bangladesh Film Development Corporation (BFDC) for co-production of feature film on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in time for the celebrations of his birth centenary in 2020.
Indian Prime Minister Modi thanked the government of Bangladesh for agreeing to release a commemorative postal stamp on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who is celebrated across the world for his philosophy of non-violent struggle against colonialism and inequity.
Both leaders agreed to have an MoU on cooperation between the National Museum (India) and Bangabandhu Museum (Bangladesh), and directed the concerned officials to finalize the MoU at the earliest.
Bangladesh and India also emphasized the importance of enhanced cooperation between the youth of both countries as an investment in the future.
The two leaders recognized that structured training programmes suitable for Bangladesh will be even more productive.
Both leaders directed the concerned authorities of both countries for early conclusion of the MoU on mutual recognition of academic qualifications.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi agreed on the need to expedite “safe, speedy and sustainable” repatriation of Rohingyas to their homes in the Rakhine State of Myanmar.
They also agreed on the need for “greater efforts” to be made to facilitate their return, including by improving security situation and socio-economic conditions in Rakhine. The two leaders discussed the issue at a bilateral meeting held at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.
Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered Cox’s Bazar since august 25, 2017. Two repatriation attempts went unsuccessful amid lack of required conditions in Rakhine State and Myanmar’s failure to remove “trust-deficit” among Rohingyas.
Prime Minister Hasina conveyed the gratitude of the government of Bangladesh for the humanitarian assistance provided by India since September 2017 to help meet the needs of the displaced persons from Myanmar, according to a joint statement issued on the official visit of Prime Minister Hasina to India.
Prime Minister Modi appreciated Bangladesh’s generosity in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar.
India will supply a fifth tranche of humanitarian assistance to support the government of Bangladesh’s humanitarian efforts to shelter the Rohingyas in temporary camps in Cox’s Bazar, reads the 53-point joint statement.
This tranche of aid will comprise tents, relief and rescue material as well as one thousand sewing machines for the skill development of forcibly displaced women from Myanmar.
In addition, India has completed a first project to build 250 houses in Rakhine state of Myanmar, and is now preparing to implement another set of socio-economic development projects in the area.
Partners in Region, World
The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to work closely in the UN and other multilateral organisations.
They also reaffirmed their commitment to work together particularly in the international arena, to call upon developed countries to fulfill their commitments on the means of implementation as enshrined in the Agenda 2030. Both leaders agreed that Regional and sub-regional cooperation is a priority area for the two countries.
Towards this goal, they agreed to streamline the activities of Bimstec to make it an effective vehicle for sub-regional cooperation to achieve the aim of collective prosperity of all member countries.
At the invitation of Prime Minister Modi, Prime Minister Hasina paid an official visit to India on October 3-6. Apart from her official engagements in New Delhi, Prime Minister Hasina was also invited as the chief guest at the India Economic Summit organized by the World Economic Forum on October 3-4.
Welcoming Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi, India described its relations with Bangladesh as a “relationship of utmost priority”.
“A relationship of utmost priority,” Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) tweeted sharing the photos of Prime Minister Hasina’s arrival in New Delhi as part of her official visit. The MEA also said Bangladesh and India share “multifaceted relations” which go far beyond the strategic partnership.
Prime Minister Hasina said Bangladesh’s bilateral relationship with India is considered as good-neighbourly one among the international community due to multifaceted and multidimensional cooperation. “This cooperation, I firmly believe, will continue in the future.”
Writing Golden Chapter of Partnership
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind has said Bangladesh is a role model for developing countries as far as socio-economic development is concerned.
He said India attaches the highest priority to its ties with Bangladesh mentioning that the two countries are together writing the ‘Golden Chapter’ of their partnership.
“We’re together writing the Golden Chapter (Sonali Adhyaya) of our partnership,” the Indian President said welcoming Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on October 5.
The Indian President said the bilateral ties between the two countries are doing exceedingly well and India is deeply committed to further strengthen this relationship on the basis of mutual trust and understanding, according to Press Information Bureau of India.
“Our partnership is historical, time-tested and enduring, forged in the Liberation War of 1971,” he said adding that India is honoured to be Bangladesh’s partner in this journey.
He expressed confidence that India-Bangladesh bilateral projects will create a connected and prosperous neighbourhood.
The Indian President appreciated Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance policy on terrorism and said their joint efforts to defeat terrorism, insurgency and violent extremism are yielding results.
Assurance over NRC
India has reassured Bangladesh over the National Registration of Citizens (NRC) issue saying that this is India’s internal matter.
Prime Minister Modi explained to Prime Minister Hasina the process that India has put up in terms of making sure that everybody will be included through the process, said Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque while briefing reporters about the outcomes of the bilateral meeting between the two Prime Ministers.
In New York last month, Modi also assured Hasina that the NRC in India will have no impact on Bangladesh and there is no need to be worried about it.
India’s External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar on Friday told reporters in New Delhi that India’s position on this is very clear and it is an ongoing exercise.
Kumar said they have been saying that the NRC was Supreme Court-mandated and monitored process and it is important to understand that the due process has to be completed first.
India appreciated the zero-tolerance policy of the government of Bangladesh against terrorism and commended Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her resolute efforts to ensure peace, security and stability in the region.
Recognizing that terrorism remains one of the most significant threats to peace and stability of both countries and the region, the two Prime Ministers reiterated their strong commitment to eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stressed that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terror.
Both leaders agreed that closer cooperation against extremist and radical groups, terrorists, smugglers, smuggling of fake currency, and organized crime remain a shared priority.
Both leaders emphasized the importance of effective border management for ensuring a tranquil, stable and crime free border.
Towards this goal, the Leaders directed their respective border forces tocomplete border fencing at all pending sectors at the International Border between both the countries at the earliest.
Both leaders also agreed that the loss of civilian lives at the border is a matter of concern and directed the concerned border forces to enhance coordinated measures to work toward bringing such border incidents down to zero.
Modi to visit Bangladesh
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will pay a visit to Bangladesh, likely in early next year, and the dates of the visit will be finalised through a diplomatic channel.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited Modi to visit Bangladesh next year marking the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
She thanked Prime Minister Modi for the warmth and cordiality shown and the gracious hospitality extended to her and members of her delegation during their stay in India.
An Overdue Hug
Indian National Congress President Sonia Gandhi on October 6 met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi. Sonia Gandhi was accompanied by former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and her daughter Priyanka Gandhi at the meeting. During the meeting, they exchanged pleasantries and recalled their old memories.
The Prime Minister Hasina recalled the contributions of the Indian government and its people to the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.
Hasina invited Sonia Gandhi to visit Bangladesh and congratulated Priyanka Gandhi on her joining politics.
Later, Priyanka Gandhi, one of the Congress General Secretaries, tweeted, "An overdue hug from Sheikh Hasina Ji whom I have been waiting to meet again for a long time. Her strength in overcoming deep personal loss and hardship and fighting for what she believed in with bravery and perseverance is, and always will be a great inspiration for me."
Hasina receives ‘Tagore Peace Award 2018’
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has received 'Tagore Peace Award 2018' in New Delhi in recognition of her contribution to maintaining regional peace and prosperity.
The Asiatic Society, Kolkata conferred the award on the Prime Minister at a function on October 5.
President of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata Prof Isha Mahammad handed over the award to Prime Minister Hasina. Its General Secretary Dr Satyabrata Chakrabarti delivered the welcome address at the function.
In the past, noted world leader Nelson Mandela and eminent economist Amarta Sen, among others, received the award. A citation was read out at the function in honour of the Prime Minister.
"The Asiatic Society is honoured to confer the 'Tagore Peace Award" 2018" to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her contribution towards human understand and peace," the citation said. After receiving the award, Prime Minister Hasina dedicated it to the people of her country saying, the people of Bangladesh are eligible to get the honour because they voted her to power.