Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has returned home after her recent four-day visit to Delhi. It has been given out by the government that her talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been successful and the various memoranda of understanding (MoUs) and other deals signed are reflective of the close cooperation India and Bangladesh continue to have in a wide range of areas. There is little question that in the last many years, especially with the Awami League being the party of government in Dhaka, relations between the two countries have expanded and become closer through the understanding they have logically reached in many areas. One can cite here their cooperation in tackling cross-border terrorism and ensuring that criminals taking shelter in each other's territory are extradited to their home country to face justice. In the economic region, trade has expanded, though there is yet a big need for Bangladesh to reduce the imbalance it faces in the area to be bridged.
The talks held in Delhi last week are certainly a hint of the reinforcement of ties between Delhi and Dhaka, an indication of the many areas where they see eye to eye. However, one cannot quite ignore the sentiments of Bangladesh's people over some of the deals which were arrived at following the Hasina-Modi summit. Conversations have already begun in Dhaka on the gains, if any, Bangladesh has derived from the summit. A point here relates to the deal on coastal surveillance. A more important one is of course Dhaka's agreeing to a retraction of water from the Feni River by India in order to supply drinking water to its citizens in Tripura. Water experts in Dhaka have of course made it known that the amount of water which will be withdrawn from the Feni River is not big enough to affect Bangladesh or the irrigation system of farmers inhabiting the region. Even so, the government needs to explain to the country that the deal does in no way undermine the national interest.
Associated with the Feni River deal is the disappointment which has come through the failure of the Indian authorities yet once again to make a concrete move on the issue of a sharing of the waters of the Teesta. Perhaps there could have been a quid pro quo here for Bangladesh to base its points on at the Delhi talks? It is obvious that Sheikh Hasina is disappointed, but what matters here is that Bangladesh's position on the Teesta issue should have been more forcefully presented to the Indians across the table. Diplomatic finesse is always called for in such situations. Much the same goes for the Rohingya refugee question, an issue where Dhaka's expectations of Delhi have not matched realities. And, yes, there is the looming threat of the consequences following upon the recent NRC exercise in Assam, even though the Modi government has reassured Bangladesh that it has nothing to worry about on the issue.
All said and done, though, ties between Bangladesh and India remain those of trust. The trust needs constant replenishment.
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