Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday reached Bangladesh on a two-day visit.
The visit is being seen as a last-ditch effort by New Delhi to consolidate its regional position amid growing influence of China.
Traditionally strong ties between India and Bangladesh
India and Bangladesh have traditionally been strong allies, with a common opponent in Pakistan. Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a months-long armed struggle.
Nuclear powers India and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947 — and have since fought three wars.
A major area of contention has been the construction and operation of the Farakka Barrage by India to increase water supply in the River Hooghly. Bangladesh insists that it does not receive a fair share of the Ganges waters during the drier seasons, and gets flooded during the monsoons when India releases excess waters. See also Sharing of Ganges Waters.
There have also been disputes regarding the transfer of Teen Bigha Corridor to Bangladesh. Part of Bangladesh is surrounded by the Indian state of West Bengal. On 26 June 1992, India leased three bigha land to Bangladesh to connect this enclave with mainland Bangladesh. There was a dispute regarding the indefinite nature of the lease. The dispute was resolved by a mutual agreement between India and Bangladesh in 2011.
But recent weeks have seen the ice melting between Pakistan and Bangladesh with a phone call held between the heads of states.
Observers say Beijing is mediating between Islamabad and Dhaka as both countries are partners of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative project which will connect Asia to Europe through a network of roads and railways.
Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina discusses two-year road map with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla:development projects, Mujib centenary celebration major focus as New Delhi seeks to reset Dhaka ties. @janusmyth reports https://t.co/ZliHdhRviC— Suhasini Haidar (@suhasinih) August 19, 2020
The Indian authorities, however, have mentioned the tour as part of its routine work to develop diplomatic ties with closest neighbours, including Bangladesh.
India says visit is part of routine work
“Sh. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary of India is on a visit to Dhaka from August 18-19, 2020 to discuss and take forward cooperation on matters of mutual interest,” said a statement issued by the Indian High Commission in Dhaka Tuesday evening.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen also termed the sudden tour of his Indian counterpart as a routine visit and said Shringla will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He will hold meetings with Bangladeshi officials including the foreign minister and foreign secretary on Wednesday.
“We will discuss the Rohingya crisis issue. India has already assured us to cooperate in resolving the Rohingya crisis,” said Momen.
Experts see the sudden visit to Bangladesh as part of the Indian government’s policy to resolve the prevailing crisis with the neighbouring states and curbing the growing Chinese influence in the region.
India and China in mid-June had border clashes which left over a dozen Indian troops dead.
Tareque Shamsur Rahman, professor of International Relations in Jahangirnagar University, said: “India is now passing through critical courses in terms of diplomatic ties with its neighbours including Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Bhutan and [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s government has taken an initiative to develop the ties.”
“India has already talked with Nepal […] and wants to remove the confusion in relations with Bangladesh,” Rahman said, adding that New Delhi is uncomfortable with China’s growing presence in the region.
#China is investing $31B in Bangladesh 🇧🇩 after Sari Lnak, Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal. India is loosing as principle & natural ally. #India’s dream 2 be South Asia’s principle regional power unraveling. https://t.co/qGuX7AnK8V— Jan Achakzai / جان اچکزئی (@Jan_Achakzai) August 12, 2018
“India is investing in Maldives and also trying to develop relations with Sri Lanka,” he added, advising Dhaka to keep a balanced approach in diplomacy.
India and Bangladesh have an ongoing water dispute due to a stalemate on the River Teesta which flows from the Himalayas and merges with the Rivers Brahmaputra and Jamuna in Bangladesh.
China, on the other hand, has offered a loan of nearly $1 billion to Bangladesh for maintaining the water level of the Teesta during the dry season, according to sources in Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry.
Moreover, India’s controversial citizenship law has strained relations with Bangladesh, which fears a wave of refugees streaming into the country.
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk