No limit to Dhaka-Delhi ties

AKM Moinuddin
Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Harsh Vardhan Shringla speaking at DCAB talk at Jatiya Press Club on Bangladesh-India relations


Strong people-to-people contacts are the strength and soul of Bangladesh-India bilateral relationship. A gradually liberalized visa policy and a number of recent measures to ease access to Indian visas for Bangladeshi nationals have further boosted the movement of Bangladeshis to India. Indeed, now we see the largest number of foreign tourists to India (1.6 million arrivals in 2016) coming from Bangladesh.


Bangladesh and India share deep ties of history, culture, geography and language and the links between the two countries are “civilizational” as described by Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Harsh Vardhan Shringla.


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s state visit to India from April 7-10, 2017, came after a period of seven years. Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015, new panoramas of cooperation have opened up between the two countries. Obviously significant progress has been made on the implementation of the decisions taken between the two countries in 2015. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit was an opportunity to follow-up on these agreed issues.


Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) invited Indian High Commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla to interact with its members at the National Press Club on May 23. Before the question-and-answer session, he spoke for about an hour covering all aspects of the growing relationship between the two countries.


The Indian high commissioner thinks Bangladesh and India are focusing on broadening relations in a ‘sustained’ way ensuring mutual benefits and mutual respect. And he insisted that India has no intention to get involved in Bangladesh’s domestic politics.


“We’re trying hard to keep ourselves away from your domestic issues. I think to a large extent we have succeeded,” said the career diplomat. At the function titled ‘DCAB Talk’, the Indian envoy was at pains to stress that their endeavours are not to become a factor in Bangladesh’s internal politics, and more specifically not to get involved in the electoral process.


He, however, said India can extend technical support for Bangladesh elections. “But such request has to come from Bangladesh side.”


Shringla came up with the remarks when a questioner asked whether there is any possibility to sign the long-sought Teesta water-sharing agreement between the two countries before the next general election in Bangladesh.


Responding to another question, the High Commissioner said in countries like Bangladesh and India there is ‘no limit’ to the growth potential of relations or the level where the relations can reach in the years to come.


“If you create an enabling environment with good connectivity and ease of travel, the rest will follow. There’s no limit. We share a lot and we can benefit a lot. The opportunities are tremendous,” he explained.


Shringla said the two countries can move ahead in a cooperative manner for mutual growth and development. He referred to Indian Prime Minister Modi’s statement on Teesta issue during Sheikh Hasina’s New Delhi visit (“Only my government and your government that can and will find an early solution to Teesta water sharing”), and said that they look forward to seeing the signing of the deal as early as possible.


There is also significant progresses in addressing ‘irritants’ in the relations between the two countries, according to the Indian high commissioner.  For example, he said, the two countries ‘comprehensively’ addressed the long outstanding Land Boundary Agreement, which he termed ‘very important’.


Over border killings, Shringla said there has been a ‘vast decrease’ in deaths along the border. “We’ve come a long way,” he said, adding that both sides are working to bring down it to zero.


Shringla talked about common rivers’ water sharing between the two countries. “We need to work together and closely on water sharing and water management (of common rivers).”


The High Commissioner said the strength of bilateral relationship between the two countries is in the strong people-to-people contacts.


To that end, he mentioned that a liberalised visa policy and a number of measures to ease access to Indian visa for Bangladesh nationals that boosted the movement of Bangladesh nationals to India.


On cooperation between the two countries connecting Chittagong and Mongla port use, he said the two sides are working to quickly conclude the SOP (standard operating procedure).


Responding to a question on BBIN motor vehicle agreement, Shringla said they respect Bhutan’s position (as Bhutan is still working to overcome its internal differences) but they can join three other countries later.


Prime Minister Hasina’s visit to India was extremely significant for the two countries’ relations. The joint statement adopted by the two prime ministers affirmed that the “relations between Bangladesh and India are based on fraternal ties and reflective of an all-encompassing partnership based on sovereignty, equality, trust and understanding that goes far beyond a strategic partnership.”


Now both sides must remain serious in addressing the remaining irritants in the way of further enriching the ties that bind them together.

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