Modi-fied India-Bangladesh ties: Small gestures go a long way

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plane took off for Dhaka, Sheikh Hasina’s Foreign Policy Advisor said that it was to be a “landmark visit”. Living up to the expectations, the tour was very successful- Mr Modi met the political leadership across party lines and presided over the exchange of instruments of ratification on the historic land boundary agreement. The two neighbours came out with a 65-point joint declaration, signed 22 agreements and extended a whooping 2 billion USD credit line for developmental aid (regarded by some to be a coup on Chinese chequebook diplomacy in the region). Quite understandably, the media went gaga on either side, calling the visit a watershed moment in bilateral relations.

Hype apart, small gestures go a long way in building a relationship, but often remain unnoticed. In the slow moving wheels of international diplomacy, it is necessary to not see them merely as photo ops, but as genuine steps towards winning over the hearts of people, which in the long run generate tangible benefits. These measures, which go beyond the stuffiness of formalities and protocols which shroud diplomatic interactions, show a more humane face and build on people-to-people contacts, a major focus area for Mr Modi in his foreign policy efforts. With the savvy use of technology, and a strong social media presence, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has been making it a point to highlight these aspects to build on India’s soft power.

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Modi’s Dhaka visit raises new hopes

Peace and stability in Bangladesh is vital for India to improve connectivity with the North Eastern states and with East Asia, as envisaged in the Act East Policy. Mr Modi’s two day visit to the Bangladeshi capital, which begins on 6th June, is important for the multifarious issues which shall be on the table with our largest trading partner in South Asia.
Economic cooperation can be a win-win situation, and Bangladesh has offered space for Indian industries in its Special Economic Zone. New Delhi has offered financial assistance in tune of $200 million grant for development projects. Bangladesh has allowed India to use its territory and infrastructure to ferry 10,000 tonne foodgrains to Tripura. Bangladesh which proposes to build a deep sea port can be a partner with India in ship building.
Bangladesh is the first Muslim majority country that PM Modi has is visiting, before he embarks on his tour to West Asian and Central Asian countries in the coming months. If he wins the hearts of Bangladeshis, it will strengthen not only his neighbourhood first policy, but also his agenda for sub-regional cooperation within SAARC (mandated under the SAARC Charter) and revitalise his Act East Policy. Keeping in view the difficulties in taking the SAARC agenda forward owing to issues with Pakistan, India can catalyze cooperation within SAARC by taking Bangladesh into confidence.

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