By Jai Kumar Verma
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India, from April 7 to 10, generated a lot of analyses and curiosity in both countries about its outcome. There have been four bilateral exchanges of visits at the highest level from 2010 till date and all these have contributed to invigorating the close ties between the two South Asian neighbours.
The significance of the recent visit is considerably enhanced as national elections are in 2018 and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which calls Sheikh Hasina an ‘Indian Stooge’, was bent upon proclaiming the visit as unsuccessful.
During the current visit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke protocol and received the visiting Prime Minister at the airport which created a cordial atmosphere for the talks. Besides inking several important agreements, including on defence, Sheikh Hasina also showed gratitude in a ceremony at the Manekshaw Centre in Delhi Cantonment towards the supreme sacrifice of Indian Armed Forces in the 1971 Liberation War which led to the creation of Bangladesh.
A total of 34 bilateral documents, including business documents, were signed, exchanged, adopted and handed over during the visit. India also promised to add 60 megawatt of electricity for Bangladesh and pledged to enhance connectivity through more rail and road links.
India also assured credit of $4.5 billion to spend in diverse projects. Both countries also signed defence deals and India assured $500 million credit line for purchase of military equipment.
Both delegations also discussed the thorny issue of illegal immigrants. Although there are no reliable figures of refugees from Bangladesh, according to the 2001 census, there were about three million Bangladeshis in India. The number is increasing rapidly and, according to a rough estimate, now the present number is between 15 to 20 million.
Bangladeshis migrate to India primarily because of economic reasons and -- there being total similarity in culture and language -- it is difficult to differentiate between them and Indian nationals.
The central as well as state governments have to adopt a joint strategy to counter this menace by vigorous use of technology including high resolution cameras, radars, ground sensors as well as infra-red sensors, optical fibers, handheld thermal imagers etc. These technological equipments would be very useful in marshy and riverine areas where physical watch is difficult.
Besides these technological measures, more security posts should be created so that there is effective watch on the borders. All the political parties should work collectively and act above party politics.
Indian security agencies must consider that large-scale immigration and high fertility rate of Bangladeshis is a big security hazard and it must be dealt stringently and in a planned fashion.
The sinister Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) also assists the radical Muslim outfits in India and in Bangladesh to enhance the illegal immigration. These fundamentalist outfits run legal as well as illegal madrassas which facilitate the illegal Bangladeshis in settling in India.
Besides technical gadgets, there should be better border management, including fencing and more border roads etc., to curb illegal immigration. Unique Identification Number (UID) would also be helpful in identifying illegal immigrants.
The Prime Ministers of both countries jointly inaugurated in July 2016 an Integrated Check-Post at Petrapole, which would not only help in enhancing bilateral trade but will also improve the border management process. Both sides also agreed about the execution of the Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP).
A 62-point India-Bangladesh joint statement was issued at the end of Sheikh Hasina's visit and a large number of agreements on multifarious fields were signed but no agreement could be reached on the sharing of Teesta waters.
China has enhanced its influence on trade, infrastructure, defence and strategic affairs.
Although India solved the border issue with Bangladesh and bilateral trade has also touched $7 billion, it is much less than the $10 billion trade between Bangladesh and China. Chinese President Xi Jinping extended $24 billion loan to Bangladesh which is much more than India’s assistance.
Both India and Bangladesh are suffering because of increasing Islamic radicalisation and Sheikh Hasina was extremely helpful towards India in curbing this danger. Her government also eradicated ISI network which was infiltrating terrorists, fake Indian currency notes and drugs through the porous Bangladesh border into India.
Bangladesh can be extremely helpful in the success of India’s Act East Policy.
India cannot compete with China economically; hence India must stress on commonality of language, historical, cultural and geographical closeness between both nations. Prime Minister Modi’s declaration that the present governments would sort out Teesta issue may give solace to Sheikh Hasina.
It would have been better if the visiting Prime Minister could have gone after signing Teesta water sharing agreement as it would have strengthened her position in the forthcoming elections but the agreement was scuttled due to the obstinacy of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
(The author is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)