Connectivity projects will continue to be at the top of the agenda when it comes to India-Bangladesh relations

A few days ago, Sri Lanka’s new foreign secretary Jayanath Colombage said the country’s strategic policy would have an “India first” approach. Sri Lanka could not afford to be a security threat for India, he pointed out.

These are powerful words, along with Colombage’s acknowledgement that the decision to give Hambantota port on a 99- year lease to China was a “mistake”, writes Harsh V Pant in an article published by Hindustan Times.

Using these statements from Sri Lanka as an example, Pant describes as “infantile” the debate on India’s neighbourhood policy in recent months.

He refers to Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s “successful” visit to Dhaka earlier this month to reinforce his point. According to Pant, Professor at King’s College London and Director of Research at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, the visit “managed to convey Bangladesh’s privileged position in Indian foreign policy matrix”.

Referring to major connectivity projects and diversifying bilateral engagement, he writes that India and Bangladesh are “getting serious about their priorities”.

The key to this phase in bilateral relations, he points out, is the role played by the top leadership of the two countries - Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. “Both Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina, despite some domestic scepticism, understand the importance of cultivating strong bilateral relations,” the article says.

The development of India’s East and Northeast, which is a top priority for PM Modi, is possible only if it is better integrated with Bangladesh. Given this imperative, Pant writes, India-Bangladesh connectivity projects will continue to be at the top of the agenda.

“The fact that by next year India and Bangladesh are likely to have nine rail links is an indicator of how fast priorities in New Delhi are evolving,” the article points out.

Talking about how new stakeholders more in sync with 21st century realities can now shape the relationship, Pant refers to the “sizeable Tamil and Telugu population in Bangladesh in the textile industry and tech space”. The growing number of Bangladeshi students and medical tourists now visiting south India is another example he uses to strengthen his argument.

“It is, therefore, quite curious to suggest that India might be losing ground in Bangladesh,” he writes.

Conceding that “the all-pervasive China factor” has to be dealt with, Pant concludes that Delhi’s regional outreach today is quite promising. “Indian discourse today seems more driven by domestic political imperatives than by the empirical realities on the ground,” he maintains.

Read the complete article in Hindustan Times