Challenges of Modi government and Bangladesh Diplomacy

Challenges of Modi government and Bangladesh Diplomacy

Modi’s biggest challenge is to turn around a faltering economy of India. That’s an important question and one that many are asking after his massive win in the recently-concluded general election. Most analysts appear united in their view that fixing the economy will be his top priority in the first few months of his stint. Modi made “economic recovery” one of the main talking points of his campaign and many believe the time has come for him to deliver.

It is not the economy only but also addressing the poor record of human development index which includes health, malnutrition and education. About 300 million are poor and their fate depends on the equitable distribution of national income. Whether Modi’s model of Gujarat can reduce poverty of people.

The young people voted for Modi on promises of jobs and if he does not fulfill his promises, they will be unforgiving and his popularity will gradually decline..

“The world will rediscover India if Narendra Modi can address the problems of slow growth and high inflation he inherits from the departing government,” economic analyst Ruchir Sharma writes in this Economic Times column.

His immediate challenge would be to take a call on the Congress’ populist programmes like the rural job guarantee scheme and the right to food. These schemes have provided jobs and food to millions, but have proven to be expensive.

The headline of a front-page piece written by the The Indian Express editor, Shekhar Gupta, says: “Your time starts now” in an apparent message to the BJP leader about his poll promises.

On foreign policy, his ideas are not very well known. His biggest challenge lies in managing relations with Pakistan, China, Japan and the US.

Having described the challenges of Modi, let us discuss how Bangladesh diplomacy will play with the Modi government

Bangladesh & Modi

After the massive victory of BJP leader Narendra Modi, it is natural to discuss what kind of relations the new BJP government will have with Bangladesh? Will there be a qualitative change or business usual or accelerated engagement with Bangladesh?

Bangladesh Prime Minister reportedly took the first diplomatic initiative in congratulating by telephone to Modi and in writing a warm letter inviting Modi to make the first destination for his visit abroad to Bangladesh and make it Modi’s “second home”.

Since 2009, the Sheikh Hasina government created a new horizon in building a stronger bilateral architecture with India in almost all sectors. The government moved quickly to address Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terrorism (including expelling top ULFA insurgents to India) and promised connectivity to the North-East.

Cooperative efforts are continuing from both sides to implement many projects and programmes in economic, social and infrastructure, especially under the supplier’s credit of $ 1(one) billion loan to Bangladesh by India (out of $200 million was later converted into grant).

Both Bangladesh and India benefitted from this partnership. However perception is that India got more than what Bangladesh received from India. The question is whether the Modi government will not only resolve the pending issues but also enhance the relationship with Bangladesh.

The Modi government is to create an enhanced economic recovery and jobs and the programmes can only be executed when peace prevails inside India and with the neighbours..Bangladesh has a huge market for India which could be one of the factors for the Modi government not to disrupt the existing relations..

It is believed the Modi government with its huge majority in the parliament can firmly resolve the pending issues. However every one knows that issues or disputes between Bangladesh and India involves directly Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram and the Modi government needs to seek their views in particular when the states are not ruled by the BJP…

Modi, being a former chief minister of Gujarat state , knew very well the fissures between the states and the centre. He wants to empower states with full responsibility for the lists of its subjects under jurisdiction and work with states in resolving issues both within the country and with neighbours.

One of the diplomatic steps is to craft stronger cooperative government –to-government links with the neighbouring Indian states to better coordinate the breadth of Indo-Bangladesh issues.

For example, Bangladesh shares more than 4,096.70 km land borders with Indian states such as West Bengal, 2216.70 km, Assam 263.00 km Meghalaya 443.00 km, Tripura 856.00 km and Mizoram 318.00km . Bangladesh is a lower riparian of 54 rivers flowing from these states.

The states have their own domestic political interests with the centre and also within the state and reaction to any agreement with Bangladesh by the New Delhi government could be either negative or positive. The most glaring illustration has been the non-implementation of the Teesta Agreement signed in 2011 because of the opposition of the West Bengal’s chief Minister…

In future Bangladesh diplomats needs to be aware before signing any agreement with the national government that whether the centre has taken on board the state concerned to implement the agreement. Second Bangladesh also may ascertain on its independent sources the views of the concerned state on the proposed agreement.

Another major diplomatic move for Bangladesh is to vigorously pursue on areas such as, water, energy, food security and environmental degradation through the 2011 Indo-Bangladesh Framework Agreement on Cooperation and Development. Furthermore Bangladesh may diplomatically move to demonstrate that because of its geographic location, the country can be of immense value for India in terms of security and enhanced economic growth in the northeastern states.

Bangladesh may become pro-active in making the eastern region of South Asia including the economy of Bangladesh Bhutan, Nepal and northeastern states of India integrated to the region.. Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the northeastern states of India could be constituted as a sub-regional economic group, sharing of resources for mutual benefits. In that context Bangladesh may persuade diplomatically India to adopt a regional policy where all its small-sized neighbours are on board for benefits of the region.

It appears that the Banerjee’s Trinmool Congress has become stronger politically than before by increasing the number of MPs and she was understood to have opposed the Teesta Agreement because her state does not get enough water from Sikkim.

Modi with the overwhelming majority may persuade Sikkim to release more water to West Bengal and consequently make it easier for implementation of the Teesta Agreement with Bangladesh.. BJP’s majority at the parliament makes it easier to ratify Land Boundary Agreements with exchange of enclaves.

The diplomatic steps from Bangladesh government may work on BJP’s assessment whether political stability continues to remains in Bangladesh after the non-inclusive 5th January election. BJP wants peace and stability in Bangladesh, otherwise it may have an adverse impact on India.

There are many unknowns about Modi and it is hard to predict at this stage. Bangladesh faces tough diplomatic challenges in dealing with the Modi government.

Finally, the two countries are destined to live next to each other. Therefore I firmly believe that there is no reason why Bangladesh-India relations should not be mutually supportive and friendly as both should fight together the common enemy—extreme poverty- existing among people of both countries.-

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid

Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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