India and Bangladesh pledged to strengthen business, water sharing and security arrangements on Tuesday as visiting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
Ms Hasina, who is on a four-day visit to India, met Mr Modi at the capital's renowned Hyderabad House where the two leaders signed seven major agreements.
They also discussed bilateral connectivity, trade and commerce, investment, water sharing, security and border management and lines of credit.
“We focused on personal ways to materialise our commitment and accommodate each other’s priorities in a mutually beneficial manner,” Ms Hasina said.
“The outcome of the discussion will bring benefit for the people of both the countries.”
She also presented Mr Modi with a book containing the translation of the historic speech of the founder of Bangladesh and Ms Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, popularly known as Bangabandhu.
Ms Hasina arrived in the Indian capital on Monday and held talks with Indian Foreign Minister Subramnaym Jaishankar.
She visited the revered shrine of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya — the nearly 700-year-old holy venue which is the centre of Sufi culture in India.
Ms Hasina’s visit is seen as crucial for Bangladesh’s domestic politics as the country is gearing up for general elections in December next year.
Bangladesh and India share strong historical, cultural, linguistic and economic ties and a border of more than 4,000k kilometres — the fifth-longest in the world that passes through five Indian states.
New Delhi played a significant role in Bangladesh’s liberation movement from Pakistan in 1971. India was one of the first countries to have recognised the country that was earlier known as East Pakistan and initiated diplomatic relations post its liberation.
Bangladesh has since remained a significant partner for India under Mr Modi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy that focuses on peace and improving ties with India’s immediate neighbours. The two leaders have met 12 times since 2015.
Both India and Bangladesh extend co-operation in all the fields including security, trade, commerce, power, transport, science and technology, defence and maritime affairs and rivers.
Every year, more than two million Bangladeshis visit India for tourism, work and entertainment. The country is also popular among rich citizens from the neighbouring country who often make a weekend shopping trip to India.
But the two countries also have issues including regional stability, road connectivity and water-sharing disputes that have lingered for decades.
India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers, including the most significant ones, Teesta and Kushiyara.
Mr Modi on Tuesday announced that the two countries had signed an agreement on water sharing from the Kushiyara River that forms in India’s Assam state near and flows into Bangladesh’s Sylhet city.
"This will benefit Southern Assam in India and Sylhet region in Bangladesh,” Mr Modi said.
Hopes river dispute would be resolved
The countries finalised a deal on the interim sharing of the river water last month with New Delhi agreeing to provide 153 cusec — a unit of flow equal to one cubic foot per second — of water to Bangladesh.
Ms Hasina also expressed hope that other lingering disputes including the nearly 400km Teesta River dispute would be resolved soon.
The river is a tributary of the Brahmaputra river and flows through the states of Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh, where 73 per cent of the population depends on it for their livelihood.
The two nations had proposed for equitable sharing of the river water in 1983 but this did not materialise. While India claims 55 per cent of the river water, Bangladesh wants a 50 per cent share.
India agreed to share 37.5 per cent of Teesta water while retaining 42.5 per cent in 2011, but the agreement hit a roadblock after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee strongly opposed it.
“I recall that the two countries have resolved outstanding issues in the spirit of friendship and co-operation and we hope all issues including the Teesta Water Sharing Treaty would be concluded at an early date, '' Ms Hasina said.
The two leaders also inaugurated the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project near the Mongla Port at Bangladesh’s Rampal in the Khulna division.
The 1,320-megawatt coal-based power plant is Bangladesh’s largest and is a 50-50 joint venture between the Bangladesh Power Development Board and India’s state-run National Thermal Power Corporation.
“It will give affordable electricity to Bangladesh,” Mr Modi said.
Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia with $18 billion of trade in the past five years. It is also the fourth-largest export destination for New Delhi with $16.5 billion in the last fiscal year.
Mr Modi said the two countries would also start talks on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
“India is the largest market for Bangladesh exports in the whole of Asia. To give further impetus to this growth, we will soon start discussions on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement,” Mr Modi said.
The agreement will reduce the huge trade gap between the two countries and open up new economic opportunities including connectivity, new markets and co-operation and partnership between the two nations.
The talks of the proposed agreement had begun informally in 2018 against the backdrop of increasing Chinese investments in Bangladesh.
The Indian Prime Minister also emphasised on the need to fight fundamentalism and terrorism in the neighbouring country.
There has been a sharp rise in attacks against minority Hindus in Bangladesh, as well as a wave of anti-India sentiment that has gripped the country.
Ms Hasina’s Awami League-led government has been facing challenges by fundamentalists and war criminals because of the secular nature of her party and her government’s pro-India stance.
More than a dozen people were killed last March during street protests against Mr Modi’s visit to Dhaka as the country celebrated its 50 years of independence.
There were also tensions in the country after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protests against the derogatory comments made by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party spokeswoman Nupur Sharma and her colleague Naveen Kumar Jindal about Prophet Muhammad.
“We also discussed terrorism and fundamentalism … To keep the spirit of 1971 alive, it is also necessary that we unite to face such forces together who want to attack our mutual trust,” Mr Modi said.