A month has passed since Prime Minister Narendra Modi endeared himself in Dhaka with his charisma and eloquence. Through a slew of cooperation agreements, a captivating public speech and Bengali tweets among other things, Modi won many hearts in Dhaka.
The entire spectrum of Bangladeshi political parties warmed to the cause of taking Indo-Bangla relations forward in the wake of his visit. New history was made with the land boundary agreement, a year after the sea boundary demarcation.
Modi rightly identified the stronger Indo-Bangla friendship as opening the door for India’s Northeast, facilitating integration of South Asia with the ‘dynamic East’. New routes were opened between Dhaka and India’s Northeast. The motor vehicle agreement and sub-regional transit connectivity across Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India laid the basis for seamless cargo and passenger traffic.
Yet, a month after the visit, the gains and positive vibes seem to be punctuated by some intractable negative factors at work. The joint statement issued during Modi’s visit avowed to implement the Coordinated Border Management Plan to bring down border killings to zero. However, the acquittal in a retrial by the Indian Border Security Force court on July 2 of the accused BSF constable Amiya Ghosh, for the 2011 killing of the 15 year old Bangladeshi girl Felani Khatun, sent the message that with the trial being conducted by the very organisation whose member is being charged, accountability for killings is a tall order.
The verdict, sparingly covered in the Indian media, sent shockwaves in Dhaka and drew censure from human rights groups from India as well as Bangladesh. Meanwhile Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, after stonewalling the Teesta water sharing treaty for years, recently roiled up the long settled Ganges water issue with the disingenuous allegation that lower riparian Bangladesh was getting more Ganges water than due at the Farakka barrage.
Hopes were high that Mamata would not obstruct an eventual Teesta deal after her assurances of playing a positive role during her February trip to Dhaka and then joining Modi’s entourage in June. Yet, despite Modi’s positive assurances of an expeditious deal, prospects of early conclusion seem dim as Mamata has her eyes fixed on Vidhan Sabha elections in West Bengal scheduled next year.
Modi has created goodwill and underscored his commitment. However, it will need more than personal charm to earn the confidence of Bangladeshis who have been assured for long that water will flow in the rivers, people will not die on the borders, and exports will have easy access to the Indian market. Now that he has made his mark in Dhaka, the need of the hour for Modi is to walk the talk.
The writer, Mr. Syed Munir Khasru is Chairman of a Bangladesh based international think tank – the Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG).