Bangladesh’s prime minister was welcomed to India with a ceremony in the capital, New Delhi, on Tuesday during a four-day visit aimed at boosting bilateral ties. Sheikh Hasina shook hands with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace, and officials said the two leaders later in the day are expected to discuss deals on connectivity, energy, food security, and trade.
In Bangladesh, her visit is being seen as politically significant as it comes ahead of general elections next year. Hasina, who has maintained a warm relationship with India since becoming prime minister in 2009, will push to bolster investment and trade as well as make progress on long-standing issues such as water-sharing of common rivers, observers say.
Over the weekend, Bangladesh’s foreign minister told reporters that the two countries are likely to ink seven agreements covering science and technology, water management, and information and broadcasting.
“We hope the visit will be very successful. It will help achieve our goals,” Dr AK Abdul Momen was quoted as saying by The Daily Star newspaper. The relationship between the neighbors is crucial, with India being Bangladesh’s largest trading partner in South Asia. While China is involved in almost all major infrastructure development schemes in Bangladesh, India is also more eager to take up joint projects.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh runs a significant trade imbalance with India, an issue that may be discussed during Hasina’s visit. In the fiscal year 2021-22, Bangladesh imported goods worth around $14 billion from India while exports to its neighboring country ran lower at $1.8 billion, according to official figures.
Authorities and trade bodies often blame tariff and non-tariff barriers as well as anti-dumping obstacles imposed by India for the low exports. Another priority for Hasina may be to make progress on agreements for water sharing of the Teesta River, a major transboundary river that begins in India’s Sikkim state and runs through the north of West Bengal state before flowing into Bangladesh.
For decades, there was no movement on this issue until 2011 when India agreed to share waters during the lean season, between December and March — but the deal never went through due to strong opposition from the West Bengal state’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. When Modi visited Bangladesh last year, he reiterated India’s commitment to conclude this agreement but the impasse has dragged on.
Hasina last visited India in 2019, when she and Modi agreed on the need to boost efforts to facilitate the safe return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar and have since taken refuge in Bangladesh. On Monday, the Bangladeshi prime minister met with Indian industrialist Gautam Adani, who recently became the world’s third-richest person, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. She also spoke with India’s foreign minister and will call on the vice president and president while in New Delhi before leaving for the Indian city of Jaipur on Thursday.