In these days of "informal summits", Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in an informal bilateral meeting at Banga Bhavan in Shantiniketan this week. It will be the third informal summit Modi will be attending in the past few weeks, after the Wuhan summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping in April and another meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Monday.
Sheikh Hasina is expected to arrive in Kolkata on 25 May for a two-day visit that will lay emphasis on the close cultural ties between the two countries, but her visit is also likely to lead to more substantive talks between the two leaders.
The informal summit will take place at the newly inaugurated Banga Bhaban (Bangladesh Bhavan) in Shantiniketan. The Bangladesh prime minister will later meet Mamata Banerjee after the convocation ceremony at the Nazrul Islam University in Asansol. The issue of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the Teesta water sharing treaty are likely to be the top issues on Sheikh Hasina's agenda.
The main purpose of the visit is the inauguration of the Bangladesh Bhavan at the campus of the Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan and to attend the convocation ceremony at the Kazi Nazrul University in Burdwan district's Asansol. The Bangladesh government-funded Bhavan will be inaugurated in the presence of Sheikh Hasina and Modi, who is the Chancellor of the Viswa Bharati University. It will be Modi's first visit to the university. The Bangladesh Bhavan will house a library and a museum of the Bangladesh War of Liberation.
At the Kazi Nazrul University, Sheikh Hasina will be conferred an honorary DLit degree by West Bengal governor and university chancellor Keshari Nath Tripathi. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will be the chief guest at the convocation. The university is named after Bangladesh's national poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and is located near his birthplace of Churulia.
The university has robust links with the Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University in Trishal, Bangladesh, with regular academic exchanges between the two.
The Bangladesh government had been dismayed at the initial Indian reaction to the violent displacement of the Rohingyas by Myanmar security forces. As thousands of refugees poured across the Bangladesh border everyday, Dhaka made known its distress at the Indian stance that seemed to tilt in favour of Myanmar.
New Delhi later made amends by undertaking 'Operation Insaniyat' to supply relief material to the Rohingya refugees and extending full support to Bangladesh's efforts to resolve the issue.
The informal summit is taking place just days after Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj's visit to Myanmar, where she met the country's top leadership. The two sides discussed the Rohingya refugee crisis and India offered to provide prefabricated houses for displaced persons in Rakhine state. In her discussions, Swaraj underlined the need for "safe, speedy and sustained return of displaced persons to Rakhine state", according to an External Affairs Ministry statement.
Other topics likely to come up for discussion are water, connectivity, power and infrastructure, the four main areas of cooperation between the two countries. The question of sharing Teesta river water remains a sticky point in India-Bangladesh relations, with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee opposing any agreement that curtails the state's share of river water.
Modi had assured Bangladesh during Hasina's previous visit that he was making efforts towards a satisfactory solution to the problem. As elections in Bangladesh draw closer, the issue is likely to gain urgency for the government in Dhaka as well.
Relations between India and Bangladesh have widened and deepened in content in the past decade of the Sheikh Hasina government. Both India and Bangladesh are due to hold elections within the next 12 months and the informal meeting provides the opportunity for a high level review of bilateral relations.
Hasina's previous visit to India was in 2017 while Modi last paid a visit to Bangladesh in 2015.
Updated Date: May 21, 2018 07:46 AM