The raging Covid-19 pandemic appears to have cast its shadow over the coming visit of Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen to New Delhi on December 7 to finalise the agenda of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi’s December 17 virtual summit meet.
Looking at the schedule of high-level exchanges, although in virtual format between India and Bangladesh, the month of December, when winter is at its peak in New Delhi, is all set to witness a rewarming of bilateral relations between the two South Asian neighbours.
With Bangladesh, Foreign Secretary reported to have tested positive for COVID-19, his visit to Delhi may not be on the cards but his interaction with his Indian counterpart Harsh Shringla in a virtual format may take place for finalising the agenda virtual summit meeting between the two premiers.
Apart from further cementing the ongoing cooperation between the two neighbours and reviewing the entire gamut of bilateral relations, the virtual summit meeting of the two leaders is also likely to focus on sharing and distribution of Corona vaccine which is keenly awaited by all nations. After the U.S., India has been hit by the highest number of cases of Corona infections. As of Thursday, the caseload of India had crossed 9.2 million marks, with 8.6 million recoveries as well.
Prime Minister Modi is also scheduled to pay a visit to the Serum Institute of India (SII) at Pune in Maharashtra on Saturday. The SII has partnered with global pharma major AstraZeneca and Oxford University for Covid-19 vaccine. Modi’s visit is aimed at reviewing the status of the vaccine candidate for coronavirus infection and focus on its launch, production and distribution mechanisms
On December 4, ambassadors and envoys from 100 countries, including the Bangladesh High Commissioner in India, will also visit the Serum Institute of India and the Gennova biopharmaceuticals Ltd in Pune. SII is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by a number of doses produced and sold globally. India had earlier assured that Bangladesh will get Covid-19 vaccine on a priority basis. Serum Institute and leading Bangladesh pharmaceutical firm Beximaco Limited have signed an agreement for the production of Covid-19 vaccine.
Recently Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen told media persons in Dhaka that an invitation has been extended to Prime Minister Modi to visit Bangladesh on March 26 to join the 50 years independence celebrations of the country.
Prime Minister Modi was slated to visit Bangladesh earlier this year to join the birth centenary celebrations of Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, but the trip was cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
In keeping with India’s Neighbourhood First policy, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had paid a two-day visit to Dhaka in August anddiscussed the Covid-19 situation as well as India’s development assistance projects in Bangladesh.
According to Ministry MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, discussions between the Foreign Secretaries had also revolved around the 100th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 2020 and the 50 years of liberation of Bangladesh next year. India’s developmental assistance in Bangladesh in projects in connectivity and power were discussed.
Several of these projects, including the Rampal Maitree Power Plant, India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline, and rail links between Akhaura-Agartala and Chilahati-Haldibari and Khulna-Mongla rail line are expected to get completed and become operational next year.
Train services along the Haldibari-Chilahati route are likely to start from December and the Sheikh Hasina government also plans to go ahead with a passenger train service to connect Dhaka with North Bengal’s Siliguri from March next year.
According to reports, the route between Cooch Behar’s Haldibari and Bangladesh’s Chilahati may open on December 16 which is celebrated as BijoyDibosh or Victory Day to mark the day in 1971 when Pakistani troops surrendered to Indo-Bangladesh joint command bringing to an end to Bangladesh’s nine-month bloody war of liberation.
In October, Bangladesh Railway Minister Nurul Islam Sujon had met Vikram Doraiswami, India’s new High Commissioner, at Dhaka’s Rail Bhawan and Bangladesh government announced that the tracks for the Haldibari-Chilahati route would open this December.
At present, there are four rail routes that connect Bengal with Bangladesh, Petrapole-Benapole, Singhabad-Rohanpur, Gede-Darshana and Radhikapur-Birol.
It appears, analysts say, that India-Bangladesh ties is moving towards the traditional “true friend” status after a recent dip.