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Drift in ties with Dhaka – so soon again

The appalling drift in India’s ties with Bangladesh so soon after PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in September raises some painful questions. Just ahead of PM, Vice-President M.H.Ansari also had visited Bangladesh. Both visits produced a lot of hype about the dawn of a golden era in the bilateral ties with Bangladesh. 

Today, there is a popular demand building up in Bangladesh to take India to the international forums over the Tipaimukh dam project in Manipur that Delhi finalised within weeks of PM’s return from Dhaka. It seems Delhi had given an assurance to Dhaka that it wouldn’t proceed with any dam construction that may affect Bangladesh’s interests, and thereupon, we suo moto proceeded on Tipaimukh.
Unsurprisingly, foreign media (BBC) first broke the story and when corroborative reports began appearing, Delhi apparently came clean to acknowledge that the contract was indeed finalised on the project on October 23, but, never mind, we meant no harm to Bangladesh. 
Of course, water is a very sensitive issue. We are ourselves figuring out how to talk about Brahmaputra with China (and Bangladesh). But precedent-setting is not the only issue here. What is surfacing is once again the episodic nature of India’s diplomacy – as if neighbours are not worth our while the entire time. Whereas, South Asia is no less important than Asia-Pacific.  
Our entire approach is wrong. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai rightly selected Sri Lanka as one of his first visits abroad after assuming office. He saw at first hand what an embarrassing mess we have made in the execution of the all-important housing project for the displaced Tamils of northern Sri Lanka. Yet, two days back, President Mahinda Rajapakse commissioned another sparkling Chinese project – Sri Lanka’s first express highway of world standard connecting Colombo with the south. Now, what is the point in working ourselves into frenzy that China is ‘encircling’ India? 
I am not a votary of the doctrine that India should go down on its knees and compromise on national interests for the sake of creating goodwill abroad. But it is difficult to disagree with what Kuldip Nayyar has written about India-Bangladesh relations, namely, that certain complete lack of sensitivity on the part of our establishment even in reciprocating Sheikh Hasina’s friendship. When we can’t discern friendship, a low point has been reached, indeed. 
It seems PMO handled the PM’s visit to Dhaka from A to Z, virtually bypassing MEA. Shouldn’t the PMO also look into the follow-up? 

Posted in Diplomacy.

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