China’s shadow looms as PM Modi set to talk to Hasina

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla rushes to Dhaka with an ‘important message’ from PM Modi.

In what reflects a sense of urgency, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla rushed to Bangladesh on Tuesday where he met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other important leaders and officials. He is said to have called on Hasina with an important message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He also discussed various issues which are important for bilateral relations between New Delhi and Dhaka.

Shringla’s visit to Dhaka assumes significance for two reasons. One, the Foreign Secretary went to Dhaka in a rush at a time when the tension is growing between India and China. Two, Shringla’s visit to Bangladesh has come at a time when there are reports of the Hasina government cozying up to China in a way that has pressed a panic button in New Delhi.

Sources told The Daily Guardian that Shringlahas also been asked to fix a meeting between PM Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina via videoconferencing. Sources say that PM Modi wants to lead the diplomacy himself to boost ties with Bangladesh with a clear objective to keep Beijing at bay. Modi last met Hasina when she visited India in 2019. Since then, there have been domestic incidents in India over issues like CAA and NRC which also negatively impacted India-Bangladesh ties. Some Bangladesh diplomats had been critical of these issues.

Shringla also met his counterpart Masud Bin Momen and discussed with him a wide range of issues, including China’s transgression in Ladakh, sources said. Momen has been critical of CAA and NRC at one point of time, though he later moderated his views. This was Shringla’s first visit out of the country since the Covid-19 lockdown began.

Sources said that the meetings were significant in view of China accelerating its efforts to tighten its grip on Dhaka ever since relations between India and Bangladesh have come under some strain over the past one year due to issues like CAA and NRC. Shringlaalso met Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen. He was accompanied by outgoing High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das and Joint Secretary Smita Pant.

Sources said that New Delhi is concerned over the report that Bangladesh will soon be receiving $1 billion from China for the Teesta river project. The Teesta river water sharing arrangement has been one of the most controversial issues between New Delhi and Dhaka. The river originates from Sikkim and passes through West Bengal before finally merging with Brahmaputra in Assam and Jamuna in Bangladesh. Dhaka wants 50% share of the river’s water for the December-March period. MEA officials believe that Beijing is trying to step up pressure on Dhaka to hand over big infrastructure and connectivity projects to it in a bid to needle India.