PM Modi to hold bilateral talks with Sheikh Hasina

NEW DELHI: India and Bangladesh will sign a clutch of pacts on Saturday to cement trade, connectivity and economic links between the two countries after talks between Prime Minster Narendra Modi and visiting Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.

The half a dozen pacts to be signed on Saturday will focus on transport, connectivity, capacity building, and culture.

Hasina arrived in New Delhi on Thursday on a four-day visit — her first after winning the elections in her country for a third time in December.

The two leaders are expected to have wide ranging talks on “all matters of mutual" interest, said a person familiar with the matter who did not want to be named when asked if India’s move to identify illegal residents in Assam state would be a point of discussion in the meeting between the two prime ministers.

India has prepared a National Register of Citizens (NRC) that lists out the names of Indian nationals while leaving out those who have not been able to prove their identity as Indians.

Some 1.9 million people have been left out of the register and there are concerns in Dhaka that Bangladesh could be asked to take these people. Bangladesh already houses a large number of Rohingyas who fled Myanmar.

Modi and Hasina had discussed the matter on the sidelines of their meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York and the Bangladeshi prime minister has said that she had an exchange with her Indian counterpart and she did not anticipate any problems between the two countries on this.

According to Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar, ties between the two countries “have never been so close" with both sides looking to focus on the “next steps" that will take the relationship to a higher plane.

The two leaders are to remotely inaugurate three projects — a skill development institute in Bangladesh to benefit small and medium sector entrepreneurs, a students’ home at the Ramakrishna mission in Dhaka and a pipeline project that will allow India to transport liquified petroleum gas to Tripura through Bangladesh.

The inauguration of the gas pipeline shows how far India Bangladesh ties have come in the past decade prior to which transit facilities through Bangladesh for India to reach its landlocked north east was a major point of contention between the two countries.

Senior Indian officials credit Hasina with making efforts to improve relations with India soon after her becoming prime minister in December 2008.

One of her first moves was to hand over Indian insurgents who were taking shelter in Bangladesh, in a sign that Dhaka was sensitive to India’s concerns. Hasina’s government also allowed transit facilities through Bangladesh to New Delhi, acceding to a longstanding Indian demand to access its landlocked north-east through Bangladeshi territory. Both steps helped boost ties between the neighbours.

The successful conclusion of the 1974 land boundary agreement in 2015 also boosted ties.

Bangladesh has received $8 billion in lines of credit from India in the past seven years—the most to any country by New Delhi.