Sushma's maiden visit: Teesta pact, illegal migration, LBA top on agenda

By: Sukant Singh
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Sushma Swaraj in Bangladesh
New Delhi, June 26: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who is on her maiden foreign visit is expected to have in-depth exchange of words with Bangladesh's Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali to carry forward the bilateral relations. Swaraj who is on two-day visit accompanied by Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and other senior officials is expected to discuss important bilateral issues like Land Boundary Agreement, Teesta river pact and illegal migration.

The Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) of 1974 signed by than Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and than Bangladesh Prime Minister SK Mujibur Rehman is an important issue to be raised by both sides. In September 2011, the Prime Ministers of the two countries (Manmohan Singh of India and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh) signed an accord on border demarcation and exchange of adversely held enclaves, however the Indian Parliament is yet to move the Bill. The BJP had opposed the move of exchanging adversely held enclaves but now with NDA in power all eyes will be on foreign minister Sushma Swaraj who is expected to arrive at an amicable solution.

With India already in boundary dispute with China in the Western most Akshai Chin and eastern most of MacMohan Line, India has to keep in mind that a similar animosity with Bangladesh can effect the over all relationship. Bangladesh is emerging as a centre of connectivity with India, Nepal, Bhutan in the East and Myanmar in the west. Bangladesh shares border with five major States of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Sikkim, Mizoram, so it definitely needs immediate attention and can be turned into a profitable situation through connectivity and trade. Under Sheikh Hasina's coalition Government Bangladesh has emerged as one of the leading country in South Asia.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is expected to arrive at an amicable solution

With West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's earlier Opposition to Teesta water sharing treaty between India and Bangladesh, following which it was shelved, New Delhi should understand that it does not harm Indian interests and the stability of Bangladesh. Significantly, it was BJP's opposition, coupled with that of Trinamool Congress and Asom Gana Parishad which prevented the previous Congress from formalising the land boundary agreement and signing the Teesta water sharing deal with Bangladesh. That's why foreign Minister's call to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ahead of her visit assumes significance given that earlier Banerjee's party Trinamool Congress prevented the previous Congress-led Government from signing the Teesta water sharing deal with the neighbouring country.

With acute water shortage and to meet the irrigation demand in the drought prone regions of Bangladesh, the neighbouring country expects equitable 50 per cent distribution of the Teesta River but India has only signed one agreement as far as water sharing is concerned.

Another significant issue to be raised by the Sushma Swaraj is the illegal migration of Bangladeshis, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi constantly raising this issue in his poll campaign rallies of the Lok Sabha election. Prime Minister had promised to the people of the nation that "Bangladeshis" will be deported if he comes to power.

"You can write it down. After May 16, these Bangladeshis better be prepared with their bags packed," Modi had said earlier in Serampore in West Bengal, which shares a porous border with Bangladesh in one of poll rallies.

Visa-on-arrival plan for select Bangladeshi visitors is another controversial issue surrounding since January last year, when the UPA was in power. But the summary record of a meeting chaired by foreign secretary Sujatha Singh refers to the visa relaxation suggestion as an idea for "grant of visa-free entry" to select Bangladeshis."It is a complete U-turn by the BJP on the influx issue," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has accused the Modi Government.

Meanwhile, ahead of the visit, the Spokesperson in the MEA has clarified that there was no proposal of visa-free travel for any Bangladesh national on the table. Swaraj who is expected to call on President of Bangladesh Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her two day visit will also have engagement with think tanks, chambers of commerce and industry and cultural organisations.

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