Foreign secretary in Bangladesh with CAA balm

When foreign secretary Harsh Shringla arrives in Dhaka on Monday, his primary task will be to assuage some serious hurt feelings among Bangladeshis over both the CAA-NRC controversy as well as some ill-judged comments by Indian politicians. Shringla will be the first high-level contact with the Sheikh Hasina government since protests against CAA-NRC erupted all across India.

PM Narendra Modi will be travelling to Dhaka on March 17 for a day to participate in the centenary celebration of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. But he is likely to face some degree of wariness in a country which was touted as India’s closest neighbour not too long ago. In the past few days, Bangladesh even saw protest marches against communal riots that tore through Delhi last week.

Therefore, Modi is likely to face a different reception, even if the brass papers over the disquiet. The PM will deliver the keynote address at the Mujib centenary event, which will be attended by former President Pranab Mukherjee and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

In the past few months, India has not really stretched itself diplomatically to reassure the people and the Bangladesh brass — particularly on the fear that migrants may be pushed into that country — already straining under the weight of the Rohingya refugees. Sources in Dhaka have been critical of the lack of initiative by the Indian government, particularly the foreign office here and the Indian mission in Dhaka.

Shringla is expected to call on PM Sheikh Hasina, foreign minister A K Abdul Momen and foreign secretary Masud bin Momen. He will also address a seminar organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Strategic Studies.

India wants a trade and services pact with Bangladesh, for which negotiations are expected to begin soon. India will also try to persuade Bangladesh to utilise the $500 million defence cooperation assistance that has been advanced to Dhaka but not made use of yet.

More connectivity projects are likely to be announced and some, like rail services connecting Dhaka, Kolkata and Khulna, may increase their frequency.

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