Bangladesh is set to be among the first foreign destinations visited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak, as he is expected to participate in celebrations marking 50 years of the country’s independence next March.
The Indian prime minister has accepted the Bangladesh government’s invitation to take part in the celebrations to be held in Dhaka on March 26. The visit will be preceded by a virtual summit between Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in mid-December.
“We invited the Indian prime minister to visit Bangladesh on March 26 next year. It was accepted,” Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters in Dhaka on Sunday.
“We would love to see Prime Minister Modi join the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of our independence. Our victory means India’s victory as well,” he added.
Momen said the two prime ministers were expected to hold a virtual summit next month. India had proposed December 16 as the date for the meeting, though people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity it could be held later as Bangladeshi leaders would be preoccupied with the Victory Day celebrations on that day.
There was no official word from the Indian side on either the summit or Modi’s visit to Bangladesh though the people cited above said both events were on the agenda.
Modi made his last foreign visit to Brazil in November 2019 to attend a summit of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) grouping. Foreign travel by the Indian leadership has been severely curtailed due to Covid-19-related restrictions.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar has travelled only to Iran and Russia, where he attended a meeting of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), in September and to Japan this month for a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue to Quad.
A planned visit by Modi to Bangladesh in March this year, when he was to participate in events marking the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was put off after Dhaka deferred the celebrations because of the pandemic.
India has taken several steps in recent months to bolster its ties with Bangladesh after they were hit by several irritants, such as the controversy over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, last year. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla visited Bangladesh in August and delivered a personal message from Modi to Hasina.
Momen, who spoke to the media after meeting India’s new envoy Vikram Doraiswami, said an air bubble between the two sides will start soon. However, he said Dhaka wants New Delhi to ease restrictions on travel by road and railways as these modes were preferred by Bangladeshi travellers.
Doraiswami’s posting in Dhaka is among the measures taken by New Delhi to strengthen bilateral relations as he is considered an old Bangladesh hand.