Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina in India to bolster trade, connectivity

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's four-day India visit aims to strengthen bilateral commercial relations and improve regional connectivity in South Asia. Hasina is holding talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior Indian officials on Saturday.

The spokesperson for India's Foreign Ministry, Raveesh Kumar, described the bilateral relationship as of "utmost priority." He told reporters that the two sides were expected to sign six to seven agreements in areas of connectivity, capacity-building and culture after the talks at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi.

The Bangladeshi prime minister has been seeking New Delhi's support for her country's plan to push Myanmar to take back Rohingya Muslims who fled violence and repression there in what has become one of Asia's largest refugee crises in decades.

Hasina recently presented a four-point plan at the UN General Assembly to end the crisis, of which her country has borne the main burden despite not causing it.

Bangladesh has taken the vast majority of Rohingya refugees — more than 700,000 — while an estimated 40,000 Rohingya also have taken refuge in parts of India.

All's not well

The two nations will also likely discuss their own migrant issues. India has recently sought to identify thousands of what it says are "illegal migrants" from Bangladesh who have entered India across their porous border over the years. India plans to seek their repatriation to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh's Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen recently described the issue as "a matter of great concern."

Both sides also have issues with water sharing. Bangladesh is concerned over India's delay in signing an agreement on the sharing of water from the Teesta river, which flows from India into Bangladesh.

Bangladesh says it is a lower riparian state and needs Teesta river water during the lean summer season.

The agreement has been pending since it was nearly signed in 2011 as it has been blocked by India's West Bengal state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee has said the state can't spare water for Bangladesh because of its summer needs.

Cordial ties

Despite the disagreements, Bangladesh and India currently share friendly ties and both sides appear determined to increase bilateral cooperation in a number of areas.

Furthermore, both New Delhi and Dhaka want to transform the Bay of Bengal region into a hub for connectivity and wealth between South and Southeast Asia, by integrating the region's markets and removing obstacles to cross-border flows of goods, services and people.

Observers say India is focused on making Bangladesh a central element of its Act East policy, to counter China's growing influence in South Asia, a region viewed by New Delhi as its backyard.

Experts point out that, whether land-based or maritime, New Delhi's connectivity plans for Myanmar and Southeast Asia rely crucially on transit rights and infrastructure development in Bangladesh.

No onions, even for Hasina

The visit also comes against the backdrop of India's decision to ban onion exports, which has caused shortages, soaring prices and widespread anger in Bangladesh, where the vegetable is used in most dishes.

The price of onions is a sensitive subject in South Asia, where shortages can trigger widespread discontent with political ramifications.

Speaking at the India-Bangladesh Business Forum on Friday, Hasina referred to the hardships being faced by Bangladeshis following the Indian government's decision.

In a lighter vein, Hasina said that after the export ban, she had asked her cook not to use onions. "I have asked my cook not to prepare meals with onions since you have stopped sending us onions. In future, do alert us if you plan to take such steps so that we can prepare ourselves better," said Hasina.

One kilogram of the staple vegetable usually costs 30 taka (36 US cents, 32.8 euro cents), but has soared to up to 130 taka after India imposed the export ban over the weekend.

Amid a public outcry, Dhaka quickly took steps to import the vegetable from Myanmar, Turkey, China and Egypt.

sri/ng (AP, AFP)

Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.