BY JAYANTA GHOSAL
Foreign minister S. Jaishankar has recently written a book on India's position on the implementation of foreign policy. The book was virtually launched last Thursday in Delhi at a function organised by the Observer Research Foundation. Jaishankar had written the book after retiring as Foreign Secretary. At the time, he had no idea that he would become the Foreign Minister. Although the Prime Minister had permitted the publication of this book, it can be assumed that as a Minister he has consciously avoided what is inappropriate to say. Indian news media thinks that he failed to explicitly mention a lot about China in the manner that former foreign secretaries and former ambassadors can. Even though there isn't any confession regarding China, he has indeed said that it is essential to strengthen India's friendship with Bangladesh and the bond with the sovereign state.
In a discussion titled, 'Broad Canvas of Indian Diplomacy during Pandemic' organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said unequivocally last Friday that our foreign policy is 'neighbourhood first'. What he didn't mention was that at present China and Pakistan are preparing for another attack on the Indo-China border, according to Indian intelligence. Bipin Rawat also said that we are no less. India too must prepare for the attack against China. In Moscow, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to the Chinese delegates, even tried to understand Moscow's temperament. In a situation of this sort, China, Sri Lanka, Myanmar require Bangladesh more than ever.
Meanwhile, a self-interested group, with the help of the media, has started to spread the word in both India and Bangladesh that China has already made an offer to Sheikh Hasina's government that it will hold trials for the Coronavirus vaccine in Dhaka and that Dhaka has agreed to the trials. On the other hand, despite being such a great friend of Bangladesh, India isn't doing anything! Propaganda which is being carried out in India is that Dhaka has secretly colluded with China. In a certain news medium it was written that when an elephant falls in a pit, even a frog kicks it. Again a Bangladesh news publication wrote: What helps is India extending during this Corona crisis? Instead it's China that has extended a helping hand.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla's recent visit to Dhaka must be understood in this context. And after returning from this tour, the Cabinet of Modi Government called for a meeting and pledged to give the Covid-19 vaccine to Dhaka first. The Cabinet has approved an agreement between the two countries, stating that India will give the vaccine to Bangladesh as soon as it arrives. If Oxford or any other organisation or any other country gives these vaccines to India, India's Institute of Serology will send them to various neighbouring countries in South Asia. In Dhaka the distribution will be done through various non governmental organisations.
As for the reason behind providing the vaccine to Bangladesh on priority, India has called Bangladesh a 'strategic' partner. Diplomats know the term 'strategic' is especially important here. Beximco Pharmaceuticals of Bangladesh has signed an agreement
with Serum Institute of India for the Covid vaccine. On the other hand, Dhaka has not yet signed any agreement with China regarding a vaccine, only trials have been approved.
Here, I would like to remind readers in Bangladesh that at the behest of Modi and Jaishankar, Shringla went to Dhaka in this Corona situation and held a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during which a detailed discussion took place about the Covid-19 vaccine. The draft of the bilateral agreement was finalised at this meeting. The agreement reaffirms the triumph of the earlier friendship between these two countries.
The journey of the bilateral friendship, which began in 1971 with the birth of an independent-sovereign Bangladesh continues even today. Shringla will be visiting Myanmar soon. He had assured Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka that India will keep in mind this strategic relationship in resolving the Rohingya issue. This time around, India will enact an active role in order to solve the
problem. India will act as an informal mediator with the Myanmar government and will then raise the issue at the UN General Assembly in September. Shringla went to Dhaka as the Foreign Secretary. He mentioned a special route for the Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar, so that a consensus could be reached . India is particularly active in this regard but does not want
to ruin the friendly relations with Myanmar. Friendship with Myanmar is important for India. As for Bangladesh, it wants India's Foreign Secretary to go to Myanmar but that the Indian Government should make no statement which could hurt Bangladesh's sovereign interests.
The Bangladesh government has seen how the Sri Lankan government fell into a debt trap by borrowing from China. Sri Lanka signed a 99-year-old lease agreement with Merchant Port Holdings Limited in 2016 and for that reason took $ 1.12 billion. But it fell short of the terms of the Exim Bank of China. To get out of the trap of past debt, Sri Lanka had to take further loans. The balance of payments situation in the country is extremely serious. Hence, Bangladesh is putting its trust in India's long-term friendship without falling into China's trap.
So be careful! Rumours, propaganda; be it India or Bangladesh -- in both countries it takes a disastrous turn.
From Dhaka to Delhi to Kolkata, everywhere there have been articles, television talk shows, round table conferences at midnight. We all want democracy to last long in both the countries. Covid-19 has ruined the economy. This is the first time since 1947 that India's GDP has worsened. In this situation the increase in Sino-Indian tensions is not great news. And during this period, propaganda is dangerous. India is committed to the Sheikh Hasina government.
In the age of globalisation, no state can adopt a 'walk alone' policy. There is great significance of the India-Bangladesh border. Therefore, by saying that Bangladesh is its strategic partner, India wants to end all misunderstanding. For the same reason Shringla announced that India will resolve all the outstanding issues. So don't pay heed to the rumours. Beware!
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal)