A visit beyond usual trappings
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh's first official visit to Bangladesh was meant for the sixth edition of the home minister-level meeting. This was the second such meeting in two years. But the event went beyond the trappings of a routine high-level bilateral event primarily for three reasons. First, security cooperation has become a key pillar of India-Bangladesh relations since Sheikh Hasina government came to power. Secondly, the visit sent a strong political signal by the visit of someone who is widely considered the number two in the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi just five months before fresh general elections in Bangladesh. And thirdly, it produced some citizenship-centric measures for Bangladesh across a cross-section of people wanting to visit India for various purposes.
Singh's meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set the tone and tenor of the visit and his praise of Bangladesh's economic growth of over seven percent last year should leave no one in doubt, if any was required afresh, about whom India would be more comfortable to deal with in Dhaka to sustain the momentum in bilateral ties.
The institutionalisation of cooperation between India and Bangladesh in security matters reached newer heights in the last eight years. New Delhi knows that Sheikh Hasina has delivered on the promises beginning with handing over of top United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leaders to Indian authorities. This has helped restore and sustain the peace process in Assam. For his part, Singh once again acknowledged India's appreciation of the help and Sheikh Hasina government's zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism.
The security agencies of India and Bangladesh enhanced cooperation between them by way of exchange of information about movement of terrorists across the porous border and exchanged visits in connection with the drive against terror groups. This has resulted in the arrests of many of their leading operatives on both sides of the border. The October 2014 bomb blast in Burdwan involving JMB operatives proved to be a turning point as India's elite anti-terror probe body National Investigation Agency brought out some disturbing findings. This had alarmed security agencies in both the countries which then enhanced their coordination in pursuit of JMB and other terror groups.
During Rajnath Singh's visit, India's promise of adding to Bangladesh's capacity-building in tackling terror was manifest in the inauguration of Bangladesh-India Friendship Building in Bangladesh Police Academy complex in Sardah, Rajshahi, equipped with state-of-the-art forensic laboratories, mock crime scenes, mock police station and an IT centre with computer labs. There is also a Memorandum of Cooperation between Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad, which trains Indian police service officers, and the Bangladesh Police Academy in Rajshahi in the sphere of training, management and exchange of trainers and trainees between the two academies.
The repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar's Rakhine state, which has failed to take off even eight months after the signing of an agreement between the two countries, figured prominently in the meeting between Sheikh Hasina and Rajnath Singh. The essence of the Indian home minister's view in the meeting with the Prime Minister was that New Delhi is working on two fronts at the same time: first, constructing prefabricated houses in Rakhine for Rohingya returnees and second, continuing to provide relief materials to help Bangladesh deal with the needs of the refugees in relief camps. India is concerned that if the repatriation process hangs fire, it would increase the risk of the refugees finding their way across Bangladesh's western frontier.
A big takeaway from Rajnath Singh's visit was the move that touched the lives of the common people of Bangladesh: opening of a new visa centre in Dhaka, India's largest facility anywhere in the world, that seeks to further ease procuring visa for Bangladeshis and the signing of a Revised Travel Arrangement for liberalising the visa regime including enhanced duration for employment, student and medical visas and five-year multiple entry visa for freedom fighters and senior citizens of Bangladesh. The setting up of the integrated visa centre could not have been timelier because Bangladeshis make up the largest number of foreigners visiting India.
Pallab Bhattacharya is a special correspondent at The Daily Star.