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Why Dhaka could be Modi's first destination as PM

May 22, 2014 08:58 IST

Prime minister-elect Narendra Modi’s first official visit as head of government will likely be to Dhaka, where he is expected to sign the much-awaited Teesta water-sharing agreement with Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina.

The issue was discussed at length during Modi’s telephonic conversation with Hasina, who not only requested Modi to make Bangladesh his first foreign destination as prime minister, but to also consider Dhaka his “second home”, diplomatic sources told Business Standard.

The Teesta water-sharing agreement accounted for a substantial part of their conversation, the sources said. Modi is understood to have told Hasina he would take “concrete and meaningful steps” for a robust bilateral relationship.

The United Progressive Alliance was not able to sign an agreement on sharing the river water because of opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Though Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, he must convince Banerjee, as water is a state subject in India.

Sources said Modi could bring Banerjee on board by offering her a fiscal package to revive cash-strapped West Bengal. Banerjee is learnt to have been invited to Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. Modi might also convince Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling to share Teesta waters with West Bengal. The prime minister-elect enjoys good relations with Chamling since his days as Gujarat chief minister.

The Teesta water sharing treaty is likely to be Modi’s first step towards business-like and cordial relations with India’s neighbours. He is also learnt to have specially invited leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries for his swearing-in ceremony on May 26. Sources said Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa had agreed to attend the ceremony.

The ceremony is expected to take place at the historic Durbar Hall in Rashtrapati Bhawan, or on its lawns if the guest list is large. Besides leaders from South Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), invitations have reportedly been sent to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and South African President Jacob Zuma.

US President Barack Obama, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also been invited, sources said.

Modi, who was in Gujarat on Wednesday to elect his successor there, spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the two countries would “script a golden chapter in history”. He also spoke to Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

During his speech at Parliament’s central hall on Tuesday, Modi touched upon every issue his government would deal with, apart from foreign policy.

His Twitter account shows he is receiving congratulatory messages from leaders across the world.

In a related development, Obama’s former aide Anish Goel, who advised the US president on South Asia, recommended the visa ban on Modi be lifted.

Nayanima Basu
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