Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina are expected to hold a virtual summit on December 17, during which the two sides will sign at least four memorandums of understanding to boost bilateral cooperation.
The summit will cap a string of engagements since foreign secretary Harsh Shringla visited Dhaka in August to put the relationship back on an even keel after it was hit by irritants such as the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
Before the summit, Bangladesh foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen is expected to visit New Delhi on December 8 for talks with Shringla and other top officials, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity. Details of the MoUs to be signed during the summit are being finalised, they said.
Bangladesh has also invited Modi to visit Dhaka in person on March 26 next year to join celebrations marking 50 years of the country's independence. Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen told the media in Dhaka on Monday that India had accepted the invitation in principle.
Modi was scheduled to visit Bangladesh in March to join celebrations marking the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, but the trip was called off because of the pandemic. At that time, ties had come under strain because of remarks by top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders regarding the deportation of foreigners from Assam to Bangladesh.
With China stepping up efforts to enhance development aid for Bangladesh, New Delhi has worked to remove irritants in ties with Dhaka and sped up work on several connectivity and transit projects. Shringla's visit to Dhaka was his first trip abroad after Covid-19-related travel restrictions kicked in, and he had handed over a personal message from Modi to Hasina.
In July, India provided 10 railway locomotives to Bangladesh, days after the first container train made its way to the Bangladeshi side and the first shipment of goods was sent from Kolkata to Tripura via Chattogram port. The two sides are setting up a new mechanism to review progress on bilateral projects, with five such ventures, including an oil pipeline and three cross-border rail links, set to be completed in 2021.
However, the people cited above said rhetoric related to upcoming elections in West Bengal, including remarks by top BJP leaders that the border with Bangladesh will be sealed to prevent the entry of "fake voters", had resulted in fresh concerns in Dhaka.
Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said despite India-Bangladesh ties being affected by issues such as CAA and Beijing's overtures to Dhaka, the "overall picture of the bilateral relationship is very good".
He said, "Bangladesh could raise the Teesta waters issue at the summit but India will have nothing new to offer as elections are coming up in West Bengal. But the two sides can work towards closer and deeper cooperation and Bangladesh will be keen to discuss the future trajectory of Bimstec (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), which is on the cusp of major rejuvenation."