PM Narendra Modi is expected to impress upon his Nepalese counterpart, KP Oli, to convene the meet at the earliest, according to people aware of the matter.

India is likely to urge Nepal to soon hold the fourth summit of the seven-member grouping of South Asian and Southeast Asian nations under the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)to help fast-track regional connectivity projects and push its Act East Policy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to impress upon his Nepalese counterpart, KP Oli, to convene the meet at the earliest, according to people aware of the matter. They said India is eager to put in place the BIMSTEC multi-modal connectivity pact, especially since the proposed connectivity links under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) are progressing slowly. The BIMSTEC summit will give political push to the objective of the grouping.

With both Bhutan and Bangladesh set to hold parliamentary polls in 2018, India is also keen on the coastal shipping arrangement to infuse momentum into the sub-regional grouping that will feed into its Act East Policy, said one of the persons, who did not wish to be identified.

BIMSTEC secretary general M Shahidul Islam of Bangladesh will also visit Kathmandu eyeing an early summit, he said.

Cooperation within BIMSTEC figured prominently at last week’s meet convened by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for chief ministers from the Northeast.

The BIMSTEC connectivity arrangement will connect countries through road, rail and shipping. Coastal shipping will be encouraged since some of BIMSTEC member states share maritime boundaries and one of the members, Sri Lanka, is an island state. India is hosting a customs meet on BIMSTEC this week to smooth procedures and Bangladesh will host BIMSTEC a meet on pushing a free trade agreement (FTA).

During a recent visit to Delhi, Islam said at a business meet, “The time now is to consolidate on the progress made in the last 20 years and take immediate steps to give BIMSTEC a distinct regional flavour.”

Islam said that FTAs were no panacea for development, but they represented a crucial first step towards spurring growth and development in the region. The BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka, he said, needed to be adequately financed as its budget was a mere $1 million. India could put in seed money to strengthen the grouping.

With SAARC rendered ineffective as a bloc, largely due to non-cooperation on the part of Pakistan in a number of areas, India has been giving more importance to BIMSTEC in recent years. The BRICS Summit outreach in Goa in October 2016 was held with BIMSTEC leaders. India recently yet again ruled out participation in the SAARC Summit in Islamabad due to continued Pakistan-supported cross-border terrorism.

BIMSTEC brings together 1.5 billion people or 21 per cent of the world’s population and has a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion. India is the lead country for cooperation in four priority areas – counter-terrorism and transnational crime, transport and communication, tourism and environment, and disaster management. At India’s behest national security advisers of BIMSTEC nations have been meeting regularly to develop a common strategy against security challenge in the Bay of Bengal region.

Last week, participants from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal suggested at a regional policy dialogue in India ‘Connectivity Imperatives in the Bay of Bengal Region’, organised by CUTS International, that an empowered working committee must be created which can function as a regional platform to push the agenda of connectivity in the region.