Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen recently described bilateral ties with India as “rock solid” and said they couldn’t be compared with Dhaka’s relations with Beijing

Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Tuesday to deliver a message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he began a previously unannounced visit aimed at boosting bilateral ties.

Both sides were tight-lipped about Harsh Shringla’s two-day visit, with the external affairs ministry saying in a brief statement after the foreign secretary landed in Dhaka and that his trip was meant to “discuss and take forward cooperation on matters of mutual interest”.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that Shringla had carried a personal message from PM Modi which he handed over during a one-on-one meeting with Sheikh Hasina at her official residence on Tuesday afternoon.

The Bangladeshi premier “greatly appreciated” PM Modi’s gesture of sending a senior official to “touch base, convey his message and see how the two sides could take their relationship forward”, said one of the people cited above.

The people described the meeting as “excellent” and said the issues discussed were enhancing connectivity, revival of the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, cooperation on countering the virus, including joint work on therapeutics and a vaccine, and the joint commemoration of “Mujib Barsho” or the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh and the father of Hasina.

There was a proposal to convene a virtual meeting of the joint consultative commission at the level of the foreign ministers to oversee the relationship, especially bilateral projects. A proposal for creating a travel bubble for business, official and medical travel was also discussed, the people said.

Security-related issues of mutual interest also came up at the meeting, and Sheikh Hasina spoke about the issue of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and their possible safe repatriation, the people added.

Bangladesh has called on India several times in recent years to use its influence with Myanmar to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh currently hosts almost one million Rohingya, who fled a crackdown by the Myanmar military.

This is Shringla’s first trip abroad since the Covid-19 outbreak. It is also the first visit to Bangladesh by a senior Indian official since travel restrictions were put in place due to the pandemic.

On the Bangladeshi side, Hasina has not met anyone from abroad in the past few months. She has also held meetings with very few people within the country.

Harsh Shringla, who earlier served as the Indian envoy in Dhaka, is also expected to meet foreign minister AK Abdul Momen and minister of state for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam. He will meet foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen on Wednesday.