On the second and final day of his first foreign visit since the Covid-19 outbreak last year, Modi held one-on-one talks with Hasina in Dhaka

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Saturday reviewed progress in development and connectivity initiatives even as the two countries signed five agreements in areas ranging from trade to disaster management.

On the second and final day of his first foreign visit since the Covid-19 outbreak last year, Modi held one-on-one talks with Hasina in Dhaka. This was followed by delegation-level talks that lasted more than an hour. The two leaders discussed progress in areas such as trade, connectivity, health, energy and developmental cooperation, according to external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

The two sides signed five memorandums of understanding (MoUs) covering disaster management and mitigation, establishment of a framework for cooperation in trade remedial measures, establishment of sports facilities at Rajshahi College, cooperation between Bangladesh National Cadet Corps and India’s National Cadet Corps, and the supply of ICT equipment, reference books and training for the Bangladesh-Bharat Digital Service and Employment Training Centre.

“Had a productive meeting with PM Sheikh Hasina. We reviewed the full range of India-Bangladesh relations and discussed ways to deepen economic and cultural linkages in the times to come,” Modi tweeted. The new MoUs will add strength to the development partnership and benefit the people of the two sides, especially the youth, he said.

Modi handed over a symbolic key to Hasina for 109 ambulances gifted by India, and also donated 1.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines as a grant.

The two leaders virtually inaugurated several projects, including three border “haats” or markets and the extended development of Rabindra Bhawan at Shilaidaha Kuthibari, a country house in Kushtia where Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore spent a part of his life. They virtually laid the foundation stone for the development of infrastructure at the Rooppur nuclear power plant being jointly built by Russia and India.

Hasina presented gold and silver coins released to mark the birth centenary of her father, “Bongobandhu” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to Modi. The two leaders released postage stamps marking 50 years of diplomatic relations.

Modi’s visit coincided with celebrations marking the birth centenary of Rahman and 50 years of Bangladesh’s liberation war. On Friday, Modi was the only foreign leader invited to attend celebrations marking the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence, and he called for greater bilateral cooperation to confront shared challenges such as terrorism and to boost trade and connectivity.

Earlier on Saturday, Modi became the first foreign head of government to visit Bongobandhu’s mausoleum at Tungipara. He also visited two historic Hindu temples at Satkhira and Orakandi, a move with symbolic significance for elections in the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam, which share borders with Bangladesh.

Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana took Modi around the mausoleum complex in Tungipara. He paid tribute at the grave of Bongobandhu and planted a “bakul” tree sapling to commemorate the historic event. Modi also signed the visitors’ book at the mausoleum and wrote that the life of Bongobandhu “epitomised the freedom struggle of the people of Bangladesh for their rights, for the preservation of their inclusive culture and their identity”.

Modi began the day by performing puja at the centuries-old Jeshoreshwari Kali Shaktipeeth in Satkhira, a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali and one of 51 Shaktipeeths of the Puranic tradition. He placed a handmade “Mukut” of silver with gold plating, which was crafted by a local artisan in three weeks, on the idol.

He also announced a grant for building a community hall-cum-cyclone shelter at the temple complex. This structure will be used during the temple’s annual Kali puja and mela and also serve as a storm shelter and community facility.

At Orakandi, Modi sought blessings at the Hari Mandir and interacted with descendants of Harichand Thakur, a Hindu mystic and spiritual guru. He addressed members of the Matua community and said India and Bangladesh want to see the progress of the whole world through their development and progress. Both countries want stability, love and peace instead of instability, terror and unrest, and these were the same values preached by Harichand Thakur, he said.

Modi said India is moving forward with the slogan of “Sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwas”, and Bangladesh is a “shoho jatri” (fellow traveller) in these efforts. At the same time, Bangladesh is a strong example of development and change for the world and India is Bangladesh’s “shoho jatri” in these efforts, he said.

He announced several initiatives, including upgrading the middle school for girls at Orakandi and the setting up of a primary school. He said steps will be taken to ease the travel of a large number of people who come from India to Orakandi every year to participate in “Baruni Snan” on the birth anniversary of Harichand Thakur.

Orakandi is home to the Hindu Matua community, a large number of whom also live in West Bengal. Modi was accompanied by Shantanu Thakur, a BJP MP from West Bengal, for the visit to Orakandi, and observers said the trip had political significance against the backdrop of the elections in West Bengal.

The Matua community’s vote is expected to determine the winners in some seats in the West Bengal assembly.

“My visit to the Orakandi Thakurbari is an experience I will remember for life. This is a very sacred place, which is closely associated with the Matua community,” Modi tweeted.

Modi has described Bangladesh as a key pillar of India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, while Hasina has referred to India as a “true friend” and said both sides can play a significant role in global and regional value chains by further integrating their economies and boosting connectivity.