According to an official source in Dhaka, the Hasina government has rejected a proposal for a Dhaka-Chittagong high-speed railway that China is aggressively pursuing.
According to the Indian authorities, Bangladesh has taken India’s security interests into account while allowing Chinese companies to carry out projects in the country.
Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim-majority countries that has not officially filed a protest with India over BJP spokespersons’ remarks against the prophet.
Bangladesh’s Information Minister Hasan Mahmud told a visiting Indian media delegation on Saturday that Dhaka is grateful to the Indian government for taking action against those who have insulted the Prophet.
Significantly, while a Chinese company has built the multi-purpose bridge over the Padma River, Bangladesh is proud of the fact that its government funded the construction without any loan assistance from China or any other country or entity.
The 6km bridge built on the turbulent waters of the Padma is expected to provide a major boost to trade and commerce in southwestern Bangladesh and, according to official estimates, increase the country’s GDP by 1.2 percent.
Although India played no part in the construction of the bridge, Indian authorities are still pleased that it will bring Bangladesh closer to India by reducing the train journey time from Dhaka to Kolkata by almost 3 hours.
“There is no impact on India’s security so far due to China’s involvement in economic projects. As for loans, Bangladesh has a high debt-to-GDP ratio and is much more exposed to loans from ADB or even Japan,” said a source.
For many, Bangladesh is much more organized about what it wants than perhaps Sri Lanka. This could potentially be why, as an official source said, Dhaka believes investment in a $10 billion high-speed train to connect the capital with Bangladesh’s second-largest city may not be necessary for the time being.
The decision not to go ahead with the proposal, after conducting a feasibility study, is still important as China pressured Dhaka to sign an MoU to move forward with the proposal. Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming is said to have written to the Bangladesh government last week for an early signing of the MoU.
Bangladesh also saw street protests in Dhaka and other places last week against BJP spokespersons’ comments against the prophet. Asked why Bangladesh has not officially condemned the comments, Mahmud said Bangladesh condemns such insults against the Prophet “wherever it happens” and that Bangladesh “congratulates” India on taking legal action.
According to diplomatic sources, Hasina will also visit India in a few months. The visit is likely to be the last high-level contact between the two governments ahead of next year’s elections in Bangladesh. How fair or credible the elections will be, however, is debatable as the main opposition party, the imprisoned Khaleda Zia BNP, insists it will only participate if the elections are held under a transitional government.
However, a top source in the government of Bangladesh said there is no question of accepting that demand. While India would of course not mind if Hasina returns to power, India believes it is in its own interest and in the interest of Bangladesh that the elections be participatory, free and fair and not devoid of international legitimacy.