PM Modi calls up South Asian leaders

PM reiterates commitment to ‘neighbourhood first’, excludes Pakistan in his New Year dialling list

January 01, 2020 11:13 pm | Updated 11:13 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Regional ties: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. File

Regional ties: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. File

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up leaders of Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka on Wednesday and conveyed India’s commitment to the principle of “neighbourhood first”.

During the talks, Mr. Modi conveyed his greetings to the leaders and discussed the upcoming regional interactions. The talks hint at India’s pursuit of a regional arrangement without the participation of Pakistan.

“He emphasised India’s commitment to the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy and the vision of shared peace, security, prosperity and progress for all of India’s friends and partners in the region,” an official press release said.

India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy was adopted soon after Mr. Modi took charge in May 2014 which led to several key regional agreements including the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh.

Mr. Modi told his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina that India’s ties with Dhaka were a “priority” for his government. In recent weeks, relations with the eastern neighbour were marred by negative references to the country by several leaders including Home Minister Amit Shah who justified the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 citing alleged persecution against minority religious communities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Both leaders discussed the upcoming celebrations in Dhaka around the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in March where the Indian leader is expected to be a leading speaker. Mr. Modi also spoke to Nepal PM K.P. Sharma Oli. During 2019m both sides completed several bilateral projects including operationalisation of the Motihari Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline. Both leaders agreed to inaugurate an integrated checkpost of Biratnagar through video conference.

In his talk with Bhutan’s king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, Mr. Modi discussed the visit of the ruler to India in 2020. Mr. Modi visited Bhutan soon after being sworn in for the second stint. The phone calls were in keeping with India’s recent attempts to create a regional grouping without Pakistan.

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