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2-min read

Invited for Modi’s Swearing-in, Are BIMSTEC Nations Now India’s Preferred Choice Over SAARC?

Leaders of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) nations have been invited for the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday.

Maha Siddiqui | CNN-News18

Updated:May 30, 2019, 9:34 AM IST
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Invited for Modi’s Swearing-in, Are BIMSTEC Nations Now India’s Preferred Choice Over SAARC?
File photo of PM Narendra Modi and other BIMSTEC leaders during the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Image: AP)
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New Delhi: Leaders of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) nations have started arriving for the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BIMSTEC comprises Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan, apart from India.

Apart from these countries, Prime Minister of Mauritius and the Krygyzstan President, head of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) will also be present for the oath-taking that will take place at 7pm on Thursday.

The selection of countries invited for the event not only reflects India's ‘neighbourhood first’ policy as highlighted by the ministry of external affairs, it also demonstrates the seriousness with which New Delhi believes it should engage with maritime nations for security in the Bay of Bengal region.

Addressing a plenary session in Nepal last year, Modi had said, "None of us countries is such who have not faced problems of terrorism and transnational crimes connected to terrorism network and drug trafficking." India stressed that these are not law and order problems of any one country and need to be faced unitedly by establishing a framework of required rules and regulations.

Apart from security, connectivity is also an important aspect of engaging with BIMSTEC countries. India's northeast will be playing a critical role in increasing connectivity with BIMSTEC member countries. Connectivity has been described broadly by India as - trade connectivity, economic connectivity, transport connectivity, digital connectivity, and people-to-people connectivity.

This is makes it evident that BIMSTEC has emerged as an alternative platform of engagement that India has with its neighbours, leaving the future of an already stagnant SAARC quite bleak. India had refused to attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016 post the Uri terror attack. Most other SAARC nations had backed India's stand. Since 2016 there has been no movement forward on resuming the SAARC summit.

Interestingly, after deciding to boycott the Islamabad SAARC summit in 2016, India had invited the same grouping of BIMSTEC countries to Goa as part of BRICS outreach initiative.

However, Veena Sikri, former diplomat who served as India's high commissioner to Bangladesh, believes that this is not a deliberate move to leave out Pakistan. She said that BIMSTEC has emerged as an important grouping for maritime security and connectivity, and hence the focus on it is justified.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's first bilateral engagement after taking over for a second term will be with a crucial maritime nation, Maldives. He will be visiting the country on June 7 and 8. This will be his second visit after the regime change with President Ibrahim Solih taking charge. Modi had made a short visit for President Solih's swearing-in ceremony in November.

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