As per latest reports, leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) have been invited for PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. As per the MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, “The President of the Kyrgyz Republic, who is the current Chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Prime Minister of Mauritius, who was the Chief Guest at this year’s Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, have also been invited.” The invite to the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) chair comes in the background of the SCO summit in Bishkek on June 13-14, which will be attended by PM Modi.
The BIMSTEC comprises of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar. However, Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina is unlikely to attend the swearing-in ceremony on account of her prior commitments. She leaves for a visit to Japan on Tuesday. Her other commitments for this week and the next week include the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) Summit in Saudi Arabia and a visit to Finland. She has, however, deputed her senior-most cabinet minister, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq, for the oath-taking ceremony. However, she is reported to have planned a day-long stopover in Delhi on June 8 on her way back to the Bangladesh Capital from Helsinki to meet PM Modi. It must be noted that during Hasina’s congratulatory phone call to PM Modi last Thursday, the two leaders had decided to meet soon and strengthen bilateral ties across the sectors of security, trade, transportation, and energy.
Speaking about the invitations for the swearing-in ceremony, the MEA spokesperson said, “Government of India has invited the leaders of the BIMSTEC member states for the swearing-in ceremony. This is in line with the government’s focus on its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.” It must be noted that during PM Modi’s 2014 swearing-in ceremony, the leaders of the SAARC countries, including Pakistan had been invited. However, Pakistan was diplomatically isolated after the Pathankot and Uri terror attacks. As per experts, inviting BIMSTEC leaders is a move aimed at strengthening an alternate grouping. The SAARC countries which stand excluded from the list of invitees are Afghanistan, Maldives and Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan has been left out, which is also in line with India’s policy of diplomatically isolating Pakistan.
Invite to BIMSTEC leaders entails another important factor in India’s foreign policy, that of supplanting lethargic SAARC which has often been bogged down due to Pakistan’s rigidity in dealing with neighbors. India sees BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC where regional co-operation can be furthered without the bilateral baggage that comes with Pakistan’s involvement in SAARC.
India Today has reported that not all leaders would be able to attend the ceremony. Thailand would send a special envoy to the Prime Minister at the ministerial level given that the process of government formation is going on in the country at this time. Myanmar is also yet to confirm the presence of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.