It’s not often that you see two prime ministers and a chief minister jointly flagging off a train service. But on Thursday morning, PM Narendra Modi, his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee did just that when they flagged off the Kolkata-Khulna ‘Bandhan Express’ via video-conferencing.
The fully air-conditioned train, which will start plying passengers from November 16, will run every Thursday from both Kolkata and Khulna, covering a distance of 177 km in four-and-a-half hours. They also inaugurated the International Passenger Rail Terminal at Kolkata station, which offers immigration and customs clearance facilities for passengers of the new route, as well as for the Maitree Express, which connects Kolkata with Dhaka and two rail bridges to ramp up connectivity between Dhaka and Chittagong.
Modi, who opened his inauguration with a Bengali phrase, congratulated the people of the two countries on this occasion. India takes pride in being a “reliable partner” in Bangladesh’s development and the bridges, built through an Indian line of credit, would help strengthen Bangladesh’s rail network, he said. In Dhaka, Sheikh Hasina said this fulfilled a long cherished dream, and marked another happy milestone in Bangladesh-India ties.
Expressing confidence that these projects would boost ties between the two nations, she said Bangladesh and India are also working to re-open pre-1965 rail links for freight transport. Not to be outdone, CM Banerjee in Kolkata declared that “Bangladesh is one of India’s best friend in the world. Bandhan Express will strengthen the relationship. Hasinaji I invite you to visit Bengal.”
This is the same Mamata who had rejected Modi’s request to agree to the Teesta River water sharing accord with Bangladesh earlier this year. Barring that irritation, however, India Bangladesh relations have been on a definite upswing over the past few years. Whether it will remain that way if Hasina loses the elections in late 2018 remains to be seen.