South Asia or Southeast Asia has become an important region for the whole world and specifically for global politics due to the presence of some globally important economies. For attaining further progress, it is vital that this region has constant regional stability. Bangladesh, though a densely populated but small country, has been of great importance in this region. The relationship between Bangladesh and India, one of the largest countries of South Asia, is vital in achieving regional progressive goals. Hence, these two countries need to act proactively to ensure peace and harmony in this region.
Three sides of Bangladesh’s land border are shared with Indiaand one side runs along the Bay of Bengal. India and Bangladesh share 4096.7 km. of border, which is the longest land boundary that India shares with any of its neighbors. India was the first country to recognize Bangladesh as an independent state and established diplomatic relations with the country immediately after its independence in December 1971 as a friendly South Asian neighbor. Bangladesh occupies a key place in India’s Neighborhood First policy. India’s links with Bangladesh are civilizational, cultural, social and economic.
The geographical proximity of India to Bangladesh has made it one of its biggest trading partners. Bangladesh is the 6th largest trade partner of India. The bilateral trade between two countries has jumped to USD 18.2 billion in 2021-22 as compared to USD 10.8 billion in 2020-21.India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers. The Ganga Waters Treaty was signed in 1996 for sharing of waters of river Ganga. Most recently, the Kushiyara Pact was signed. Moreover, as India and Bangladesh share a large border, transit and trade through inland waterways have been governed by a long standing and time-tested protocol between Bangladesh and India. Agartala-Akhaura Rail-Link will be the first rail route between Northeast India and Bangladesh.
Energy sector cooperation between India and Bangladesh has also seen considerable progress in the last few years. The India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline Project, signed in 2018, will connect Siliguri in West Bengal in India and Parbatipur in Dinajpur district of Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh have also signed the Framework of Understanding (FOU) on Cooperation in the Hydrocarbon Sector. On top of that, According to the Ministry of Tourism, Bangladesh accounted for the largest share of foreign tourist arrivals in India in 2020, including thousands of people who come to the country for medical treatment.
After forming of India and Pakistan in 1947, though today’s Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was a part of Pakistan, the country had strong cultural ties. Moreover, Bengali being one of the major language of India and mother language of all in East Pakistan allowed them to always nurture a close relation. During 1971 Liberation War India not only supported Bangladesh in war but also provided shelter to millions of Bengalis for months. Immediately after the independence of Bangladesh, the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh MujiburRahman established a strong tie with India. The treaty between Bangladesh and India was even called Mujib-Indira Agreement. Though many criticized that treaty, this agreement actually laid the foundation of neighborly as well as economic relations between the two countries.
After brutal killing of Sheikh Mujib in 1975, the relation between India and Bangladesh remained daunted for years. After Bangladesh’s current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came into power in 1996, the relationship between the two countries rejuvenated and many developments were visible like; the Farakka Treaty was signed in 1996. PM Sheikh Hasina also adopted a policy to not allow any anti-state movement on Bangladeshi soil. Her government uprooted the anti-Indian rebels as well as implemented Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Treaty.
During 2001-09, the relationship again experienced downfall especially with rise of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh. But after 2009, the ties got stronger again. Long disputed enclaves (chitmahals) were even returned to Bangladesh by the Indian government.India and Bangladesh formally exchanged 162 enclaves on August 1, 2015.
Since 2009, Bangladesh and India are having a strong friendly relationship. In 2021, India and Bangladesh celebrated their 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations together along with the celebrations of the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh MujiburRahman. It was decided to observe 6th December as MaitriDiwas or Friendship Day for establishing bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh in the year 1971. In Ashuganj, Brahmanbaria, a foundation stone has been settled as a memorial to honour the Indian Martyrs who gave up their lives during the Liberation War.
During the recent visit of PM Hasina to India, the countries signed seven agreements for cooperation in areas ranging from sharing of river waters to space and unveiled new connectivity and energy initiatives. Following talks with his visiting Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister NarendraModi said both leaders had stressed on cooperation against terrorism and fundamentalism. PM Modi described Bangladesh as India’s largest development partner and the biggest trade partner in the region, while Hasina said India is the most important and closest neighbor for Bangladesh.
Though the two countries enjoy a friendly relationship, there are few disputes still existing. Teesta River flows from India to the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh. It is also a major source of irrigation to the paddy growing greater Rangpur region of Bangladesh. Bangladesh does not get a fair share of the water. Since water is a state subject in India, the bottleneck lies in the non-consensus between the state government of Bengal and central government. Meanwhile, no treaty has been signed yet to resolve the Teesta water-sharing dispute between the two nations.
Other than the Teesta dispute, Illegal immigration from Bangladesh to India, which includes both refugees and economic migrants, continues unrelieved. There have been also several incidences of cross border drug smuggling & trafficking. The borders are also susceptible to terrorist infiltration. Moreover, growing Chinese influence over Bangladesh and its economy has been addressed by India as a concern. Continuous border killings of Bangladeshi people by Indian border guards remain another concern.
We already noted that, India shares their largest border with Bangladesh. They have dispute with Pakistan and China at borders. Myanmar is also a volatile neighbor to India with strong Chinese influence. Nepal is strongly trying to reach out of India’s influence in recent times. Afghanistan is also very volatile and though long time dispute between Sri Lanka and India was settled, the relationship is not very strong economically. The rest two bordering nations, Bhutan and Maldives have very low influence in regional politics or economy. Hence, it is very important for India to maintain peace and friendship with Bangladesh.
It is not hard to spread disturbance at the Bangladesh-India borders due to its spread and waterways. We often see anti-Indian sentiment among the people of Bangladesh, which is due to long-time anti-Indian regime’s presence in Bangladesh. BNP, the largest opposition party of Bangladesh, often tries to spread anti-India sentiments. But they should realize that, they will gain nothing for such efforts. If they come in power, BNP should also maintain a good relation with India for the welfare of the people. The Indian government should also address those sentiments and must learn and act on the reasons behind those sentiments. They should extend friendly gestures so that such sentiments get offset.
Any volatility in Bangladesh will disturb India in some form. India must realize that, Bangladesh will have relationships with many other countries as the country’s economy is a fast-growing one. Right now, Bangladesh needs several development partners to keep progressing. India is also a strong development partner of Bangladesh. Keeping the progressive needs of Bangladesh in mind, India should extend its cooperation as well as should keep Bangladesh as a neutral zone so that no global powers like US, China or Russia could over-influence Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is currently completely focused on its development. Dependency on any particular country as a development partner can have strong consequence. But the basis of our relationship with India is bestowed with our independence. Hence, we hope, the relationship between Bangladesh and India will always remain friendly as that will definitely ensure the welfare of the citizens of both the countries as well as will ensure regional peace and strength.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela