Bangladesh’s PM, Sheikh Hasina, is set to make an official visit to neighbour nation India in the month of September after an interlude in physical visits dating back to the pandemic. In the backdrop of this long-awaited event, it is necessary to outline the relationship that India has shared with her long-time ally and neighbour state.
India in the present day seeks to foster and maintain relationships of trust and goodwill with its neighbouring countries, as they hail from the same motherland, having donned sovereign identities of their own.
New Delhi’s close relationship with Dhaka dates back 50 years, when India’s historic defeat of Pakistan made way for the liberation of the independent state of Bangladesh. As the first nation to have recognized Bangladesh’s sovereignty, India’s diplomatic relations with the country were formally established in 1971, immediately succeeding the independence.
India and her Eastern neighbour have worked hard to maintain mutually beneficial bilateral ties, as two countries that share a common history, culture and languages. India and Bangladesh have stood apart in the South-Asian region as a shining example of mutual cooperation and respectable problem solving.
As two nations cut from essentially the same cloth, New Delhi and Dhaka are no strangers to geopolitical issues cropping up, but the states have consistently chosen the strategic way of handling concerns amicably, through negotiations and constructive dialogue.
The manner in which the countries have chosen to manoeuvre their differences has kept with the spirit of the India-Bangladesh Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace which was signed in 1972 so as to ensure close, bilateral relations between the two countries.
Economic partnerships: The old and the new
With Bangladesh being India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia, and India conversely occupying the second trade partner position for Bangladesh, trade agreements between the two countries date back to the beginning, in 1972. Since then, New Delhi and Dhaka have maintained commercial ties which encourage and bolster the economies of both countries.
Bilateral trade has grown tremendously over the last 5 years, swelling up to $16 billion in 2021, in comparison to the $9 billion in 2018 . Now, with India’s penchant for signing Free Trade
Agreements with nations, Bangladesh is gearing up to sign its first deal of this kind. In August, Dhaka gave a nod for formal negotiations to commence for a Comprehensive Economic
Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with New Delhi; meanwhile, India’s biggest South Asian economic rival, China, is still pandering Dhaka to concede to such deals as well.
The pact is projected to have a significant positive impact on the economies of both nations, with an aim of boosting trade and investments between the two. The deal is predicted to
improve export earnings of Bangladesh by 190% and India’s by 188%; the GDP of both the countries is also expected to rise by 1.72% and 0.03% respectively .
As India’s biggest development partner, Bangladesh has been extended 3 Lines of Credit by India since 2013, amounting to a total of $8 billion for development in the country. Talks of the CEPA had been initiated to rival Beijing’s growing influence in the country as China’s flow of funds was reaching an all-time high in 2018. Now, CEPA will make room for more Indian investments, with three Special Economic Zones already having been set up for the same reason .
The CEPA’s main points for action are those of investments, and the trading of goods and services. One of the agreement’s larger goals is also to settle the trade gap between the two nations, and to create and explore new economic opportunities through connectivity and new markets.
With substantial importance being placed on connectivity, owing to Dhaka’s belief of “connectivity is productivity”, a number of projects have been completed in the last few years to strengthen land, rail as well as maritime connectivity of the neighbouring countries. The partners, along with Nepal, also seek an effective multimodal transportation system to take root in the South-Asian region.
The much-awaited Mitali Express, running from North Western Bengal to Dhaka embarked on its maiden journey in June this year . Work is underway on a priority basis for an AgartalaAkhaura rail line, which aims at cutting down the travel time from 31 hours to a convenient 10 hours, running between Gangasagar in Bangladesh to Nischintapur in India – the project is just one example of how the two countries aim to motivate relations for local trade and commerce.
Under CEPA, India and Bangladesh are also planning to connect via the Petrapole-Benapole, Phulbari-Banglabandha, and Dawki-Tamabil points. This proposed connectivity is expected to ease travel across borders for cargo and passenger vehicles, both for economic and personal purposes.
Meandering through river negotiations
One of the foremost concerns that the neighbours have had to work through consistently for the last 50 years is the sharing of natural resources that run through both countries. India and Bangladesh share nearabout 54 trans-boundary rivers among them; the river Ganges, which flows from India into Bangladesh, has remained a major point of conflict over the years.
However, the countries have made considerable strides in finding fair terms of negotiations acceptable to both sides involved. The Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, signed in 1996 served as the first major agreement reached regarding this matter; the renewal for this historic agreement is also looming in the distance by 2025.
The issue of shared waters has largely been overseen by the India-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC), a body working for the issue since its inception in 1972. Most recently, the JRC held its 38th meeting in August this year, bringing the hiatus of 12 years to an end. The latest sitting of the JRC has not only managed to bring the two countries on the same page regarding the Kushiyara river, but has also aided in dispelling any talks of cooling of relations. The subject of the Teesta River is also expected to be resolved soon, with the upcoming visit of Premier Hasina to India.
At the India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Commission held in June, India, being represented by S. Jaishankar (Minister of External Affairs), pledged to help Bangladesh in efforts to relieve the flood-struck country in its time of need. As India’s North-East states also suffered similarly, India offered to share flood management data with the neighbour state for an extended period of time, and left an open offer to seek help as well.
As Mr. Jaishankar noted in his inaugural speech at the 7th India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Commission in June, “(The two countries) are truly at a ‘shonali adhyaya’”.
Countries for the people, by the people
In 2015, the two nations also managed to tackle the Gargantuan task of resolving the controversial matter of Enclaves along their 4,000-kilometre border . The efficient handling of such a sensitive issue- where the governments decided to swap land and allowed the residents to make a choice regarding their citizenship- set the precedent for peaceful and healthy negotiations for future reference between the countries.
The agreements over the enclaves also paved the way for India to shed its overbearing image regarding territorial disputes, and allowed the country to be perceived in a more positive light by Dhaka, securing better relations of collaboration with her neighbour.
The authorities in both countries have made consistent efforts to deepen their ties. Indian PM, Narendra Modi, made an exception to the travel restrictions in place to visit Dhaka in March, 2021, to celebrate Bangladesh’s 50 years of liberation from Pakistan. Such is India’s integral role in its friend’s independence, that New Delhi hosted events to mark their victory over Pakistan in 1972, which had led to the country’s liberation.
India-Bangladesh ties are an exemplar of ally states, setting a high standard for the future generations of the nations to come. The mutual trust and understanding extended to their counterpart is rare in this day and age of countries pursuing underhanded geopolitical agendas, but these two countries hope to maintain the bond they have forged in blood in the years to come.