- Brief Insights on Bangladesh
- Major Areas of bilateral cooperation
- Challenges ahead
- Way Forward
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India & Bangladesh, the two nations share a common colonial past, heritage, values of secularism, democracy, linguistic & cultural ties. The relationship between India and Bangladesh is anchored in history and lies on the principles of sovereignty, equality, trust, understanding, growth, vision of peace & stability that goes far beyond a strategic partnership.
Brief Insights on Bangladesh:
1. Political situation:
- The 11th general elections in Bangladesh saw a landslide victory for the Grand alliance led by incumbent PM Sheikh Hasina who is the face of popular party Awami League.
- The incumbent Hasina government is pro-India and under her tenure there has been political consensus for upgrading relations.
- The country recently celebrated the birth centenary of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
- Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi paid tributes to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his 100th Birth Anniversary on 17 March 2020 through video conferencing as his trip to Bangladesh was called off amid COVID-19 outbreak.
2. Economic condition:
- According to the latest reports of World Bank Bangladesh is among the fastest growing economies of South Asia with the real GDP growth estimated at 8.1 % in 2019.
- Low cost labour intensive manufacturing and agriculture are the 2 major pillars of the Bangladeshi national economy.
Major Areas of bilateral cooperation:
1. International organisations:
- Focusing on the growth and needs of Bangladesh has been an important component of India’s ‘Neighbourhood Policy’.
- India and Bangladesh are the members of sub-regional groupings like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) Initiative and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
- The two nations are also part of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) working together in managing the crucial maritime region, and ensuring its stability which is also reflected in the Modi government’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) programme, which further aims to turn the region more inclusive.
2. Border Management:
- India shares the longest international land boundary with Bangladesh which is more than 4000 kms long.
- The historic India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) came into force following the exchange of instruments of ratification in June 2015 under Modi and Hasina government, providing for exchange of enclaves between the two countries.
- This was a perfect example of amicable resolution of long standing boundary disputes between nations.
3. Economic Co-operation:
- Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia.
- India’s exports to Bangladesh for financial year 2018-19 (April-March) stood at US $ 9.21 BN and imports from Bangladesh for the same period stood at US $ 1.22 BN.
- To gap the trade imbalance India has done various investments in Bangladesh and has given several Lines of credit for its infrastructural development.
- India is the source of maximum FDI investment in Bangladesh which stands more than $ 300 MN as of now.
- India has signed over 24 Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) with Bangladesh on almost every important sector of bilateral cooperation including security, trade, connectivity, energy, civil nuclear agreement, defence and transportation.
4. Infrastructure projects:
- India has given $8 BN Line of Credit (LoC) for the construction of Akhaura-Agartala rail project which shortened the distance between Dhaka and Kolkata to 550 km from 1650 kms earlier.
- The railway line will provide a major boost to development and economy of Eastern Bangladesh and North Eastern India.
- The two nations are working jointly on the rehabilitation of Kulaura-Shahbazpur section of railway line which will provide direct rail connectivity to Karimganj district of Assam and other North Eastern states.
- India has launched Dhaka-Khulna-Kolkata bus and Khulna-Kolkata Bandhan Express services in 2017 and end-to-end customs and immigration services for Dhaka-Kolkata Maitri Express to provide transport, connectivity and people to people contact.
- The countries have started cooperation on renewable energy, Solar power and nuclear power. India is providing Bangladesh technical assistance for the construction of the 2,400 MW Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Pabna, Bangladesh’s first nuclear plant which is expected to go into operation by 2020.
- Maitree Super Thermal Power Project of 1,320 MW at Rampal, Bangladesh is already progressing well.
- The nations are working on construction of 130 km Bangladesh-India Friendship Pipeline between Siliguri in West Bengal and Parbatipur in Dinajpur district, Bangladesh.
- The pipeline will supply around 400,000 tonnes diesel to Bangladesh annually.
5. Defence Co-operation:
- India and Bangladesh share the historical legacy of cooperation and support during the Liberation War of 1971.
- The Joint exercises of Army (Exercise Sampriti) and Navy (Exercise Milan) take place between the two countries on annual basis for better military engagement.
- India extended a LoC of $500 million to Bangladesh for defence purchase from India.
6. Cultural Exchanges:
- India and Bangladesh share close historical, cultural and ethnic links.
- The India-Bangladesh Cultural Agreement covers a range of areas of cooperation including art and culture, mass-media, films and press, sports and youth activities, archaeology, museums, libraries and education activities.
- The objectives enshrined in the Cultural Agreement are realized through the Cultural Exchange Programmes between the nations enhancing people to people contacts.
1. River disputes:
i) Farakka Barrage Dispute:
- In 1996, the sharing of the Ganga waters was successfully agreed upon between the two nations but there is a long pending dispute over India’s construction and operation of Farakka Barrage which was constructed to increase the water supply in river Hooghly.
- Bangladesh complains that it does not get a fair share of the water in the dry season and some of its areas get flooded when India releases excess waters during the monsoons.
- Since, water is a state subject in India, so the bottleneck lies in the non-consensus between state government of Bengal and India, to review the dam’s relevance & give some concessions to Bangladesh.
ii) Teesta River Dispute:
- Teesta river is a major source of irrigation to the paddy growing greater Rangpur region of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has sought an equitable distribution of Teesta waters, on the lines of Ganga Water Treaty of 1996.
- In 2011 an arrangement was finalized, which awarded India 42.5% water, Bangladesh 37.5% while remaining 20% would flow unhindered in order to maintain a minimum water flow of the river.
- This agreement could not be executed too due to opposition from chief minister of West Bengal.
2. Border Management & illegal migration:
India-Bangladesh share a long porous border. So, the border management is a serious challenge for both the nations. The issues arising out due to these porous borders are:
i) Illegal infiltration:
- The mass exodus of more than one million Rohingyas since 2017 and their infiltration to India via Bangladesh is a serious to peace and security in the region.
- Currently, there are 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. India has some 40,000 Rohingya refugees scattered across the country.
- Despite Rohingyas, the problem of Illegal Bangladeshi infiltrations has been unresolved since many decades and the influx is continued till date.
ii) Drug smuggling & trafficking:
- There have been many incidences of cross border drug smuggling & trafficking.
- Humans (Children & Women) are trafficked & various animal & bird species are poached through these borders.
- The borders are susceptible to terrorist infiltration
- Various outfits like Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) are trying to spread their tentacles across India.
3. Furore over National Register of Citizens:
- The NRC has been prepared to identify genuine Indian citizens living in Assam since 1971 or earlier and is proposed to be extended in pan India, to identify illegal migrants (majority of which are Bangladeshi infiltrators) in the country.
- This has concerned Bangladesh as it views that the excluded people will be turned back to Bangladesh & will cause rehabilitation issue there.
4. China’s influence:
- China has increased its influence in Bangladesh by increasing investment here.
- The Chittagong port of Bangladesh which plays an important role in China’s BRI initiative, has been handed over to China despite India’s objection.
- Bangladesh takes advantage of being strategically important to both India and China by flipping sides & thus increasing its bargaining power.
- The recent outbreak of COVID-19 gives serious concerns over health and economy of the countries.
- India should emerge as a leader in the region to help countries like Bangladesh economically, technologically and other humanitarian aid to fight the crisis.
- Keeping in mind the strategic location of Bangladesh & need to have a peaceful neighbourhood, bilateral ties must be strong between the nations.
- Applications of principle of non-reciprocity of Gujral Doctrine.
- Giving due consideration to genuine demands of Bangladesh.
- Timely completion of connectivity projects.
- Reconnect all connectivity links (rail, roadways, inland shipping) prior to 1947.
- Integrated Check Posts along borders.
- Defence exercises and weapons export.
- Increased people to people contacts and Tourism.
- Assurance regarding NRC and CAA exercise.
India’s perceived refusal to give Bangladesh its share of the river waters & issue of NRC has fueled anti-India sentiments in common people of Bangladesh. Hence, successful resolution of these disputes will help India to get more political leverage, which is necessary to gain trust of Bangladesh & check the rising influence of China in the Bay of Bengal region. The countries should take note of each other’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities and demonstrate a greater political will to establish mutually cooperative ties.