Remove The Wedges In India-Bangladesh Ties

GS 2 – IR : India and its Neighborhood- Relations.

GS 2 – IR : Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing   Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

Source : The Hindu dated 26/03/2021: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/remove-the-wedges-in-india-bangladesh-ties/article34163863.ece

Reference : https://fsi.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/India_Bangladesh_MAR2021.pdf

Context : Prime Minister Sri. Narendra Modi visits Bangladesh as Bangladesh celebrates its 50 years of independence (March 26, 1971).

Introduction :

India and Bangladesh share bonds of history, language, culture, and multitude of other commonalities. The excellent bilateral ties reflect an all-encompassing partnership based on sovereignty, equality, trust, and understanding that goes far beyond a strategic partnership.

India-Bangladesh Relations:

  1. Longest land boundary : The two countries share a 4096-kilometre border and 54 rivers. Bangladesh share the longest land boundary with India.
  2. Bangladesh’s Liberation War : In 1947, the country currently known as Bangladesh was called East Pakistan. India’s political, diplomatic, military and humanitarian support during Bangladesh’s Liberation War played an important role towards Bangladesh’s independence.
    • Nearly 3,900 Indian soldiers gave up their lives and an estimated 10 million Bangladeshi refugees took shelter in India.
  3. 25-year treaty of friendship and cooperation  : In 1971, PM Indira Gandhi and PM Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, through signing a 25-year treaty of friendship and cooperation between India and Bangladesh, solidified the links that both countries had forged in the course of the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971.
  4. Joint rivers commission   : They set up a joint rivers commission in 1972. Both sides seldom agree on water-sharing. But the conflict remains inside the commission. In 1996, they signed a 30-year treaty on sharing water from the Ganga.
  5. Regional cooperation  : Both countries are members of SAARC, BIMSTEC, the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Commonwealth.
  6. Constitution (100th Amendment) Act, 2015: Bangladesh and India have achieved the rare feat of solving their border issues peacefully by ratifying the historic Land Boundary Agreement in 2015 (Constitution (100th Amendment) Act, 2015).

    [Background information: Enclaves were swapped allowing inhabitants to choose their country of residence and become citizens of either   India or Bangladesh.]
  7. Support in UN Security Council  : Recently, Bangladesh backed India’s election to the UN Security Council. 
  8. Medical training and aid : During the coronavirus crisis, India provided medical training to Bangladeshi professionals, test kits and medicines, besides the dispatch of vaccine consignments. New Delhi gifted 2 million doses of the COVID vaccines to Bangladesh.
  9. Defense :
    • Bongosagar naval exercise: The second edition of the bilateral naval exercise Bongosagar between India and Bangladesh was held in 2020
    •  Sampriti and Milan : The armed forces from both sides regularly conduct joint drills like exercise Sampriti and Milan.
  10. Connectivity :
    • Restoration of the pre-1965 rail links: Both the governments are undertaking various measures to restore the pre-1965 rail links and other connectivity links that existed between India and Bangladesh.
    • Chilahati (Bangladesh) and Haldibari (India)  Railway link: The two Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated the newly restored railway link between Chilahati (Bangladesh) and Haldibari (India) on 17 December 2020
    • Maitree Express and Bandhan Express: To enhance people to people contacts, the frequency of two passenger trains, i.e., Maitree Express and Bandhan Express was increased
    • Maintaining uninterrupted supply chains: Both countries also started using side-door container and parcel trains to maintain uninterrupted supply chains during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Feni Bridge (Maitree Setu) : Feni Bridge connecting LCS Subroom (Tripura) and LCS Ramgarh (Bangladesh) has been jointly inaugurated on virtual platform by both the Prime Ministers on 09 March 2021.
  11. Economic and Commercial relations:
    • Trade: Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia and India is the second biggest trade partner of Bangladesh
      • (In the FY 2019-20, India’s exports to Bangladesh were $8.2 bn and imports were $1.26 bn)
    • India-Bangladesh CEO’s Forum : In order to promote cooperation on bilateral trade, an India-Bangladesh CEO’s Forum was launched in December 2020.
    • Cooperation in the power sector: Cooperation in the power sector has become one of the hallmarks of India- Bangladesh relations. Bangladesh is currently importing 1160 MW of power from India.
  12. Development Partnership:
    • Bangladesh is the biggest development partner of India today.
    • US$ 8 billion worth Lines of Credits (LOC) : India has extended 3 Lines of Credits (LOC) to Bangladesh in the last 8 years amounting to US$ 8 billion for development of infrastructure in various sectors including roads, railways, shipping and ports.
    • Training of 1800 Bangladesh Civil Service officials from 2019 at National Centre for Good Governance (NCGG), Mussoorie & Bangladeshi police officials at various premier training institutes in India.
  13. Cultural Cooperation:
    • Fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations: 2021 is the fiftieth anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh.
    • Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre :The Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre (IGCC) in Dhaka plays an important role in celebration of common cultural links between the two countries.
      • Its training programs including Yoga, Kathak, Manipuri dance, Hindi language, Hindustani classical music and the cultural programs of renowned artists of India and Bangladesh

Areas of Contention:

  1. Teesta River Issue:  The Teesta River is a point of contention for the two countries. While India claims 55 per cent of the river’s waters, Bangladesh is unhappy with its share.
    • [Background information: The Teesta river originates in Sikkim, flows through the northern parts of West Bengal, before entering Bangladesh and joining the Brahmaputra river. ]
  2. Illegal Migrants’ Issue:  Hundreds of illegal migrants cross the porous border putting economic pressure on India.
    • New Delhi’s plan to document illegal migrants and deport them is viewed with concern in Dhaka.
  3. China-led belt and road initiative : Bangladesh’s participation in the China-led belt and road initiative is a cause of concern for India due to the growing closeness between a key ally and a strategic rival.
  4. Lose of influence in the region to China: In spite of its ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ and ‘Act East Policy’, India has been losing its influence in the region to China.
  5. Cheque book diplomacy of China :China, in lieu of its cheque book diplomacy, is well­ entrenched in South Asia, including Bangladesh, with which it enjoys significant economic and defense relations
  6. Border killings: Border killings are yet to stop. The year 2020 saw the highest number of border shootings by the Border Security Force.

Need to maintain stable and friendly relations:

  1. Trade : Bangladesh is currently India’s biggest trade partner in the South Asian region, eventhough there is certainly a gap in terms of exports and imports.
  2. Tourism: Bangladeshis make up a large portion of tourists in India, outnumbering all tourists arriving from western Europe in 2017, with one in every five tourists being a Bangladeshi. Bangladesh accounts for more than 35% of India’s international medical patients.
    • contributes more than 50% of India’s revenue from medical tourism.
  3. MOU on Covid-19 vaccine :During COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Bangladesh, BEXIMCO Pharmaceuticals Limited of Bangladesh and the Serum Institute of India (SII) have signed a trilateral MOU to procure 3 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the SII. Cooperation is to be further enhanced for the sake of both nations.
  4. Support to Bangladesh’s efforts :Bangladesh is a strong example of development and change for the world and India is Bangladesh’s “shoho jatri” (fellow traveller) in these efforts. 
  5. BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement : From making BIMSTEC the core of India’s regional outreach to shaping BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) Motor Vehicle Agreement,
    • Allowing for the possibility of Bangladeshi exports to Bhutan and Nepal via India, there is a new drive to operationalize the idea of a Bay of Bengal Community.
    • This will be even more significant as India’s desire to emerge as the locus of the Indo-Pacific narrative becomes even sharper in the coming years.
  6. Rohingya issue: The India- Bangladesh relations could well be an opportunity for Bangladesh to emphasize to India the need for meaningful pressure to be applied to Myanmar over the Rohingya issue.

Conclusion:

Challenges remain, but the leadership in the two countries has indeed ushered in a transformative moment in bilateral relations and regional geopolitics. If Delhi and Dhaka are able to leverage this unique moment effectively and realize the full potential of their partnership, not only will South Asia be able to emerge as the anchor in the wider Indo-Pacific, but the people of India and Bangladesh will also be able to once again write another chapter in their shared destinies.

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