- Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina was in Delhi for a four day visit to address the World Economic Forum India summit and has signed series of agreement on various matters.
- However bilateral relations between the two have witnessed unprecedented tensions over the last few years owing to certain issues.
- India’s links with Bangladesh are civilization, cultural, social and economic.
- There is much that unites the two countries – a shared history and common heritage, linguistic and cultural ties, passion for music, literature and the arts.
- The two nations were strong allies during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
- However, they developed different Cold War alliances in the late 1970s and 80s.
- With the onset of economic liberalization in South Asia, they forged greater bilateral engagement and trade.
India’s relation with Bangladesh
- Perhaps on top of the list is connectivity between India’s mainland and the crucial northeast, which is part of India’s “Look East” Policy.
- The only connection between India’s mainland and the northeast was the Chicken’s Neck – a narrow strip of land that has always been a huge security concern.
- India and Bangladesh have signed several pacts, so India can actually send goods and passengers over land across Bangladesh, connecting Bengal to Tripura.
- Chittagong port, too, is now open to Indian vessels and will ease supply of goods, meaning India is much more connected to the northeast than before.
- The other part of ensuring the security of the northeast is by ensuring that Bangladesh does not become a shelter for its insurgents.
- The other big security concern for India is that Bangladesh should not turn into the frontline of radical terror in the southeast.
- Bangladesh could turn into a launchpad for religious radical terror activities in India.
- India’s relationship with Bangladesh is also linked to its relationship with China.
- India did not want Bangladesh to become a pearl in China’s “String of Pearls” strategy to hem in India by using its neighbours.
Trade and Industry
- Given Bangladesh’s GDP and economic growth, the Indian industry is taking a serious interest in investing in the country.
- 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.
- India has ensured duty-free access of Bangladeshi goods to Indian market esp. the ready-made garments exports to India.
- Energy cooperation between the two sides has also shown a lot of positivity with Indian state Tripura supplying a total of 160 MW of power to Bangladesh in addition to the 500 MW the country is receiving from West Bengal since 2013.
- India and Bangladesh share the historical legacy of cooperation and support during the Liberation War of 1971.
- Various Joint exercises of Army (Exercise Sampriti) and Navy (Exercise Milan) take place between the two countries.
Issues in the Bilateral Relations
- This has always been a primary problem for India since the partition of Bengal.
- In view of this, recently, the Supreme Court asked the Centre complete the fencing of the India-Bangladesh border soon to check illegal immigration from Bangladesh into Assam.
- It is considered to be one of the losses for India of losing its indigenous variety and trade.
- Cattle haats along the India-Bangladesh border are becoming a source of cattle for smuggling
Counterfeit currency smuggling
- Dumping of Fake Indian Currency Notes, recently several duplicate notes have been found along the border, which cripple the Indian Economy severely.
Joining Belt and Road initiative
- In 2016 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh, the smaller country agreed to join the OBOR.
- China is already investing in a number of infrastructure projects in the country including the deep sea port at Chittagong.
- It is likely that these projects will now be subsumed under the OBOR project.
River Water Sharing
- India and Bangladesh, as good neighbours, have moved forward on other sectors like power, investment and security but the Teesta waters issue remains a big problem due to continuous protest by the Mamata Banerjee led West Bengal government.
- Bangladesh is unhappy about the lack of resolution on all the common rivers.
Factors attributing to furtherance of tensions
Repatriation of illegal migrants
- The National Register of Citizens (NRC) has left out 1.9 million Assamese from the list with a group labelled as “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” living in Assam post-1971.
- India plans to seek their repatriation to Bangladesh.
- Bangladesh remains firm in its stance that no migrants travelled to Assam illegally during the 1971 war of independence and that the controversial NRC risks hurting relations.
- The Rohingya issue and India’s remarks in 2017 on the issue have been upsetting for Bangladesh which has been facing the challenge of providing shelter to more than a million refugees fleeing persecution.
- The recent visit to Dhaka by India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (August 19-21), saw a marked departure in India’s position.
- He had said then: “We agreed that safe, speedy and sustainable return of displaced persons (Rohingyas) is in the national interest of all three countries – Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India.”
- However, it is China that is mediating when, given its geographical proximity, it is India which is ideally positioned to play a positive role in regional leadership.
Unresolved river disputes
- India and Bangladesh have failed to conclude a framework agreement to optimise the use of waters from six rivers including the Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar, which has been discussed for several months.
- No progress was reported on the long pending Teesta water sharing agreement either after the recent visit.
- Bangladesh would seem to have comprehensively addressed Indian concerns with regard to support to militant elements in the North-east, for long an area of Indian concern.
- On its part, India continues to be unable to deliver on Teesta.
- The Ganga Barrage project in Bangladesh carries economic advantages as well as political overtones, but has not been addressed with suitable despatch by India to enable Bangladesh to obtain external funding.
- Delay in implementation of the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal initiative) is inexplicable.
- Even if India is not chiefly responsible, one may have expected greater attention.
Still India needs Bangladesh
South Asian geopolitics
- Bangladesh has emerged as one of India’s closest partners and second to Bhutan in South Asia.The role of Bangladesh is critical for India’s Act East Policy.
- India counts on Dhaka’s support in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) initiatives.
- These collectively complement New Delhi’s Southeast Asia outreach.
- Bangladesh’s location is a strategic wedge between mainland India and NE seven states. Each of these states is land-locked and has shorter route to the sea through Bangladesh.
- Transit agreement with Bangladesh will spur the socio-economic development of North-East India.
- Bangladesh uses China card to supplement its bargaining capacity against India.
- A ‘neutral’ Bangladesh thus ensures containment of an assertive China in this region.
Fight against terror
- Bangladesh has emerged as a key element in sub-regional connectivity initiatives with Pakistan refusing to play ball rendering SAARC ineffective.
- In 2016, when India decided to skip the SAARC Summit in Islamabad following spike in cross-border terror attacks, Bangladesh and Bhutan wasted no time in joining ranks in solidarity with India
Outcomes of the recent visit by PM Sheikh Hasina
India and Bangladesh signed seven agreements and also inaugurated three projects to deepen their partnership. The Seven Agreements include:
- The use of the Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for movement of goods to and from India, particularly from Northeastern India.
- Use of Bangladesh’s Feni river for drinking water supply in Tripura.
- However, no progress was reported on the long pending Teesta water sharing agreement.
- Exchange of data and information to prepare a framework of interim sharing agreements for six rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai and Gomati rivers of Tripura and Dharla river of Bangladesh and Dudhkumar river of West Bengal.
- Daudkanti (Bangladesh)-Sonamura (Tripura) inland water trade route to be included under Protocol of the Inland Water Transit and Trade.
- Consensus on lifting restrictions on entry and exit from land ports in India for Bangladeshi citizens travelling on valid documents.
- Implementation of the Lines of Credit (LoCs) committed by India to Bangladesh.
New bilateral development projects
- Import of bulk Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) from Bangladesh
- Inauguration of Vivekananda Bhaban (students hostel) at Ramakrishna Mission, Dhaka.
- Inauguration of Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute (BIPSDI) at the Institution of Diploma Engineers Bangladesh (IDEB), Khulna, Bangladesh.
- Both sides noted the progress made in finalization of a MoU on Establishment of Coastal Surveillance Radar System in Bangladesh.
- In a neighbourhood where distrust and cynicism prevail over friendship and hope, the relationship between the two countries has given hope for optimism.
- India-Bangladesh relations have matured in the last decade with development in many areas of cooperation.
- The shared colonial legacy, history and socio-cultural bonds demand that the political leadership of the two countries inject momentum into India-Bangladesh relations.
- Sheikh Hasina’s trip to India has helped relations graduate to the next level of strengthening the three Cs: cooperation, coordination, and consolidation.
- In due course of time rest of the issues will be sorted. But the sooner existing challenges are resolved, the better it is.