[Burning Issue] India-Bangladesh Relationship

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  • Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina has arrived in India for a four-day visit to boost bilateral ties.
  • India has marched past Britain to emerge as the fifth-largest economy and similarly, with Sheikh Hasina at the helm for over 13 years, her country has come of age. 
  • In this context, this edition of the burning issue will analyse the growing India-Bangladesh bilateral partnership, its achievements and irritants and finally conclude with a more can be achieved through this partnership.

History of the India-Bangladesh Relationship

  • The two neighbours, India and Bangladesh, are organically linked — with their common heritage and shared history, common memories of tragic loss, and the separation of families on a massive scale following the Partition of India in 1947.
  • Also, Rabindranath Tagore created the national anthems of both Bangladesh and India in 1905 and 1911 respectively.
  • However, the bilateral relations between the two nations formally started after the Bangladesh liberation war,1971 which had played a key role along with the Mukti Bahini, thus helping East Pakistan (as called then) to separate from Pakistan and emerge as an independent nation. Bangladesh liberation day, 16th December is celebrated as “Vijay Diwas” in India.
  • India was the first country to recognize Bangladesh as a separate and independent state and established diplomatic relations with the country immediately after its independence in December 1971.

India-Bangladesh ties: An organic transformation

  • 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, and passion for music, literature and the arts.
  • It is also worth recalling that India shares its longest border of 4,096.7 kilometres with Bangladesh, which is also the fifth-longest border in the contemporary world.
  • With the onset of economic liberalization in South Asia, they forged greater bilateral engagement and trade.

Significance of Bangladesh for India

  • Strategic– From the perspective of India’s Northeast, Bangladesh is India’s most strategic neighbour. 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.
  • Connectivity to East Asia– India’s dream of ‘Act East Policy’ can only be materialized with the helping hands of Dhaka. 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.
  • Internal Security– 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 if relations are not maintained well.
  • Countering China– 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- Bangladesh is currently India’s biggest trade partner in the South Asian region.

Achievements of the relationship

(1) Border settlements

  • In September 2011, the two countries signed a major accord on border demarcation to end the 4-decade old disputes over boundaries. This came to be known as the Tin Bigha corridor. India also granted 24-hour access to Bangladeshi citizens in the Tin Bigha Corridor.
  • On 7 May 2015 the Indian Parliament, in the presence of Bangladeshi diplomats, unanimously passed the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) as its 100th Constitutional amendment, thereby resolving all 68-year-old border disputes since the end of the British Raj.

(2) Power cooperation

  • India’s Reliance power agreed to invest US$3 billion to set up a 3,000 MW LNG-based power plant (which is the single largest foreign investment ever made in Bangladesh). Adani power will also be setting up a 1600 MW coal-fired power plant at a cost of US$1.5 billion.
  • In 2018, the leaders of both countries inaugurated the 130 km long Bangladesh-India Friendship pipeline to supply 4 lakh tonnes of diesel to Bangladesh.
  • India is also looking to export electricity from its northeastern region with the potential to generate some 58,971 MW to its eastern States through Bangladesh. Bangladesh hopes to have access to Nepal and Bhutan’s power through India. Bangladesh has formally requested a ‘power corridor’ to access the Bhutanese and Nepalese markets. 
  • Bangladesh currently imports 1160 MW of power from India.

(3) Connectivity

  • The Modi government along with the Sheikh Hasina regime restarted that with Bandhan in 2017. The Bandhan Express was the second train to be flagged off after the introduction of Maitree Express between Kolkata and Dhaka Cantonment in April 2008.
  • In September 2018, the Bangladesh cabinet approved the draft of a proposed agreement with India to allow it to use the Chittagong and Mongla sea ports for transporting goods to and from its land-locked northeastern states.
  • Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative Motor Vehicles Agreement has also been underway to promote connectivity in the region.
  • In August 2021, the two sides started a regular movement of freight trains between the newly-restored link between Haldibari in India and Chilahati in Bangladesh.

(4) Cooperation on Rivers

  • India and Bangladesh have 54 rivers in common and a bilateral Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) has been working since June 1972 to maximize cooperation in sharing the waters of these rivers.

(5) Defence and Security

  • The militaries of the two countries will conduct joint exercises and training, Exercise Sampriti and Navy (Exercise Milan). India will help Bangladesh set up manufacturing and service centres for defence platforms that both countries possess with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency in defence manufacturing in Bangladesh, and will also provide the Bangladesh military with expert training, and technical and logistic support.
  • India also extended its first ever defence-related line of credit to a neighbouring country, by providing Bangladesh with $500 million to purchase defence equipment.
  • Closer cooperation to fight against extremist radical groups, terrorist organisations, smuggling of arms, drugs and fake currency and also organized crime as a shared priority.
  • India and Bangladesh are also engaged in regional cooperation through multilateral forums such as SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and IORARC (Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation)
  • For the first time, a contingent of the Bangladesh Armed Forces, comprising 122 members from its tri–services, participated in the Indian Republic Day parade.

(6) Economic development

  • India has extended a line of credit of US$ 800 million to Bangladesh for a range of projects, including railway infrastructure, supply of Broad-Gauge microprocessor-based locomotives and passenger coaches, procurement of buses, and dredging projects.
  • The bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh stood at $10.8 billion in 2020-21, as against $9.5 billion in 2019-20. Major exports from India to Bangladesh include cotton, cereals, fuel, vehicle parts and machinery and mechanical appliances.

(7) People’s connectivity

  • Scholarships and training programmes under ITEC, TCS of Colombo Plan, ICCR, AYUSH, Commonwealth, SAARC and IOR-ARC scholarships/ fellowship schemes are being offered to Bangladesh nationals.
  • Both countries jointly celebrated year-long celebrations of the 150th birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore and the 90th Anniversary of the publication of the poem ‘Bidrohi’ by Kazi Nazrul Islam in 2011-12.
  • Also, people from Bangladesh form the biggest foreign tourists arrival in India and also the biggest benefiter of cheap Medical tourism in India.

Issues hurting the relationship

(1) Illegal migration

  • 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 to complete the fencing of the India-Bangladesh border soon to check illegal immigration from Bangladesh into Assam.
  • Continuous border killing of Bangladeshi people by Indian border guards, aiding illegal immigrants, helping in armed dacoity, fake money transfer and illegal drug trades by both Indian and Bangladeshi people are the major problems between Bangladesh and India.

(2) Increasing Chinese footprint

  • In 2016 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh, the smaller country agreed to join the OBOR.
  • Bangladesh is increasingly tilting towards China due to the Asian giant’s massive trade, infrastructural and defence investments in these countries.
  • In spite of its Neighbourhood First Policy, India has been losing its influence in the region to China.

(3) NRC conundrum

  • 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.

(4) Rohingya Issue

  • 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.

(5) 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.

(5) Rising radicalization

  • Bangladesh is witnessing rising radicalization as evident from multiple attacks on religious places of Hindu minorities in the nation and also from the massive violence during PM Modi’s visit to Bangladesh last year.

(6) Killings at the border

  • The shooting of smugglers by BSF personnel at the Indo-Bangladesh Border is often seen by Bangladesh nationals as the killing of innocent Bangladeshis and ‘Big Brother’ attitude of India. Recently, a BSF jawan was also killed by smugglers on the border.

Outcomes from Recent PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India (September 2022)

  • Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ongoing state visit to India and meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi have resulted in positive outcomes and seven agreements.
  • These include the conclusion of the first water-sharing agreement in 26 years. The water sharing agreement on the Kushiyara, which was preceded by the first Joint River Commission meeting in 12 years, is a particularly hopeful sign of resolving water management, and a very contentious issue, of 54 transboundary rivers.
  • While there has been a smaller agreement on the withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs from the Feni in the interim period, the Kushiyara agreement is the first time the Centre has been able to bring on board Assam and other north-eastern States, for the agreement since the 1996 Ganga water treaty.
  • India and Bangladesh have decided to start negotiations this year on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement—a free trade agreement in goods, services, investments and other related areas—aiming to implement the pact by the time Bangladesh graduates out of its LDC status in 2026.
  • Much of her focus was also on attracting investment by Indian industry, which now constitutes a small fraction of Bangladesh’s FDI inflows. Ms. Hasina made particular mention of two dedicated Special Economic Zones for Indian companies, coming up at Mongla and Mirsarai.
  • An MoU on scientific cooperation between the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India and the Bangladesh Council of Scientific Industrial Research (BCSIR) has been signed.

About Kushiyara- Kushiyara River is one of the transboundary rivers between India and Bangladesh. The Barak of India originates from the northern hills of Assam. The river enters Bangladesh and separates into two arms. The northwest arm is the Surma and the southwestern arm is the Kushiyara.

Way forward

  • The future will present itself with an abundance of opportunities to help the two countries to reach a new plane of bilateral relations higher than ever before.
  • Both nations should play their diplomatic cards with more maturity and pragmatism, keeping the regional aspirations and nuances of both countries in mind.
  • A judicious aggregation of regional expectations on both sides of the border will help in achieving their mutual national objectives.
  • To make the recent gains irreversible, both countries need to continue working on the three Cs — cooperation, collaboration, and consolidation.


  • After reaching a mutual understanding on issues related to maritime delimitation, land border arrangement, enclaves, short sea shipping as well as inland waterways, both countries are at a positive juncture in their diplomatic relations as called by PM Modi “Sonali Adhyaay” (Golden Chapter).
  • While cross-border sensitivities in South Asia often run high over such political rhetoric, it is necessary that New Delhi and Dhaka remain focused on their future cooperation, built on their past partnership, and what is referred to as the “Spirit of 1971”.

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