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India and Bangladesh building collaborative relationships

By Syeda Farjana Ahmed, Rubina Akter and Srimal Fernando, Global Editor, The Diplomatic Society

India’s extensive support in providing training to Muktibahini (the Bangladeshi freedom fighters) and shelter for around 10 million refugees during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 was the bedrock of the ever-growing relationship between India and Bangladesh. India became the first to recognize Bangladesh as an independent country. The then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh H.E. Taj Uddin Ahmed conveying India’s recognition of Bangladesh on 6thDecember 1971.

Photo: Indian  Prime Minister Narendra Modi (r)  receives from the President of Bangladesh Mohammed Abdul Hamid (c) the Bangladesh Liberation War Honour on behalf of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at President House in Dhaka in June 2015. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is pictured (l)

The tender Bangladesh embraced India as one its most important friends. The late Mujibur Rahaman often called ‘Bangabandhu’ which means ‘Friend of Bengal’ who brought resurgence to the Bangladeshi independence movement. Bangladeshis of today could proudly hold their heads up high, because of Mujibur’s struggle to bring Independence to Bangladesh. He carried the torch of independence as a representative of the people of Bangladesh. During ‘Bangabandhu’s time Bangladesh formed a "strategic partnership" with India and signed a renewable 25-year Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace.

In the same year, agreements on trade and communication were signed by the governments of India and Bangladesh. On the security aspects, in 1973, both India and Bangladesh signed a treaty on Cooperation in the fields of Peaceful use of Atomic Energy. In mid 1974, a historic agreement was signed between the governments concerning the demarcation of the land boundary between India and Bangladesh and related matters. These are few examples among many of the relationships between the young Bangladesh and the rising power of India.

However, the relationship started taking a complicated turn as disagreements and dissatisfactions over issues like water, trade, land and maritime boundaries were growing high. Particularly, the disputes on water are one of the main concerns over which public dissatisfaction have arisen over time. Bangladesh and India share fifty four rivers where owing to its lower riparian status, Bangladesh seeks careful consideration from India on water-sharing issue. Although the Ganga water conflict has reached an agreement in 1996, Teesta is still unresolved and the most contentious one. The Teesta agreement was finalized by the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) signed on 20th July 1983.  The last visit of Indian  Prime Minister Modi to Bangladesh gave hope to millions of Bangladeshis  in resolving  many unresolved matters between India and Bangladesh.

The trade deficit has always been a burning issue between Bangladesh and India. Issues like non-tariff barriers, inadequate banking facilities and disputed borders are identified as responsible issues. Furthermore there is a huge trade gap, though several steps have been taken to reduce it. The reflection in the data from the Ministry of Commerce in Bangladesh records 6.03 billion US dollars’ worth of imports during the 2013 to 2014 fiscal year and 456.63 million US dollars export to India during the same period. In 2015, India has agreed to run a bilateral agreement between Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) proposing to reduce the trade gap. The huge trade deficit that Bangladesh faces with India affects its domestic market. In order to be benefited by the liberalization of economy, both the countries’ tendencies should be towards greater integration.  

Nonetheless, achievements from the neighbourhood assure us the potentiality of the relationship between the countries. 31st July 2015 was a historic day for both countries as the decades old dispute was resolved by implementing the Land Boundary Agreement in line with a deal signed in 1974 and approved by India’s parliament recently. Nearly 37000 people live in 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh, while 14000 live in 51 enclaves inside India.  

Apart from this dispute, significantly, around twenty contracts were signed during the visit to Dhaka by the Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi. The Indian and Bangladeshi governments are going to start a new rail link to ease the routes along the border that connects Northeast India with Bangladesh’s Chittagong international seaport. Additionally, the bilateral cooperation between both nations will enhance the power supplies of Bherama Combined Cycle Power Station in Bangladesh and Baharampur Power Plant in the Indian state of West Bengal. A series of steps have been taken to double the power transmission of power on the Bherama-Baharampur plants, grid interconnection from 500 megawatts to 1,000 megawatts over a period of time.  Moreover, during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, two firms, Adani Power and Reliance Power signed memorandum of understandings (MoUs) valued at 1.5 billion and 3 billion US dollars respectively with the Bangladesh Power Development Board for building plants capable of generating 4500 megawatts.

India and Bangladesh relations have also witnessed frequent exchange of visits. After four decades of growing interactions and some ground breaking deals of 2015, both the countries have entered into a new era of ever-greater partnership.

Ms Syeda Farjana Ahmed and Ms Rubina Akter are two Bangladeshi International students studying Master of Arts (MA) degree in International Relations at the South Asian University.

 

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