The Story of Liberation
Exactly 50 years ago, a new sovereign state called Bangladesh appeared on the map of the World. After the departure of Imperialist British Forces and the infamous Partition in 1947, the map of the Indian sub-continent showed the large state of India sandwiched between two chunks of culturally and geographically distant lands called West-Pakistan and East-Pakistan.
As the whole process of Partition was a blood-bath, India and Pakistan, for several years, were at loggerheads over the boundary disputes both on the Western Front (Kashmir) and the Eastern front (now Bangladesh Border). Although both sides of Pakistan were demographically similar, the concentration of power always remained on the western side resulting in a school of thought that East Pakistan was being exploited, in every way possible, to the advantage of the Western side. This, along with the atrocities of the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan leading to a civil war, gave rise to a Liberation Movement under a strong leader Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman.
India came into the picture when millions of refugees started to flood into North-eastern India and the government was compelled to intervene. Since Indo-Pak relations were still covered in blood and the civil war initiated by Pakistan was vicious, India decided to assist and support the liberation movement. As a result, on 16th December 1971 (celebrated as Vijay Diwas), Pro-Bangladeshi Forces supported by India forced 93,000 troops of the Pakistani Army to surrender unconditionally. Hence, the biggest surrender in the world after World War II gave birth to Bangladesh.
Furthermore, Pakistan and India signed the Simla Agreement in 1972 wherein Pakistan agreed to recognize the independence of Bangladesh and India agreed to return Pakistani Prisoners of War (POWs) in return.
Fun-Fact: India was the first country in the World to recognize Bangladesh as a sovereign independent nation and hence the first country to establish diplomatic ties with Bangladesh after its independence.
Fig showing India-Bangladesh Border
Multi-Sectoral Cooperation and Joint initiatives
After the Independence, India and Bangladesh have always maintained friendly ties with eac
h other and it's being said that at present time, India and Bangladesh enjoy the best period of their relationship with each other. This can be depicted through various areas of cooperation as listed below
Cooperation in Defense Sector and Border Management
India shares the longest land boundary with Bangladesh measuring 4096.7 km which is more than any other country and yet the border is one of the most peaceful borders for India.
Indian and Bangladeshi Defense Forces hold many joint exercises to reinforce their military strength through cooperation. Exercise Sampriti (Army) and Exercise Milan (Navy) are the highlights. A 122 member contingent of Bangladesh Armed Forces even participated in the 72nd Republic Day Parade held in Delhi to commemorate 50 years of India-Bangladesh relations.
Land Boundary Agreement
In June 2015, India and Bangladesh signed the historic Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) which facilitated the transfer of 111 enclaves from India to Bangladesh and 51 enclaves from Bangladesh to India thereby resolving the long unresolved un-demarcated land boundary issue.
Synergy on Global Forums
UNSC Membership India was the first to support Bangladesh when it sorted membership of the United Nations Security Council. Although, China vetoed the move at the time as it was Pakistan’s ally. Bangladesh went on to become a member in 1979 for which it thanked India.
Shared Organizations India and Bangladesh are members of various regional organizations like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) etc. Bangladesh will be assuming chairmanship of IORA in 2021 and has sought support from India to develop better maritime security.
Maitri Setu The Prime Minister of India inaugurated a 1.9 km long bridge called “Maitri Setu” on the 10th of March 2021. Built over the Feni River, this river will connect the Indian state of Tripura and Bangladesh. With this, Tripura has become ‘The Gateway of North-East’ as Chittagong Port of Bangladesh is just 80 kilometres away from the bridge.
New Rail Link India and Bangladesh also inaugurated a special railway link from Haldibari (India) and Chilahati (Bangladesh). This became the 5th rail link between the two countries which will facilitate easy transit from Assam and West Bengal to Bangladesh.
Inland Navigation & Ports India and Bangladesh, in May 2020, upgraded the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT). As a result, India and Bangladesh added two more ports as ‘Ports of Call’ to the pre-existing list of 10 ports. Ports of Call are the ports that can act as immediate stops for cargo ships scheduled for a journey ahead. The addition of Jogigopha (India) and Bahadurabad (Bangladesh) has further enhanced the navigation between the two nations.
Fig showing the major ports in North-East India and Bangladesh
Road Connectivity Bangladesh also agreed to the early implementation of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative Motor Vehicles Agreement which will ensure smooth movement of vehicles carrying passengers and goods.
· India and Bangladesh have experienced flourishing trade relations in the past years and today, Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner with India’s exports amounting to a whopping $9.21 Billion and Bangladeshi Exports amounting to $1.22 Billion during 2018-19 financial year.
· The membership of India and Bangladesh in above stated international and regional organizations also facilitates free and sound trade between the two countries.
· India provides Duty-Free and Quota Free access to Bangladeshi goods entering India under SAFTA Agreement signed in 2011.
· The addition of new ports, construction of Maitri setu, operationalization of BBIN and sound relationship between the leadership further makes room for enhanced trade between the two nations.
· India and Bangladesh are currently looking forward to a new chapter of marine cooperation through the ‘Blue Economy’ programme. The programme involves the cooperation of littoral countries in the exploration of hydrocarbons, conservation of oceanic ecology, fishing etc.
· India also extended three lines of credit worth $8 Billion to Bangladesh in order to help it build roads, bridges, railways and ports.
A Helping Hand during Pandemic
· India has always followed the ‘Neighbors First’ policy. In testing times like Covid-19 Pandemic, India extended a helping hand to its neighbour Bangladesh as well.
· During the SAARC leaders Video Conference in the wake of the Pandemic, the Indian Prime Minister called for the creation of the SAARC Emergency Response Fund to tackle the problems arising from the COVID-19 menace. The move was lauded by the Bangladeshi counterpart.
· The Government of India also gifted Bangladesh with 2 million doses of indigenously manufactured Covishield Vaccine by Serum Institute of India (SII).
Other Developments in the Recent Past
· In December 2020, India and Bangladesh signed 7 Memorandums of Understanding covering cooperation in key areas including hydrocarbons sector, Agriculture, Textiles, Community Development Projects of High Impact, Trans-Border Elephant Conservation, Garbage Disposal and creation of a CEO’s Forum.
· Bangladesh also allowed the movement of Indian Cargo Ships to its Chattogram Port and Mongla Port for transit of goods mostly from the North-Eastern Part of India.
· Bangladesh and India also signed the Feni River MoU under which Bangladesh agreed to let India fetch Feni River water which will be used for drinking purposes in the state of Tripura.
A few bones of contention
Teesta Water Dispute
Despite flourishing relations, India and Bangladesh have been involved in a dispute concerning water sharing between the two nations from River Teesta. The negotiations on the sharing of Teesta Water started way back in 1983 and 2011, an interim deal even decided to give 42.5% to India and 37.5% to Bangladesh but the State of Bengal opposed this ratio. Since then, the dispute has stayed a dispute. The Teesta Water holds high significance for both countries. On the Indian side, this water caters for the water needs of 6 districts of West Bengal and is also called Lifeline of North Bengal. On the Bangladesh side, the flood-plain of the river covers about 14% of the total cropped area in Bangladesh and provides direct livelihood opportunities to approximately 73% of its population.
The CAA-NRC Issue
Indian Government recently passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the Parliament to tackle the problem of illegal migrants living currently in India. The legislation provides for the creation of a National Population Register and the people who fail to prove their citizenship will be declared non-citizens. It is to be noted that a large chunk of illegal migrants in India are from Bangladesh. The alleged reasons for this largescale migration have been a few including atrocities on Hindus, poor economic and living conditions in Bangladesh etc. The announcement of CAA-NRC led to reverse migration of hundreds of people into Bangladesh and the PM of Bangladesh expressed concerns over the issue saying that the exercise was not important and this led to a widespread rumour of a rift between the leadership of the two nations.
Growing Chinese Influence
China, in order to build its presence in South Asia, has even maintained defence and diplomatic relations with Bangladesh. China has even promised around $30 Billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh. Further, China even declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh under China’s Duty-Free, quota-free programme for LDCs. In 2017, Bangladesh purchased 2 submarines from India worth $203 million despite the displeasure of India. Amid rising border tensions with China, India doesn’t like Bangladesh getting close to China.
Smuggling and more
As a large part of Indo-Bangladesh lies in the inland waters, it’s famous for the wrong reasons too. Largescale smuggling of drugs, bovine animals, illicit liquor, etc. is a menace that has been increasing with each passing year. Further, human trafficking from North-East to Bangladesh and back has also been increasing and the illegal migrants have also been flooding to and fro India-Bangladesh Border which often leads to action from Border Security Force (BSF).
India and Bangladesh have shared a cordial and pious bond of friendship over the years. India has always been a constant supporter of Bangladesh on the global front, has always stood by Bangladesh in testing times and the bi-lateral relations also have always looked at the brighter side. Despite such a good bond, the two countries still have a few unresolved issues that need to be cleared and these issues can only be solved through diplomacy.
As India is greater than Bangladesh in almost every aspect, India must ensure violence-free borders and should let the water dispute resolved by being generous. Also, India should ensure that the people declared illegal in India don’t flood to Bangladesh to seek citizenship. On the other side, Bangladesh needs to cooperate and not go against India’s interests, most importantly, forging an alliance with China which can hurt Indian sentiments.
With the first international visit of the Indian Prime Minister after COVID-19 being planned for Bangladesh, this chance can be utilized in a good way to resolve the unresolved matters and make the bilateral ties more robust than ever.