Introduction: 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.
- Strategic Neighbour: Bangladesh is India's most strategic neighbour from the perspective of India's Northeast. India's "Act East Policy" can only be realized with the support of Dhaka.
- India and Bangladesh are connected through road, rail, and river links. Infrastructure projects like the India-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge and Payra Deep Seaport contribute to enhanced connectivity.
- Maitri Setu: The construction of the Maitri Setu bridge over the Feni River, connecting Tripura State in India with Bangladesh, has established it as the "Gateway of North East" with access to the Chittagong Port, just 80 kilometers from Sabroom.
- India-Bangladesh inland waterway route: This route connects Tripura with the National Waterways of India via Bangladesh.
- Counteracting Radical Activities: Bangladesh's proximity to India raises concerns about it becoming a launchpad for religious radical terror activities. India's relationship with Bangladesh is also linked to its relationship with China, as India seeks to prevent Bangladesh from becoming part of China's strategic encirclement.
- Strong Trade Partnership: Bangladesh is currently India's largest trade partner in South Asia. To boost bilateral trade, India has provided several concessions to Dhaka, including duty-free access for Bangladeshi products in Indian markets.
- Both countries enjoy preferential treatment in terms of tariff concession in each other's market due to their participation in the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
- A proposed agreement, the Bangladesh-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, aims to encompass trade in goods, services, and investments.
- In 2022, bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh reached US$18.2 billion, making Bangladesh India's top trading partner in the region. India ranks as the 12th largest commercial partner for Bangladesh.
- Major exports: India's key exports to Bangladesh include petroleum, cotton yarn, wheat, and other commodities. Bangladesh's major exports to India consist of pure vegetable oils, non-knit men's clothes, and planes, helicopters, and/or spaceships.
- Investment: India has invested over $3 billion in Bangladesh, while Bangladesh has invested $1 billion in India, ranking 12th among investing countries.
- Extending a Helping Hand: India has consistently offered support to Bangladesh in times of crises. During the COVID-19 pandemic, India provided medical training, test kits, medicines, and vaccine consignments to assist Bangladesh.
- Tackling Militancy: The successful security cooperation between India and Bangladesh has played a crucial role in countering militancy, particularly in tackling the activities of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh militant group.
Settlement of Boundaries
- Resolving Boundary Disputes: The resolution of land and maritime boundary disputes stands out as a major achievement in the bilateral relationship. India accepted a UN ruling and gave up a significant area in the Bay of Bengal, granting Bangladesh access to resource-rich waters.
- The Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) signed in 2015 facilitated the transfer of 111 enclaves between the two nations.
Bangladesh's Remarkable Growth
- Economic Transformation: Bangladesh, formed from the poorest regions of Pakistan, has made significant strides since its independence in 1971, allowing the country to redefine its economic and political identity.
- Garment Industry: The garment industry, driven by women workers, played a pivotal role in Bangladesh's economic growth, enabling it to capture global export markets.
- Diversification of Labor: Bangladesh's less stringent labor laws and increased participation of women in the workforce contributed to its economic success.
- Focus on Developmental Metrics: Bangladesh's emphasis on improving social and political metrics, such as health, sanitation, financial inclusion, and women's political representation, has fuelled its rapid growth.
- Inclusive Growth: Financial inclusion and gender parity have been important factors in Bangladesh's growth, with a smaller proportion of dormant bank accounts and higher gender parity rankings compared to India.
Irritants in the Relationship
- Illegal Migration: Illegal migration from Bangladesh has been a persistent problem for India since the partition of Bengal.
- Chinese Influence: Bangladesh's growing affinity towards China, driven by significant trade, infrastructure, and defense investments, has raised concerns for India.
- NRC Conundrum: The National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India has left out a significant number of Assamese residents, labeling them as "illegal immigrants from Bangladesh." India seeks their repatriation to Bangladesh.
- Rohingya Issue: India's remarks on the Rohingya crisis in 2017 strained relations with Bangladesh, which has been burdened with providing shelter to over a million refugees.
- River Disputes: India and Bangladesh have been unable to reach an agreement on optimizing the use of waters from six rivers, including the long-pending Teesta water-sharing agreement. In 2011, an agreement was reached to regulate the water flow, allocating 42.5% to India, 37.5% to Bangladesh, and leaving 20% unallocated.
- The construction and operation of the Farakka Barrage by India remain a point of contention between the two nations.
Importance of India-Bangladesh Relationship
- South Asian Geopolitics: India relies on Bangladesh's support for initiatives such as the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). These initiatives complement India's outreach in Southeast Asia.
- Connectivity: Bangladesh's strategic location acts as a bridge between mainland India and the north-eastern states, offering shorter routes to the sea for landlocked states.
- Countering China: Bangladesh's relationship with China provides it with bargaining power vis-à-vis India. A neutral Bangladesh ensures containment of China's assertiveness in the region.
- Fight against Terrorism: Bangladesh's cooperation in sub-regional connectivity initiatives has become crucial as Pakistan's refusal to cooperate has rendered SAARC ineffective. Bangladesh stood in solidarity with India by joining ranks with Bhutan after India decided to skip the SAARC Summit in 2016.
Do you know?
- India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers. The Ganga Waters Treaty signed in 1996 for sharing of waters of river Ganga during lean season (January 1-May 31).
- Most recently, the Kushiyara Pact was signed that will benefit people in Southern Assam and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh.
- Teesta Waters Issue: The continuous protest by the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government remains a significant problem.
- National Register of Citizens (NRC): 1.9 million people in Assam have been excluded from the NRC and are being labeled as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
- Bangladesh's Stance: Bangladesh firmly asserts that no migrants traveled illegally to Assam during the 1971 war of independence, and the NRC may jeopardize their relations.
- Rohingya Issue: India's remarks in 2017 on the Rohingya issue have been upsetting for Bangladesh, which has been sheltering over a million Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution.
- China's Influence: Bangladesh heavily relies on China for military hardware, and China's economic footprint in the country is expanding.
- Slow Implementation and Bureaucratic Challenges: Although India approved three Lines of Credit to Bangladesh since 2010, totaling $7.362 billion for development projects, only $442 million has been disbursed due to bureaucratic red tape. Bangladesh's slow implementation has also contributed to this issue.
- Exim Bank Approval Requirement: India's requirement for the disbursement process to be approved by the Exim Bank has not been helpful either.
Recent Initiatives and Agreements
- Land Boundary Agreement of 2015
- Agreement on the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports
- Donation of 109 ambulances
- Approval of 3 lines of credit amounting to $7.4 billion
- Special 'Swarna Jayanti Scholarships' for Bangladeshi youth
Cooperation in S&T
- Collaboration in artificial intelligence
- Deepening Relationship with Bangladesh: Strengthening the relationship with Bangladesh is imperative in the face of shifting geo-economics.
- Economic Success and Partnership: Bangladesh's growing economic success, with an 8 percent growth rate, makes it a vital partner in the region.
- Mature Bilateral Ties: Bangladesh-India relations have reached a stage of maturity, and future bilateral ties are expected to grow stronger. India should take the lead in addressing the existing issues.
- Unacceptable Equations: Equating Bangladesh to fundamentally theocratic Muslim nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan is unacceptable to Bangladeshis, who prioritize religious and racial harmony.
- Potential for Growth: There is potential for India-Bangladesh ties to advance to the next level through cooperation, coordination, and consolidation.
- Mutually Beneficial Partnership: India's continued partnership with Bangladesh benefits both countries, contributing to economic growth and improved developmental parameters.
- Water Management: With 54 transboundary rivers shared between the two countries, effective water management is key to prosperity.
- Border Management: Ensuring effective border management is essential for maintaining a tranquil, stable, and crime-free border.
India-Bangladesh relations have the potential to grow stronger, but it is crucial to address existing issues, deepen cooperation, and prioritize mutual prosperity. Effective border management, resolution of disputes like Teesta, and collaboration on the Rohingya issue are key for a robust and harmonious partnership between the two countries.