Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has landed in India. She was received at the airport by our PM Narendra Modi. This visit is closely being watched by the Chinese counterparts and Bangladeshis as it has created hype for several outcomes depend on this one.
Let us understand different aspects of the India-Bangladesh relations.
- With a population of nearly 170 million, Bangladesh is the eighth largest in the world. Even more important, it is one of the world’s fastest growing economies and has been called the “miracle in the east”. In the international economic hierarchy, the only way for Bangladesh is up. India needs to recognize the factor of China’s growing popularity and counter to be able to have Bangladesh on our side. India is a natural partner of Bangladesh.
- India and Bangladesh, two South Asian democracies, neighbours have the longest common border of over 4,000 km with each other.
- India was the first country to recognise Bangladesh as a separate and independent state and established diplomatic relations with the country immediately after its independence in December 1971.
- India’s connections with Bangladesh are cultural, social, civilizational and economic.
But, Bangladesh-India relations are perhaps the most complex bilateral equations in the subcontinent. Despite India’s role in Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, India is often seen as serving its own self-interests against neighbouring Pakistan.
Issues in the Bilateral Relations
- Illegal immigration 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.
- Cattle smuggling is also an issue, which 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
- Terrorist Infiltration has been a matter of concern of late. Recently a report sent by the Bangladesh Government to India’s Ministry of Home Affairs noted that approximately 2,000 operatives of the Harkat ul Jihad al Islami – Bangladesh (HUJI-B) and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) had entered India through the porous India-Bangladesh border. (Link for Analysis by IDSA)
- Dumping of Fake Indian Currency Notes, recently several duplicate notes have been found along the border, which cripple the Indian Economy severely.
River Water Sharing – Teesta
- 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.
- While India did put the river Teesta on the bilateral discussion table, the federal political dynamics has prevented the Centre from resolving the issue of water-sharing overruling Bengal’s position. Mamata Banerjee is of the view that with Bangladesh having its largest irrigation project, the Teesta Barrage, running, they do not deserve more water.
- The treaty is particularly important for the Hasina government (which has often been accused by critics as leaning towards India) to show that there has been genuine progress in bilateral relations.
- The Teesta waters issue apart, the Bangladesh side is also very keen about a Ganga Barrage and talks in this regard are expected during the summit.
Trade and Connectivity
- Trade has been growing steadily between the two countries. At about 17% in the last 5 years.
- A bus service and a train service between Kolkata and Khulna will also be launched as a rail link from Radhikapur in north Bengal.
- Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) has been signed on the development of Ashuganj-Zakiganj stretch of Kushiyara river and Sirajganj-Daikhawa stretch of the Jamuna river to improve connectivity between the two countries and this will help reduce logistics cost of cargo movement to northeast India and also reduce congestion through the Siliguri’s Chicken’s Neck corridor.
- Connectivity is issue of mutual interest these initiatives on passenger and goods trains which will be of benefit to both Bangladesh and northeast India.
- Dhaka also has the central role in shaping the future of sub-regional cooperation with Bhutan, Burma, India and Nepal. It is also a land bridge to East Asia and the fulcrum of a future Bay of Bengal community.
- However, the most important issue in contemporary Asian geopolitics is transit and connectivity. In 2016 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh, the smaller country agreed to join the One Belt, One Road Project (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.
- 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.
- Bangladesh has sought extra 100 MW electricity from India to solve its power crisis, and will be likely on the negotiating table in this state visit by Sheikh Hasina.
- There are talks that a defence treaty is to be signed between India and Bangladesh, it will be a long-term defence deal that will allow for increased defence cooperation, information sharing, joint exercises, training and so on. However, India needs to figure out where it can meet Bangladesh’s security concerns, considering Bangladesh’s largest defence partner is China.
- Expanding security cooperation with India could only enhance Dhaka’s global leverage. For India, a strong partnership with Bangladesh will help boost the prospects of peace and prosperity in the eastern subcontinent.
- Defence deal between us in the basis of sovereign equality and geopolitical realities will take us a long way ahead.
The India-Bangladesh relations can be summarised as hanging on three ‘T’s- Tackling Terrorism, Trade + Transit, Teesta Treaty. This week when the three Bengalis sit at the table – Pranab Mukherjee, Mamata Banerjee, Sheikh Hasina we should hope resolve the issues and take the relationship forward so that the growing mutual trust and political comfort between Delhi and Dhaka, backed by Kolkata, will have one long-term consequence. It is important for India’s North East as well.