What is the Historical background?
India's links with Bangladesh are civilisational, cultural, social and economic. There is much that unites the two countries – a shared history and common heritage, linguistic and cultural ties, passion for music, literature and the arts. India gave a variety of support during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. With the onset of economic liberalization in South Asia from early nineties, they forged greater bilateral engagement and trade. The historic Ganges Water Sharing Treaty was concluded in 1996. India and Bangladesh are close strategic partners in counter-terrorism. They are also the largest trading partners in South Asia. They are common members of SAARC, BIMSTEC, IORA and the Commonwealth.
What is making the bilateral relation scale new heights for some years now?
Bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India have witnessed unprecedented heights over the last few years. Following is uniting the two countries:
• Connectivity between India’s mainland and the crucial northeast, which is part of India’s “Look East” Policy.
• 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. India and Bangladesh have signed several pacts, so India can actually send goods and passengers over land across Bangladesh, connecting Bengal to Tripura.
• Chittagong port, too, is now open to Indian vessels and will ease supply of goods, meaning India is much more connected to the northeast than before.
• Akhaura-Agartala rail project will provide a major boost to development and economy of eastern Bangladesh and north eastern India. The rail project will go a long way promoting the Indian Prime Minister’s “Act East policy”.
• Another dimension of ensuring the security of the northeast is by ensuring that Bangladesh does not become a shelter for its insurgents.
• It had played a sterling role, flushing out northeastern terrorists from Bangladesh and even handing over the ULFA terrorists to India.
• The other big security concern for India is that Bangladesh should not turn into the frontline of Islamic terror in the southeast — something that looked possible in the early 2000s when the Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh, or the JMB, ruled the roost. Bangladesh turned into a Launchpad for Islamic terror activities in India.
• It was Sheikh Hasina who proactively cracked down on groups like the JMB that had a free-run in the previous regime.
• Relationship with Bangladesh is also linked to its relationship with China. India does not want Bangladesh to become a pearl in China’s “String of Pearls “strategy to hem in India by using its neighbours.
• Given Bangladesh’s GDP and economic growth, the Indian industry is taking a serious interest in investing in the country. Sheikh Hasina has helmed an economic upswing in the country which the industry hopes will continue.
• India has ensured duty-free access of Bangladeshi goods to Indian market, an increase of Bangladesh ready-made garments exports to India last year by 115 per cent (from $ 130 million to $ 280 million), and an increase in Indian investment, including in process, from $ 3 billion to $ 10 billion.
4. 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 which is seen in the Chinese One Belt, One Road Project (OBOR) of which Bangladesh is a signatory.
• Indian investment in Bangladesh has reached $3 billion.
• To offset the economic asymmetry, India has granted Bangladesh generous lines of credit (LOCs) and grants, with commitments reaching $8 billion.
• While LOCs flow into infrastructure and connectivity projects, grants flow into social sector development.
• Capacity building under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme was also extended.
6. Energy Cooperation
• 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.
India, Bangladesh and Russia have signed tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) for cooperation in construction of Rooppur nuclear power plant. Rooppur project is the first initiative under an Indo-Russian deal to undertake atomic energy projects in third countries and it will also be the first time Indian firms will take part in such a project abroad. Indian companies will participate in construction and installation works in the “non-critical" category for the Rooppur nuclear power plant.
7. Defence Cooperation
• Improvement in bilateral ties has led to newer areas of cooperation such as cyberspace. Bangladesh has provided cyber connectivity between the international gateway at Cox’s Bazar to Agartala for faster Internet connectivity in India’s northeastern States.
• Over a million visas are issued to Bangladeshi citizens by India annually.
• Both countries have signed Revised Travel Arrangement 2018 (RTA 2018) for further liberalizing the visa regime, including enhanced duration for employment and student visas.
What are the irritants in the bilateral relations?
• Illegal immigration is 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 taking away trade from India and indigenous breeds. 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. Operatives of the Harkat ul Jihad al Islami – Bangladesh (HUJI-B) and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) had enter India through the porous India-Bangladesh border.
• 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 lack of federal consensus which is vital for the successful implementation.
• 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.
Where should the future focus lie?
• The Rohingya issue has imposed a huge economic and security burden on Bangladesh.
• India, on its part, published the draft National Register of Citizens in Assam to account genuine Indian citizens residing in Assam and to curb the flow of illegal migrants in the future.
• Thus the illegal migrants issue, along with sharing of river waters, will require deft handling of bilateral ties between the two countries.
• Also, China’s security and economic footprint has grown in South Asia and managing this will remain a challenge for both countries.
• While Bangladesh is overwhelmingly dependent on military hardware from China, India has provided a $500 million LOC for procurement of defence- related goods from India.
Bangladesh is key to India’s plans to connect with South-East Asia, as well as developing the landlocked Northeast. India’s plans to forge a viable alternative to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation needs support from Bangladesh, given its location bridging South Asia and South-East Asia. It has assured that no anti-India activity would be allowed on Bangladeshi soil. The 4,000km border has seen less of infiltration and smuggling of fake currency.