50 YEARS OF INDIA BANGLADESH RELATIONS

MAR 31

Mains   > International relations   >   India and Neighbours   >   India-Bangladesh

IN NEWS:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war of liberation and the centenary year of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

HISTORY:

  • The Liberation movement of Bangladesh (East Pakistan as it was known back then) began with the declaration of Independence by the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters) led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 26, 1971.
  • To counter the rising atrocities in East Pakistan, India declared war against Pakistan. The 13-day war led to the surrender of Pakistani forces to the Indian army and Mukti Bahini.
  • Vijay Diwas is observed on 16th December every year to mark India's victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.
  • 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.

AREAS OF COOPERATION:

Over the years, India and Bangladesh have cooperated and collaborated on numerous fields, such as:

  • Trade:
    • Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. India’s exports to Bangladesh for the financial year 2018-19 (April-March) stood at USD 9.21 billion and imports from Bangladesh for the same period stood at USD 1.22 billion.
    • India and Bangladesh are members of various regional trade agreements including the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), SAARC Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) and the Agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) which govern the tariff regimes for trade.
    • Four Border Haats, two each in Tripura (Srinagar and Kamalasagar) and Meghalaya (Kalaichar and Balat), have been established for the benefit of communities living along the border areas of both countries. Ten additional Border Haats on the India-Bangladesh borders are under implementation.
  • Border Management:
    • India shares its largest land boundary with Bangladesh. The India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) of 2015 and the settlement of maritime boundary arbitration in 2014 has facilitated strong border management between the two countries.
  • Security:
    • A number of agreements related to security cooperation have been signed between both the countries. For eg: India has extended a $500 million line of credit to Bangladesh for defence imports from India, and has gifted 18 new 120mm mortars to the Bangladesh Army in December 2020 under army-to-army cooperation..
    • India and Bangladesh conduct several regular joint military exercises. Eg: Exercise Sampriti
  • Energy Sector Cooperation:
    • Many Indian public sector units such as Indian Oil Corporation and Petronet LNG Ltd are working with their Bangladeshi counterparts in the oil and gas sector of Bangladesh. Besides this, India is investing in energy infrastructure in Bangladesh, such as in the Rooppur nuclear power plant project.
  • Connectivity:
    • India and Bangladesh have established connectivity through all modes of transport. Eg: Land Customs Stations (LCSs) and Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) and 4 operational rail links. Also, Bangladesh has expressed interest to join the ongoing India Myanmar Thailand trilateral highway project.
  • Bilateral Trade and Investment:
    • India has provided duty free quota free access to Bangladesh on all tariff lines except tobacco and alcohol under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) since 2011.
  • Aid and Assistance:
    • India has extended several Lines of Credits to Bangladesh, making Bangladesh the largest recipient of LOC funds from India till date.
    • India also extends aid at times of crisis like cyclones and pandemic. For Eg: India recently gave 1.2 million free doses of coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh.
  • Training and Capacity-Building:
    • A number of training courses are being conducted for Bangladesh officials from administration, police, narcotics etc. Also, scholarships are granted to Bangladeshi students for pursuing courses in India.
    • Bangladesh is also an important ITEC partner country, and around 800 participants from Bangladesh avail of training courses under the ITEC programme annually.
  • Cultural Exchanges:
    • The Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre (IGCC) is a Cultural Centre of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations of India in Bangladesh. It regularly organizes programmes covering a wide-gamut of cultural activities like Yoga, Hindustani Classical Music, Manipuri Dance, Kathak and Painting.
    • Akashvani Maitree, a radio channel, was established to provide a platform for blending content both from India and Bangladesh and preserving Bengali culture.
  • Diplomatic:
    • There have been regular high-level visits and exchanges between the two countries, which included top-tier leaders, ministers and bureaucrats.
  • Indian diaspora:
    • About 10,000 strong Indian community is estimated to be living in Bangladesh. They are mostly engaged with the textile sector industries of Bangladesh.

Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme:

            The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme was instituted by a decision of the Indian Cabinet on 15 September 1964 as a bilateral programme of assistance of the Government of India. The decision regarding setting up the ITEC programme was predicated on the underlying belief that "it was necessary to establish relations of mutual concern and inter-dependence based not only on commonly held ideals and aspirations, but also on solid economic foundations. Technical and economic cooperation was considered to be one of the essential functions of an integrated and imaginative foreign policy."

AREAS OF CONCERN:

  • China’s presence: China is making strong inroads into Bangladesh, which often contradict Indian interests. Eg: Bangladesh is part of the One Belt, One Road initiative and Bangladesh enjoys tariff-free access on more than 90 per cent of its products exported to China.
  • River water disputes: Teesta river still remains the bone of contention between the two riparian nations. Another contentious issue in the hydro-political relations has been the construction of the Farakka barrage.
  • Porous borders: India and Bangladesh share 4096.7 km. of border, which runs through marshy wetlands. This makes it difficult to monitor and thus provide easy route for illicit activities. Also, lack of proper demarcations have resulted in a few cases of civilians being killed at the border by security forces.
  • Extremism: There has been a noticeable increase in the religious extremism in Bangladesh. Such elements could use Bangladesh as a launch platform for activities against India.
  • Trafficking: Porous borders are used to traffic items like cattle, fertilizers, fake currency, drugs and humans. This is hurting India economically and threatening its internal security.
  • Illegal migrants and refugees: Bangladesh has emerged as a major source of illegal migrants to India. Rohingyas from Myanmar are using Bangladesh as a transit route to India.
  • Opposition to Indian legislations: Bangladesh has been vocal against India’s implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act and National register of citizens. The implementation of these legislations could potentially strain the relationship between the two countries.   
  • Anti-India sentiments: Due to river water disputes and India’s big brotherly attitude, there is strong Anti-India sentiments. This is further fuelled by the Pak-backed extremist elements.
  • Underdeveloped connectivity: Despite long borders, connectivity between India and Bangladesh remains restricted to a few check posts, rail lines and border haats.

WAY FORWARD:

Maintaining stable and friendly relations with India has been to Bangladesh’s advantage in terms of both countries sharing a common position on regional security.

  • Improve connectivity: Transforming the transport corridors into economic corridors will be key to strengthening India Bangladesh relations. For the same, modalities of public-private partnerships and cross-country joint private sector initiatives needs to be explored.  
  • Strengthen hydro diplomacy: India and Bangladesh need to develop a strong water sharing treaty over Teesta river. However, this will require India bringing the states onboard, since river water is a state subject.
  • Technology in border management: Drone, LIDAR and satellite-based technologies have proved to be effective border area management in India-Pak border. The same can be used in India-Bangladesh border.  
  • Comprehensive refugee policy: India needs a strong refugee policy in place of the existing ad-hoc mechanisms so that it can effectively address genuine cases of human rights violations while curbing illegal immigrations.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. Despite years of cordial relations, the true potentials of India-Bangladesh relations remains underutilized. Discuss?