CONTEXT – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to power in Bangladesh for a historic fourth straight term earlier this month after her party, the Awami League, secured two-thirds of the seats in the January 7 national elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first world leaders to congratulate Ms. Hasina, illustrating the close bilateral relationship between the two countries
- Bangladesh was part of Pakistan until 1971 when it gained independence after a bloody liberation war. India played a significant role in supporting Bangladesh during its struggle for independence.
- The historical ties between India and Bangladesh have created a strong people-to-people connect
- India and Bangladesh have diplomatic relations, and both countries have embassies in each other’s capitals.
- High-level visits between leaders of the two nations are common, promoting dialogue and cooperation.
- Economic ties between India and Bangladesh have been growing steadily. Both countries engage in trade and investment activities.
- Connectivity initiatives, such as road and rail links, have been established to facilitate cross-border trade and improve economic cooperation
- Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has grown steadily over the last decade
- Bangladesh has emerged as India’s largest trade partner in South Asia, with bilateral trade reaching $18 billion in 2021-2022 from $10.8 billion in 2020-21, though there was a dip in 2022-23 due to the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war
- India is also the second biggest trade partner of Bangladesh, with exports amounting to $2 billion in Indian markets.
- In 2022, both nations concluded a joint feasibility study on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) – reduce or eliminate customs duties on traded goods and simplify trade norms
- With Bangladesh is set to lose its Least Developed Country (LDC) status after 2026 Dhaka will be eager to finalise a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with New Delhi, and also pursue the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
- As a “major development partner” of Bangladesh, India is funding several infrastructure and connectivity projects
- Since 2010, India has extended Lines of Credits worth over $7 billion
- Akhaura-Agartala rail link that connects Bangladesh and the northeast through Tripura was recently inaugurated
- The link has given India access to Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for the movement of cargo. It is likely to boost small-scale industries and develop Assam and Tripura.
- In the energy sector, Bangladesh imports nearly 2,000 megawatts of electricity from India
- The BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity focuses on connecting major transport projects in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand, thereby establishing a shipping network
- India’s attention will primarily be directed towards the Matarbari Port, located about 100 km from Tripura, which Bangladesh is building. The port will establish a crucial industrial corridor linking Dhaka and the northeast part of India.
Water Sharing tensions:
- The sharing of river waters, especially the Ganges (Padma in Bangladesh) and Teesta rivers, has been a topic of discussion and negotiation between the two countries. Agreement on water sharing has been a sensitive issue at times
- The looming Teesta dispute will take centre-stage in the agenda of the Hasina-led government. The issue revolves around the sharing of Teesta’s waters, with Bangladesh seeking an equitable distribution
- There was a rise in anti-India sentiment in the mid-1970s over issues ranging from boundary disputes and insurgency to the sharing of water
- The instability continued for a few decades until Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996 and scripted a new chapter in bilateral ties with a treaty on the sharing of Ganga waters. Since then, India and Bangladesh have built cooperation in trade, energy, infrastructure, connectivity and Defence
- Both countries cooperate on various security issues, including counter-terrorism efforts and intelligence sharing.
Cultural and People-to-People Ties:
- Cultural exchanges, including joint events, festivals, and educational programs, contribute to strengthening the cultural bonds between India and Bangladesh.
- The large Bengali-speaking population shared by both countries further enhances cultural ties.
- Both nations collaborate within regional frameworks, such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), to address common challenges and promote regional stability.
Rohingya Refugee Crisis:
- The Rohingya refugee crisis, primarily affecting Myanmar, has implications for both India and Bangladesh. The two countries have engaged in discussions on addressing the humanitarian aspects of the crisis
- The Hasina government aims for the peaceful repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar, but its talks with the military junta have been unsuccessful so far
- Bangladesh seeks India’s cooperation to influence Myanmar, but the Modi government, which has ties with the junta, asserts that it will deport Rohingyas from its mainland
- Cross-border terrorism and infiltration are additional threats to internal security
- The rise of majoritarian forces adds another layer to the complex landscape. While violence against Muslims has increased in India in the past few years, PM Hasina has stood at the forefront to condemn the attacks and express displeasure over comments by Indian leaders on “illegal” immigrants