BANGLADESH AND INDIA DEPEND ON EACH OTHER
Md Shariful Islam
Even though Bangladesh achieved independence with the help of India, there have been ups and downs in Indo-Bangla relations over the years. Investigating Indo-Bangla relations in contemporary times, it is noticeable that under the Modi regime, along with other small neighbours of India, Bangladesh is getting prioritised in the foreign policy ruminations of India. In fact, during the oath-taking ceremony of Modi, inviting all the Saarc leaders demonstrates a willingness on India’s side to deepen relations with its neighbours.
With regard to Indo-Bangla relations under the present Modi and Hasina regimes, it is pertinent to note that the visit of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, within a month of the Modi government assuming charge in India, shows the significance that India attaches to deepen Indo-Bangla relations under the Modi regime.
In addition, during his maiden meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on September 27, 2014 on the sidelines of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Modi expressed his keen interest to resolve the pending issues including Teesta water sharing agreement, and the land boundary agreement.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Bangladesh on February 19 on a three-day official visit to deepen Indo-Bangla ties. Notably, earlier, in September 2011, Mamata had cancelled her trip accompanying the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which ultimately resulted in the stalemate situation of the Teesta water sharing deal.
In recent times, a number of developments can be observed which have deepened Indo-Bangla relations. The introduction of a third border haat at the convergence of Feni and Tripura that has boosted local trade and contacts, the re-opening of the historic bus service between Guwahati and Dhaka, and the proposed Saarc Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA), are some of the more notable ones.
In addition, Indo-Bangla “cricket diplomacy” is also noticeable on the occasion of the on-going cricket World Cup, especially considering Modi’s phone call to Hasina. Besides, according to the BSS news agency, Modi told Hasina that he would visit Dhaka soon “with good news.” This certainly testifies to the warm relations that India and Bangladesh are enjoying under the leadership of Modi and Hasina.
In fact, Bangladesh holds a key strategic position, vis-à-vis India’s connectivity, to China as well as the rest of Southeast Asia. In recent times, the increased Chinese engagement in small South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, have also drawn Indian attention. Considering its geo-strategic, economic interests, Bangladesh matters to both India and China.
To uplift Indo-Bangla relations, certain concrete measures can be expected from both sides. First, there is an untapped market for Bangladeshi products in the Indian market which needs to be explored. Notably, since 1971 to 2004, India was the largest trading partner of Bangladesh. But China’s trade with Bangladesh has increased manifold in recent years, even surpassing India’s from 2004 onward.
Notably, China is providing duty-free access to more than 4,700 Bangladesh-made items. Hence, India also needs to open its market to Bangladeshi products and provide duty-free access.
Second, it’s time to resolve the pending issues, including the Teesta water sharing and land boundary dispute to foster co-operation. Third, there is no alternative to promote people-to-people contact to deepen bilateral relations. In fact, promoting people-to-people contact is quite imperative to galvanise Indo-Bangla relations.
Introducing border haat to the Indo-Bangla border is imperative to promote people-to-people contact between India and Bangladesh in the days ahead. In addition, the recent relaxation of rules in terms of obtaining an Indian visa is a positive move from the Indian side — expectedly accelerating Indo-Bangla people-to-people contact.
Finally, it is argued that India cannot rise as an economic superpower until the nation’s poor neighbours are developed. In the globalised world, it is time to come out of the 19th century notion of sovereignty to the 21st century idea of inter-dependence.
Hence, for its own interests, India needs to engage her neighbours and deepen her relations based on mutual respect and reciprocity. Consequently, India and Bangladesh need to seek a new future for the greater interests of its people and the region.
MARCH 24, 2015