India-Bangladesh relations scaling new heights
Bangladesh has a special place in the Indian foreign policy matrix, and India-Bangladesh relations are rooted in tradition, culture, language, and mutual values such as secularism, democracy, and a plethora of other similarities.
The relations are now scaling new heights as Bangladesh becomes India’s biggest development and trade partner in the region.
The trajectory of Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relations shows how the two countries have accrued mutual benefits due to close ties between the Modi government and the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League governement. Consequently, the ties have become a matter of significant importance in Bangladeshi domestic politics, as a result of which, it has been constantly scrutinised by Sheikh Hasina’s opponents.
The fact is that the intention of forging and maintaining friendly ties has been visible on both sides. From having shared historical, social, and cultural affinities to working towards fulfilling common interests, India-Bangladesh ties have always been marked by the salient values of openness, mutual trust, cooperation, and mutual respect.
India and Bangladesh have prioritised connectivity between the two countries. On the eve of Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in September 5-8 this year, the 38th meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) was taken place (after a gap of 12 years) in New Delhi on 25th August to discuss the water sharing arrangements of the Muhuri, Gumti, Khowai, Dudhkumar, Monu, Dharla, and Feni rivers that flow across the neighbouring countries. The discussion was centred around bilateral issues like sharing flood data and addressing the menace of river pollution.
During Hasina’s visit, Indian Prime Minister Modi pointed out that “expansion of connectivity and trade infrastructure at borders will help in the growth of both countries.” Earlier in April 2022, when India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar was in Dhaka, Hasina had offered India access to its Chattogram port. “We need to improve our connectivity. India’s North-eastern provinces – Assam and Tripura – could have access to Chattogram port if connectivity is improved,” she said. India and Bangladesh signed seven agreements and also inaugurated three projects to deepen their partnership.
In one of the hallmarks of bilateral relations, Bangladesh is currently importing 1160 MW of power from India, including internet bandwidth.
The use of the Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for movement of goods to and from India, particularly from Northeastern India and use of Bangladesh’s Feni river for drinking water supply in Tripura are important forward developments in terms of bilateral cooperation. PM Modi has reiterated India's "sincere and continued efforts" to conclude the long-pending Teesta water-sharing agreement in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
Both countries jointly inaugurated the newly restored railway link between Haldibari (India) and Chilahati (Bangladesh), and have also signed the second addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT). In a major boost to bilateral ties, a new passenger train connecting Dhaka and West Bengal's New Jalpaiguri has been inaugurated jointly by PM Modi and PM Hasina. It is the third passenger train after Maitree Express (Dhaka-Kolkata) and Bandhan Express (Khulna-Kolkata) running between the two neighbouring countries.
The two countries have also forged defence collaboration. Bangladesh’s tri-service contingent joined India’s 2021 Republic Day parade. Bangladesh has also cooperated with India in sorting out security issues in the Northeast. Dhaka also took the remarkable step of granting a trans-shipment facility to India to transport goods to the Northeastern states through its territory. Both nations have agreed to an early operationalization of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative through the expeditious signing of the Enabling MoU for Bangladesh, India and Nepal to commence the movement of goods and passengers, with provision for Bhutan to join at a later date.
Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. India’s exports to Bangladesh for financial year 2018-19 (April-March) stood at US 9.21 billion USD and imports from Bangladesh for the same period stood at US 1.22 Billion USD.
Reiterating the highest priority India attaches to Bangladesh under India’s Neighbourhood First policy, India assured that vaccines for Covid-19 would be made available to Bangladesh as and when produced in India. India also offered collaboration in therapeutics. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for sending over two million doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine Covishield, as a gift. The vaccines helped Bangladesh launch its nationwide vaccination drive.
Prime Minister Modi, in his first trip to a foreign country since the COVID-19 outbreak, visited Bangladesh in March 2021 and participated in the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’ independence from Pakistan and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu. During the visit, which coincided with the 50th year of the establishment of diplomatic relationship between India and Bangladesh, it was decided to commemorate December 6 as 'MaitriDiwas' (Friendship Day). India and Bangladesh jointly celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence and the birth centenary of its Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, during his visit to the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi, said that "India-Bangladesh bilateral ties have been passing through a "sonaliadhyay" (golden phase in Bengali). While cooperation in traditional areas like security, trade, connectivity and people-to-people exchanges have steadily deepened, the partnership is expanding to new and emerging areas like nuclear technology, IT, innovation and the blue economy."
Former Indian President Ram NathKovind also visited Dhaka in December 2021 and attended the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan. During the visit, Kovind said India is committed to assisting Bangladesh in its efforts to achieve strong economic growth and greater prosperity as he highlighted the "uniquely close" bilateral relationship based on age-old ties of kinship, shared language and culture.
The visit of Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina to India in September 2022 underscored the real bond between two neighbours as well as people in a region that remains highly fragmented. The ease with which Hasina and PM Narendra Modi engaged with each other — lauding each other’s contribution but also warning about the impending challenges — is a tribute to the investment that the two leaders have made in this vital relationship. With PM Hasina at the helm, India and Bangladesh can resolve all existing problems.