Bangladesh shares a common socio-political heritage with its biggest neighbour India. The people of the countries are from common ancestors and they participate in similar cultural activities.
So, it is presumable that despite being torn apart by geo-political boundaries, the people of the two countries cherish more affinities than detachment, which is why India invested tremendous efforts for the cause of the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, and Bangladesh has always been very thankful to India for such a significant role during the liberation war. There have been minimal disturbances and discrepancies in India-Bangladesh relationship since then, and a strong fraternal unity has kept the two countries tied in sweet harmony for decades. Especially, after the advent of the Awami League government led by the well competent daughter of Bangabandhu, the honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the second time in 2008, the relationship between India and Bangladesh has become so strengthened that even changes in the political scenario of India and rise and fall of parties to and from power have not been able to mar or stain the bilateral relationship between the two neighbours. Instead, it has been cemented farther towards having a rock-solid foundation.
It is really wonderful that the present Bangladesh government under the able and judicious leadership of Bangabandhu’s worthy daughter Sheikh Hasina has been able to settle so many issues with India which remained unsettled since its liberation. In the last twelve years, the India-Bangladesh relationship has undergone a complete change in comparison to that during the previous governments. None would have conjectured about the pacts, treaties and MoUs that both Bangladesh and India have signed in order to settle issues and to work together towards a promising and prosperous future in these few years. Exchange of enclaves between both countries, allowing India transit through Bangladesh highways, giving permission of using the Chottogram and Mongla sea-ports, settlement of marine boundary, joint ventures against terrorism, bilateral trade and commerce, assistance in railways and aviation transport, easing up visa processing and so on are the worth mentioning areas in which we see wonderful progresses that concern both the countries.
The government of India has categorically applauded Bangladesh’s zero tolerance attitude to terrorism, and expressed solidarity with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s relentless efforts to keep peace, security and stability in the border area and bidden fair to work together to uproot any kind of terrorism from this region. It is mentionable in this regard that the foreign ministers of the both the countries had extended successful talks on forming intensive assistance on the part of both governments against fundamentalist groups of any sort, terrorists, black marketers, fake-note dealers and other organized criminals.
Both the countries are intent on making the process of travel for people on both sides simple and easy. Bangladesh government has already made an appeal to their Indian counterparts to remove all sorts of restrictions for Bangladeshi citizens while entering India by highways or railways. The Indian government has made a promise to remove the restrictions gradually.
India, with utmost priority, took a favourable decision with a view to relaxing visa limitations for the people of Bangladesh above sixty five years of age and below thirteen years of age in the year 2014. They were allowed five-year multiple entry visas as against the one year visa available earlier. In 2018, under the Revised Travel Arrangement (RTA)-2018, freedom fighters were added to the list to get the same facilities. In return, Bangladesh also relaxed visa rules promising five-year visas for students, senior citizens and patients. They also made provisions so that Indians would be able to enter the neighbouring country in private cars under the BIMSTEC agreement.
Both the countries celebrate the exchange of enclaves between them with a view to settling the long debated India-Bangladesh international border issue, which needed 42 long years to settle. It is a glorious example of deep fraternity between the two countries and friendly attitudes of the ruling governments e.g., BJP in India and Awami League in Bangladesh. BJP-led Indian government showed its honesty and courage to pass the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) Bill on 07 May 2015 and consequently a fruitful agreement called the Land Boundary Agreement was signed by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Premiere Narendra Modi in June 2015. On 01 August 2015, India and Bangladesh exchanged control of some 162 pockets of land formerly known as enclaves. The move was branded as akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall by politicians across the world, and it boosted the India-Bangladesh relationship farther ahead.
With the settlement of mutual land-border issues, both Bangladesh and India have agreed to create a stable, peaceful and crime-free borderline between them and have emphasized pro-active and effective frontier management in this regard. In a summit in October 2019, the two premiers agreed that any loss of lives at the border areas is unexpected and avoidable, and they promised to make the border-keeping forces of both the countries work together in this regard.
Both leaders have highlighted the need to develop mutual transport facilities to enhance economic cooperation in the north and eastern states of India and other regions with Bangladesh. Both countries have agreed to introduce standard operating system rules for transporting goods from Chottogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh to other parts of India including north-east India. Again, they are thinking seriously about the huge potential of transporting goods through the inland waterways and coastal areas. A decision has been made to start a water-transport trade route through the Dhulian-Gargari-Rajshahi-Doulatdia-Aricha along the inland rivers. The Daudkandi-Sonamura route will also be added under the protocol. The transport of goods using the maritime ports of Bangladesh will immensely increase financial benefits of both countries. So, both countries have seriously taken the matter.
A road transport agreement called BBIN MVA among India, Bangladesh and Nepal (and Bhutan as observer) was signed on 15 June 2015 in which all the countries agreed for allowing passage of motor vehicles carrying people and goods of other participants through their motorways. As active major participants in this treaty, India and Bangladesh have shown profuse interest in finalising the protocols for the enactment of the treaty. Accordingly, representatives of the countries met in New Delhi last February to finalise the draft protocols. At the meeting, Additional Secretary to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Vikram Doraiswami stressed the need to expeditiously finalise the passenger and cargo protocols.
Bangladesh and India have far railway transits across the borders and they are used for the passage of freight trains carrying different food items and raw materials between the two countries. In the current Covid-19 situation, railway is being considered to be very effective for cargo transportation. As a matter of fact, Bangladesh has by far imported 50 locomotives and 120 passenger coaches from India which is also eager to help Bangladesh develop its railway infrastructure. This year, India has handed Bangladesh ten Broad Gauge diesel-based locomotives funded by the Ministry of External Affairs, India, as a part of commitment made last year between India and Bangladesh. Bangladesh has already begun using locomotives for transporting onions from India.
Last year the Prime Ministers of the two countries inaugurated a project of importing large quantities of cooking gas from Bangladesh to Tripura by truck. This is expected to increase the energy business across the border. In the meantime, Bangladesh’s trade across Indian border has gone past 1 billion US Dollars which is an effect of India’s initiative of importing tax-free and quota-free Bangladeshi products in the Indian market. The total amount of trade between India and Bangladesh stood at $10.25 billion in 2018-19.
India and Bangladesh have been intensely banking on their healthy bilateral relationship in the development of mutual trade and commerce. Sometimes they are collaborating in some fields so that both the countries can be benefitted from those projects. There is an instance of Bangladesh’s signing the paper for purchasing electricity of 718 megawatts from Reliance Power of India over the next 22 years. On the other hand, Reliance makes plans to finance almost $1 billion to structure a regional plant by 2022 to deliver electricity. The plant will be built at Meghnaghat in Narayanganj.
Therefore, the reciprocal mode of relationship between Bangladesh and India continues to be healthier over the years and the governments of both the countries are very mutually eager to carry on with this relationship farther ahead. When Bangladesh Prime Minister met her Indian counterpart in a top level meeting in October 2019, they both promised to work together as members of different international organisations including the UNO and to increase partnership to keep regional peace and harmony and to make collaborative observation into the possibility of signing an extensive CEPA between the two countries in near future. This has been possible for the sincerest eagerness from the corners of both the leaders of the two vibrant neighbours. We hope the healthy relationship between the two countries will continue increasing further in the days to come.
The writer is a columnist, author, researcher, Professor of English and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh