India and Bangladesh share history, culture, language and values like secularism and democracy with each other and are geographically proximate to each other. India shares the longest land boundary with Bangladesh. India has successfully maintained good and friendly relations with its youngest neighbor in south Asia.
A brief look at the Historical background of India - Bangladesh relations
India and Bangladesh relations date back to 1971 when Bangladesh emerged as a nation after the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, which was the result of growing resentment among people of East Pakistan against ruling West Pakistan and the fight of inhabitants of East Pakistan for freedom from West Pakistan. India provided military and strategic assistance to the people to help them achieve political freedom.
In addition to playing a significant role in the freedom struggle of Bangladesh, India also provided resources to the newly formed nation in area of economy and administration and earned friendship of Bangladesh. India was one of the first countries to recognize Bangladesh immediately after its independence. Since the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, India and Bangladesh have taken number of initiatives to promote political, economic and cultural relations.
Major bilateral agreements and initiatives that were taken after formation of Bangladesh- Treaty for friendship and co-operation in 1972, Joint Rivers Commission having experts from both countries was established in 1972 to study rivers shared and plan projects for flood control, Indo Bangladesh Trade agreements, 1972 and Land boundary Act, 1974 to find solution to border problem.
Areas of Cooperation between India and Bangladesh
In order to find out new areas of cooperation and to coordinate and supervise the implementation of initiatives, the two nations have Joint Consultative Commission (JCC). The JCC is led by Ministers of External Affairs, and 5th JCC was held in New Delhi in February 2019. Presently, two nations engage with each other through regular high-level visits and a large number of bilateral institutional mechanisms for economic political and strategic cooperation.
The main areas of economic cooperation between India and Bangladesh are bilateral trade and investment, development assistance and partnership, cooperation in power and energy sector and initiatives to boost connectivity.
Trade and Investment
Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has grown regularly over the last decade and among all the nations of South Asia, India’s biggest trade partner is Bangladesh. In addition to growing bilateral trade, India and Bangladesh have a membership of regional trade agreements like Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), SAARC Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) and Agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). All items from Bangladesh except alcohol and tobacco enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to Indian markets under SAFTA. India’s Foreign Direct Investment in Bangladesh more than doubled between 2014 and 2018. Bangladesh makes for 50% of India’s health tourism revenue.
Development Assistance and Partnership
The largest beneficiary of India’s assistance and credit to neighboring countries in 2017 is Bangladesh. India has provided three lines of credit to Bangladesh in 2010, 2015 and 2017. India is also assisting Bangladesh in infrastructure projects like Agartala- Akhaura rail link, India Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline to supply diesel from Siliguri to Parbatipur in Bangladesh and high impact community development projects (HICDPs).
Cooperation in Power and Energy Sector
Bangladesh currently imports 1160 MW of power from India. The Maitree thermal power plant at Rampal, Bangladesh, is being developed as a joint venture between National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) of India and Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB). Indian public sector organizations like Indian Oil Corporation and ONGC Videsh are working in the oil and gas sector of Bangladesh.
Initiatives to Boost Connectivity
Increased connectivity is essential for growth in trade, investment and people-to-people ties. Various initiatives have been taken to boost movement through the land, water and air routes. Protocol on Inland Waterways Trade and Transit (PIWTT) of 1972 permits trade and transit through the rivers and movement of goods to North- Eastern States of India through Ashuganj River Port in Bangladesh. Bandhan Express was launched from Kolkata- Khulna in November 2017. Bangladesh- Bhutan -India- Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement has been signed to provide connectivity for the movement of passenger and cargo vehicles.
Defense Cooperation and Border Management
India and Bangladesh hold joint level exercises of Army (Exercise Sampriti) and Navy (Exercise Milan). Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP) was signed between the two countries in 2011.
In June 2015, the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) came into force, and two nations exchanged enclaves with each other. The maritime boundary dispute between India and Bangladesh was settled in 2014 and two nations are cooperating in the maritime sector. Other agreements have also been signed to transfer sentenced prisoners, combat international terrorism and organized crime and drug trafficking. Conflicts between smugglers of cattle and other goods and Border Security Force (BSF) have also decreased.
Recent visit of Prime Minister of Bangladesh to India (October 2019)
During the recent visit of Prime Minister of Bangladesh to India in October 2019, both countries signed seven pacts and launched three projects. The agreements include use of the Bangladeshi ports (Chattogram and Mongla) for movement of goods to and from Northeastern India, drinking water supply in Tripura from Feni River, interim water-sharing agreement framework for rivers of Tripura (Manu, Muhuri, Khowai), Bangladesh (Gomati, Dharla) and West Bengal (Dudhkumar) and inclusion of Daudkanti (Bangladesh)-Sonamura (Tripura) inland water trade route under PIWTT. One of the newly launched projects is to import LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) for supply in the North-Eastern states from Bangladesh.
Areas of Divergence between India and Bangladesh
India and Bangladesh have developed their relationships positively in the areas of bilateral trade and investment, development assistance and partnership, cooperation in power and energy sector, defense, security and border management. A few significant issues still exist between the two nations.
Illegal Immigrants from Bangladesh in India
It is estimated that 1.5 crore Bangladeshi illegal immigrants are present in India and 3 lakh illegal immigrants come to India every year. Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in India is a complex issue as their presence is changing the demography of Indian states in the east.
River Water Sharing
India and Bangladesh have 54 common rivers and a Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) exists since 1972. The Ganga Waters Treaty for sharing of waters of river Ganga was signed in 1996. Sharing of water of Teesta and Feni River is an issue pending between India and Bangladesh for long time. Teesta Water Sharing Agreement has not come into existence owing to state politics in India.
Controversy over National Register of Citizens (NRC)
NRC excluded 1.9 million Assamese under the label “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” living in Assam after 1971. But, Bangladesh says that no migrants went to Assam illegally at the time of the 1971 war. India has maintained that NRC in Assam is India’s internal matter.
Belt and Road Initiative of China
There are concerns in India regarding China’s growing role in the economy and infrastructure of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has received funding from China under Belt and Road Initiative. However, India has rejected invitation to join Belt and Road Initiative.
India’s position concerning the return and rehabilitation of Rohingya Muslims as internal matter of concerned states has made Bangladesh upset. Bangladesh has sought Chinese help in resolving the issues concerning Rohingya refugees. However, India has changed its position and said that given its geographical proximity, it should play leading role in rehabilitating Rohingya refugees.
The relations between India and Bangladesh have increasingly become well and are at their historical best. Now, two countries must move forward towards strengthening their relation to newer levels through a strategy based on cooperation, coordination, and consolidation. The strong relations between India and Bangladesh are strategically important for each other. India can consider including Bangladesh in its Act East Policy. The Teesta water-sharing dispute will hopefully be resolved soon with the cooperation of the concerned state government.