Ever since the Liberation War in 1971, Bangladesh and India have shared a special relationship not only due to their geographical boundaries, but also largely owing to their shared cultural, linguistic and historical connections.
India, during the war for liberation of the Bangladeshi nation, provided much of the required humanitarian as well as militaristic support which was so duly needed at the time. Both the countries since then, have shared a gigantic 4000 km long border which makes Bangladesh India’s longest land sharing neighbour in the South Asian region.
Bangladesh’s current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently described the India-Bangladesh bilateral relations as a ‘role model of good neighbourhood diplomacy’. This statement hence came as an assertion of the long-shared friendship the two nations have had for the past five decades.
India, on the other hand, was amongst the first countries in the world to establish its diplomatic relations with the newly independent nation in December of 1971. Since then, Bangladesh has gone on to become India’s biggest developmental and trading partner in South Asia. This has prompted the two neighbouring countries in contributing to each other’s economic and social prosperity. Major advancements have also been made on security and water sharing issues that have largely been a small thorn in the mutually cordial relations between the two nations.
Soon after Bangladesh’s independence, both the nations went on to sign 13 agreements related to trade, telecommunication, culture and other domains in the early 1970’s. At the time this was seen in a way as the Bangladeshi nation’s approval for forging friendlier relations with their land sharing neighbour. The two countries also share around 54 common rivers amongst them; in 1972 a bilateral Joint River Commission was set up between the two to maintain mutual contact in order to maximize benefits for the shared river systems.
In an advancement to such beneficial relations, Bangladesh and India signed a Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development, under which both parties agreed to narrow the trade imbalances by reworking their trade and non-tariff barriers while also agreeing to expand their cooperation to the sub-regional level as well. A recent development in their relations has also come by way of both the countries working towards signing a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which emphasises on three specific dimensions; trade in goods, services and investments. The goal of such an agreement is to open up newer avenues, including new markets and multi-modal connectivity while also focusing on reduction on trade gaps that have been persisting.
In a testimony to such an enduring relationship based on mutually beneficial agreements, both the countries had also brought the Land Boundary Agreement into force in 2015 by exchanging the instruments of ratification. This came as a symbol of willingness in which both the countries were inclined towards resolving issues that were seen to be hindering the relationship.
These ties however, have also been witnessing stronger political will to engage further than their current positions; in the recent past, India and Bangladesh both have substantiated their mutual trust beyond the general cooperation in specific sectors. In the past eight years, India has extended credit lines worth $8 billion to its neighbour for developmental projects in sectors including roadways, shipping, ports and railways. This makes Bangladesh the recipient of India’s largest concessional credit lines to a single country around the globe. India is also contributing to various projects in Bangladesh which includes an upgradation of the Ashuganj river port and Akhaura land port road with a credit line of more than $400 million. A road project connecting the India- Bangladesh border which eases connectivity to some of the north eastern states of India with Bangladesh is also being worked upon with a further line of credit worth $80 million from the Indian nation.
However, it is not only the trade and economic related aspects that makes the relations between the two densely populated countries a role model for the world, but is rather their all weather friendship that ascertains the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s statement, which was well in fact also reciprocated by the Indian side. Prime Minister Modi, in one of his first foreign visits post the Covid-19 outbreak visited Bangladesh to participate in its Golden Jubilee of Independence. Thus, economic and security cooperation between the two are based out of a long-cherished history and connection the nations have had in the past.
In times of crisis, India has assisted Bangladesh with medical as well as humanitarian aid as well. For instance, in 2020, the Indian Railways gifted ten broad gauge diesel locomotives to Bangladesh based on an urgent need. Similarly, India also provided its neighbours with a significant amount of Covid vaccines that were manufactured domestically and had arranged for an evacuation of Bangladeshis stranded in between the Russia-Ukraine war.
What has rather emerged as a consequence of such gestures, is that many newer avenues for mutual cooperation have opened up in the recent decade. Bangladesh’s population has subsequently become India’s biggest medical tourist market; as India makes for an affordable and economically sound expenditure for procedures that may not be available in the country. This has led to an extreme uptake of medical tourist visas from Bangladesh travelling to India. Not only in this aspect, but such new found paths for mutual benefits and interests are only possible if nations have a lasting relationship built on trust and the will of the top most leadership.
Political entities in both India as well as in Bangladesh have constantly attempted to advance their bilateral ties beyond the scope that is currently prevalent. There is however, significant scope to further the relationship in a way that opens up other routes and modes for ensuring that relations remain beneficial to both the countries. Aspects such as free trade, global health governance, global peace and stability are avenues that could present itself as an opportunity for both India and Bangladesh to not only take their cordial relations to the next level, but would also be an important message to the world in terms of unity in advancing one’s own perspective in the global arena.
Hence, the former Foreign Secretary of India, Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s statement echoing the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s assertions of India-Bangladesh ties being a role model of good neighbourhood diplomacy, is not a shallow statement made to present a certain idea of the bilateral relationship. It is rather a strong testimony to the power of cooperation that can lead to land and water sharing countries having a mutually beneficial relation while also elevating their economic, social and political statuses in the global forum.