Bangladesh-India Relations: Growing Stronger

Anoy Mukherjee
June 07, 2020


Bangladesh and India are two neighboring countries. Although these two countries are geographically different, there are many similarities in the traditions and cultures of the two countries. Both countries have old traditions. The Indian government played a significant in the independence movement of Bangladesh and even before the independence movement. The Government of India was the only friendly country that helped fulfill the dream of our Father of the Nation at the time of independent Bangladesh In 1971. When the Pakistani army and the invading forces carried out massacres on the unarmed people of Bangladesh, the Indian people and the Indian government stood up for the people of Bangladesh. India gave shelter, food, and security to all the helpless Bangladeshis of that day. And through this, the base of Bangladesh-India friendly relations was strengthened. Bangladesh became independent after a long nine-month war.

The newly independent Bangladesh, led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, cooperating closely with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, entered into the ‘Long-Term Friendship and Security’ Agreement in 1972. Intellectuals opined that such an agreement was justified in the geopolitical context of South Asia. Both countries recognized each other’s geographical boundaries, sovereignty, regional security, and economic development. Just when the people of the two countries reached a new height in a remarkable familiarity to their history-geography-culture, on 15 August 1975, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family were brutally assassinated. His death created a political vacuum, creating space for opposing political forces to seize power. After they came to power, they started opposing India and incited communal mistrust and consequent riots. Resultantly, the friendliness that was found at the end of the 1971 liberation war was fast receding. Political leadership ceded way for politico-military rule leading to the gradual loss of cultural and political values.

Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina came to power after a 21-year struggle. As soon as she came to power, she started restoring relations between the two countries and reached out to India with friendship. One of the results of this approach was the historic “Ganga Water” sharing agreement between Bangladesh and India in 1997. At that time, significant progress was being made in the field of security cooperation between Bangladesh and India. The 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord would have been impossible without India’s help.

However, politics in Bangladesh took a new turn. As a result, Sheikh Hasina lost power in 2001. Election malpractices were alleged. The political situation became tumultuous, with an increasing number of terrorist activities, assassination attempts, smuggling, etc.

Sheikh Hasina returned to power at the end of 2008. This led to a new era in India-Bangladesh relations. Sheikh Hasina has been in power for eleven consecutive years from 2008 to 2019. She has been revered as a successful statesman and a popular world leader. In the aftermath of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in 2010, relations between the two countries accelerated by expanding economic exchanges. One of the reasons for her successful handling of relations with India was her tackling of terrorism directed against India. In improving relations with Bangladesh, India had a rare opportunity to control the isolation of its northeast. The result was a new horizon for trade between the two countries like Bangladesh transit facility with northeastern India, progress on border issues, electricity imports from India, large aid package from India to Bangladesh, Bhutan-Nepal transit facility in joint support, exchange of enclaves, issuance of visas to 1.5 million Bangladeshis in various fields every year in the ledger of the last eleven years, etc. In addition, India provided $750 million in 2011 and 1 billion in 2014 to Bangladesh.

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh visited India on 3-6 October 2019. She was invited by the World Economic Forum. Modi-Hasina meeting was also held. Through this meeting, many new areas opened as expected between the two countries for cooperation. Notably, the two leaders directed the Joint Rivers Commission to immediately prepare a draft structure on how to share the water of six identical rivers (Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gomti, Dharla, Dudhkumar). Apart from this, Bangladesh also agreed to supply drinking water to Sabrum town of Tripura with 1.82 cusecs from the Feni river. Yet, there are some unresolved issues in the relations between the two allies. For example, the widely discussed Teesta Treaty. Hopefully, the sincere efforts of the two countries will solve this problem soon.

Moreover, the areas of cooperation between the two countries in various fields, including border security, blue-economy, space research, cybersecurity, and economic cooperation have been expanded through bilateral meetings between the Prime Ministers of the two friendly countries.

A video conference was held between the SAARC countries on the initiative of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The conference was held to deal with the spread of COVID-19. Responding to Modi’s call, PM Hasina also attended the video conference. At that conference, the COVID-19 emergency aid fund was announced. Under that fund, the Government of India sent the necessary medical supplies to the Government of Bangladesh in two phases.

It is a common expectation on both sides that the relations between the two countries will grow stronger in the future in the backdrop of this pandemic.

*** The author is a Freelance Contributor and Executive Member, Sampritee Bangladesh ***