Indo-Bangladesh Relations: A Critical Overview

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina jointly inaugurated the Bangladesh Bhavan, at Santi Niketan, in West Bengal on May 25, 2018. - PID

Bangladesh has developed an intricate maze of economic, political and cultural relations with its largest neighbour. India-Bangladesh formal relationship commenced on 6th September 1971 when it had accorded recognition to an independent Bangladesh within three days of the outbreak of Indo-Pakistan war.

We fought together for Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 and together we spilled blood.  Furthermore 10 million Bangladeshis took refuge in India during that period. India had supported us diplomatically and militarily at the critical period. Although some critics say that India had its own interests to weaken Pakistan to fight with us, it does not matter so long it benefitted us. On 16th December 1971, media reports indicate that Indian soldiers were greeted and cheered with flowers by the men and women in Dhaka and elsewhere.

It is worth noting that India and Bangladesh share a 4,156 km (2,582 mi)-long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world.  India surrounds Bangladesh from north, east and west. Only south of Bangladesh is open to the Bay of Bengal. However, the powerful Indian Navy, in my view, can deny passage of Bangladesh navy in the Bay. These are realities and Bangladesh has to be mindful of these natural geographic features in shaping its foreign policy.  We must realise that no one can re-fashion geography and under the circumstances, Bangladesh could be called as “India-locked country”.

All neighbours need to be friendly with each other for the progress and welfare of the people. If the relations are acrimonious, the smaller neighbor will face more difficulties in its path than its large neighbour for its progress and prosperity.

Bangladesh’s relations with India are friendly and mutually supportive under the Sheikh Hasina government. The policy under the current Bangladesh government towards India, in my view, is realistic and correct. The Bangladesh-India Framework Agreement of Cooperation of 6th September 2011 calls for, among others, cooperation and resolution of issues through the prism of sub-regional and regional environment.

We are not ungrateful nation. We do recognize the contribution India made during our Liberation War.  We are willing to give to India whatever and whenever it needs.   For example, Bangladesh government has reportedly agreed on 17th September 2018, to allow India to use Chattogram and Mongla ports for freight transport to its land-locked seven northeastern states. It is reported that “A draft of the communication network being built for connectivity between the Chattogram and Mongla ports has been approved for India’s signing.”  The use of the ports would ease the difficulties confronted by the Indian eastern land-locked states in their sea- transport.

On current bilateral relations, it is widely reported in the media on May 26, 2018 that addressing the inaugural ceremony of the Dhaka-sponsored “Bangladesh Bhavan” at Visva-Bharati university campus in Santiniketan (160 km from Kolkata), Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the current phase of bi-lateral relations as “the golden chapter. India will always be there for Bangladesh. The friendly relationship between India and Bangladesh is now a subject of study. I believe that the key to progress for both the countries lies in mutual peace.”

However, it is sad to note that in recent times, some of the statements of Indian powerful politicians appeared to be offensive and intended to hurt Bangladeshis. For example, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah said in July that Bangladeshi immigrants are like” termites” and each of them will be struck off the electoral roll, Press Trust India (PTI) reported.

Another politician, Subramanian Swamy, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) parliamentarian of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) reportedly said on 30th September 2018 that India should “invade” Bangladesh and take over it if the torture over Hindus is not stopped.  He reportedly  made these statements while speaking to reporters at Agartala, the capital city of the northeast Indian state of Tripura.( Tripura is bordered by Bangladesh to the west, north and south; and the Indian states of Assam to the north east; and Mizoram to the east.)

Swamy reportedly said: “India will continue to support it [Bangladesh], but its Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina should be warned to stop those ‘mad’ people from demolishing Hindu temples, converting Hindu temples into mosques and converting Hindus to Muslims. If Bangladesh authorities do not stop torturing on Hindus, I would recommend that our government [India] invades Bangladesh.” The allegations are totally wrong against Bangladesh and the Sheikh Hasina government has zero tolerance against any communalism in all its forms.

It may be recalled that Swamy in October, 2012 reportedly recommended invading Bangladesh. He reportedly argued: “Bangladesh was created for Muslims on the premise that they cannot live with Hindus. But since Muslims from Bangladesh have entered into India and living with Hindus then the reason for the existence of a separate Muslim country doesn’t exist. So, Bangladesh should return land in proportion to the Muslims that have immigrated into India. 1/3rd of Bangladesh or, invade Bangladesh to occupy that land.”

Again, on April, 2014, it is reported that he had suggested Bangladesh should compensate India with land for what he said “the influx of its citizens” (meaning Bangladeshis)” to the neighbouring country (India). “If Bangladesh does not agree to take back its people (largely from Assam) then the country should compensate by giving land to India,”

These statements from Indian politicians are objectionable and disrespectful to Bangladesh. The less such statements are made, the better is for keeping up good bilateral relations. It may be noted that Indo-Bangladesh have differences which are rooted in their old-age culture and traditions and therefore the nature of bilateral relationship between the two countries has to be appreciated in that context.

There is another phenomenon that needs to be acknowledged that Bangladesh and Indian perspective on an issue could be different largely of their national interests. Friends understand the compulsions of each other of their policies and that is why they become friends. We want to be respected by others including India. We hope that Bangladesh and India continue to live peacefully keeping in mind the above characteristics.

In my view, relationship of Bangladesh with India is like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even tempered the beast is, one is affected by every twitch and grunt of the elephant.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

  • Indo-Bangladesh Relations: A Critical Overview
  • Issue 21
  • Barrister Harun ur Rashid
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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