May 13, 2021

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Regardless of Road blocks, India-Bangladesh Relations Are Flourishing

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Indian Key Minister Narendra Modi’s two-working day take a look at to Bangladesh last month may perhaps not have led to any significant-ticket bulletins, but it was significant on symbolism. Modi was honored as the chief guest all through celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence on March 26, as nicely as the start centenary celebrations of the country’s founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Both of those Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, Rahman’s daughter, employed the check out as an opportunity to commemorate India’s function in supporting Bangladesh’s war of liberation from Pakistan in 1971 and spotlight the deep cultural and historical linkages among the two countries. The truth that it was Modi’s initial overseas visit due to the fact the starting of the COVID-19 pandemic underlined the relevance of bilateral ties.

Modi’s check out arrived amid excellent momentum in the total India-Bangladesh romantic relationship. In a digital summit in December, Modi and Hasina experienced fully commited to even more improve economic and men and women-to-persons ties, as very well as security cooperation. In the past handful of months, new rail and road links have been opened a unit of the Bangladeshi army participated in India’s Republic Working day parade in January for the 1st time and Bangladesh turned just one of the earliest recipients of COVID-19 vaccines manufactured in India.

Indeed, relations among the two neighbors have remained remarkably sturdy because Hasina arrived to electric power in 2008. She has invested significant political funds in revitalizing the relationship with India, which had considerably deteriorated under her predecessor, Khaleda Zia. Modi has also stepped up engagement with Bangladesh driven mainly by his government’s desire to counterbalance China’s growing stability and financial footprint there. New Delhi and Dhaka now enjoy a wide-based mostly partnership spanning many spots of cooperation, as built evident by the prolonged joint statement they issued next Modi’s pay a visit to.

New Delhi’s proactive engagement with Dhaka also demonstrates a broader shift in India’s foreign coverage, as it progressively focuses its attention eastward, towards the Bay of Bengal and the Indo-Pacific location. Bangladesh, given its strategic area, political steadiness and amazing economic progress in the earlier few many years, has emerged as the ideal associate for India. Throughout his personal check out to Dhaka in March, Indian International Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar stated that India and Bangladesh have the probable to change “the complete geo-economics of the region.” A much more affluent, integrated and stable Bay of Bengal, by which approximately a quarter of the world’s traded merchandise traverse, is critical for India’s financial and strategic passions. Some of its busiest ports—Kolkata, Chennai, Tuticorin and Vishakhapatnam—are found together the Bay of Bengal, which also serves as a gateway to Southeast Asia by way of the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

Furthermore, greater connectivity with Bangladesh will assist spur a lot-essential economic enhancement in India’s landlocked northeastern states. In early March, Modi and Hasina participated in a digital ribbon-chopping ceremony for the India-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge, or Maitri Setu. Designed throughout the Feni River, it supplies the swiftest land route from northeastern India to the flourishing Bangladeshi port town of Chittagong. The bridge’s inauguration came on the heels of the opening of the 1st-at any time inland waterway among Bangladesh and the Indian state of Tripura last September. Dhaka also granted authorization final 12 months to use its territory for the transit of Indian items, shortening the transit time between India’s much-flung northeastern states and West Bengal.

It is no shock, then, that connectivity and regional integration have emerged as the key pillars of ties in between India and Bangladesh, and are probable to keep on being so in the foreseeable future. They have noticed a great deal achievements in excess of the previous couple a long time in restoring outdated rail, street and drinking water linkages while also establishing new ones. All through Modi’s recent pay a visit to, the two countries also released the Maitali Specific, a passenger teach that will run on the Haldibhari-Chilahati rail line, which was restored only in December 2020 immediately after remaining ruined in the 1965 India-Pakistan War. Far more broadly, India and Bangladesh hope to soon finalize a 4-way settlement with Bhutan and Nepal aimed at facilitating greater motor vehicle visitors. Far more rail and road connections, as properly as much more built-in look at points to advertise cross-border trade, are also in the pipeline.

These jobs will also provide Bangladesh’s ambitions of turning out to be a strategic transit hub connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia. Hasina, as opposed to Zia, acknowledges the business added benefits of better connectivity and enabling transit as a result of Bangladeshi territory. Dhaka also realizes that to maintain its recent economic growth—averaging practically 7 % in excess of the past ten years, putting it on keep track of to leave the team of nations that the United Nations categorizes as “least developed” by 2026—it will need to have to be far better built-in with the rest of South Asia. A transit arrangement with India that would allow Bangladesh to export its goods to Bhutan and Nepal, at this time underneath consideration, would be a excellent stage in that course.

As prolonged as Hasina is in demand, Bangladesh’s ties with India will carry on to thrive. The genuine test for the bilateral romance will appear at the time she is no extended in electric power.

Despite the rosy outlook, on the other hand, India-Bangladesh ties are not cost-free of issues. New Delhi remains concerned about the escalating affect of China in Bangladesh. Beijing is at present Dhaka’s greatest trading lover, most significant supplier of armed service components and largest overseas investor. Dhaka, on the other hand, is worried about its approximately $7 billion trade deficit with India, which it blames on persistent nontariff boundaries to trade, in particular for its garment exports. Indian officials have so much failed to tackle these grievances.

Then there is the unresolved, a long time-old dispute more than the sharing of the Teesta River, which flows via the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal just before entering Bangladesh. Dhaka has lengthy demanded a larger share of the river’s drinking water, as approximately 21 million Bangladeshi individuals count on it for their livelihood. The development of dams together the river in Sikkim has also led to a lean seasonal move into Bangladesh.

Irrespective of recurring Indian assurances of resolving the challenge, New Delhi’s arms are tied by its domestic rules, which grant jurisdiction above water means to point out governments. The present-day main minister of West Bengal—Mamata Banerjee, a distinguished Modi critic—opposes a water-sharing settlement with Bangladesh, as thousands and thousands of people in her point out also depend on the Teesta. Unless of course Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Social gathering is ready to defeat Banerjee in the ongoing and closely contested point out elections in West Bengal, this challenge will keep on being unresolved.

In modern several years, the treatment method of spiritual minorities in equally international locations have also complex relations. India remains involved about the plight of Hindus in the greater part-Muslim Bangladesh, as they periodically deal with violence, harassment and persecution even while Hasina’s authorities has vehemently denied allegations of condition-sponsored discrimination. Several Bangladeshis, on the other hand, resent the prevailing political and public discourse in India that tends to label Muslims currently residing there as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

These tensions rose drastically in 2019, when Modi’s federal government passed the Citizenship Modification Act, which critics say discriminates versus Indian Muslims, and produced a new Countrywide Sign up of Citizens that threatened to exclude thousands and thousands of Muslims in Assam point out, which borders Bangladesh. These actions stoked fears in Bangladesh about a mass inflow of Muslim migrants from India at a time when Dhaka is already struggling to host millions of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. To convey its displeasure, Bangladesh canceled 4 ministerial visits to India in late 2019 and early 2020, and Hasina said in an job interview with Gulf News that the Citizenship Modification Act was “unnecessary.”

These complicated challenges have fueled anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh. In simple fact, Modi’s take a look at was accompanied by violent protests in areas of Bangladesh organized by Hefazat-e-Islam, a radical Islamist team. At minimum 13 men and women ended up killed and dozens much more wounded in the unrest. His scheduled go to to Dhaka in March 2020, which was canceled since of the pandemic, provoked related upheaval at the time. The outcry has put tension on Hasina, who is derided by conservative Muslims and her domestic opponents for her professional-India tilt.

In the confront of this domestic strain, Hasina deserves credit score for remaining fully commited to strengthening ties with India. Her federal government has recently sought to publicly downplay issues about the Citizenship Amendment Act and the Nationwide Sign-up of Citizens, whilst reassuring New Delhi that it—not China—stays Dhaka’s “most important” spouse. Hasina nevertheless views India as the principal foreign backer of her governing administration, and expects it to stand by her even as domestic dissent boosts. She remains indebted to India for its support in making sure her survival adhering to the Bangladeshi coup of 1975, when her father and most other family members members have been killed by the navy. New Delhi also reportedly uncovered and served foil a plot to assassinate her in 2014.

All of this implies that as extended as Hasina is in demand, Bangladesh’s ties with India will continue on to prosper. The serious examination for the bilateral marriage will arrive after she is no longer in ability.

Aryaman Bhatnagar is a foreign policy analyst based mostly in New Delhi. He tweets at @aryaman89.

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