The organic relationship between India and Bangladesh is multifaceted and has stood the test of time, geopolitical developments, regional and global volatility. Diversity with congruity is the common denominator shared between India and Bangladesh. The border spanning almost 5000 km is sutured by 54 perennial streams, which unfurl historical and geographical connections between the two nations. Family ties exist on both sides of the border. Many Bangladeshi residents do marriage shopping in major Indian cities, many of which are closer than Dacca for them.
The Indo-Bangladesh relationship is anchored in the idea of mutual benefit, growth, and respect. Our common identity across the world amplifies it. Being branches of the same tree, Bangladesh, jump-started its growth in 1971, with its declaration of the right of self-determination. Since then, we have shared a brotherhood that’s evident in the way both nations create opportunities for education, health, tourism, employment etc. This brotherhood, harmony and opportunities provide economic prosperity for both nations.
Both cooperate economically. Trade between the two is currently at $3.16 billion and growing annually. Bangladesh is one of India’s largest trading partners. The robust growth in agri-business is due to common food habits and age-old cultivation practices. Similarly, unprecedented growth in the textile trade is rooted in almost identical cultural practices and dresses. Robust co-operation continues in other sectors including power and infrastructure. Language plays a crucial role in enabling this mutually beneficial relationship to grow. Hence, India and Bangladesh are a common entity, with a near similar approach to global issues. India provides training to members of the Bangladesh armed forces. Both nations conduct joint exercises and have operated in close cooperation in UN Peacekeeping operations.
The Bay of Bengal washes the shores of both and opens multiple opportunities. Co-operation and collaboration continue in shared fields of fisheries, ocean-based renewable energy, maritime transport, coastal tourism, and waste management. The sinking geosynclines present the possibility of being home to vast economic riches in the form of potential hydrocarbons, marine minerals, and other unexplored oceanic wealth. The shared land and maritime borders of the two nations encompass amongst them ecologically sensitive areas and biodiversity hotspots. These include the marshy wetlands of Sunderbans, biodiversity hotspots of the inner crescent of the Himalayas and coastal water biomes. From the protection of the shared habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger to breeding grounds for migratory birds, inland and marine fishes, as also corals, all remain collective responsibilities of both, benefits of which are reaped together.
On the security front, internal disturbances in Rakhain involving Rohingya’s and political uncertainty in Myanmar, both leading to an influx of refugees, are matters of joint concern. Maritime security cooperation between India and Bangladesh becomes more crucial due to the proximity of the Strait of Malacca through which 1/3rd of global oceanic and energy trade transits. Piracy and smuggling of narcotics and contraband is a challenge that needs greater bilateral cooperation. Landlocked regions of India’s Northeast will benefit from access to Bangladeshi ports. The region remains vulnerable to both natural and man-made disasters. It faces seasonal and recurring cyclones, which apart from impacting human lives and economic costs also cause considerable damage to marine ecosystems. Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectional and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a step in cooperation, mutual growth as also helps in harnessing opportunities and mitigating challenges of the region.
Both nations are in their prime phase of demographic dividend and hence, have the potential of reaping benefits from trade and economic cooperation. (SAFTA) South Asian Free Trade Area is a possible platform that provides opportunities to reap optimum benefits arising out of the comparative advantage possessed by the two youngest nations in terms of workforce. The challenge is to enhance the skills of our working population to achieve the maximum shared prosperity from trade opportunities. India supports Bangladesh by extending the line of credit in trade and defence as also offers duty-free entry into Indian markets.
People to people exchanges have gained momentum through the opening of the Naldibari (India) and Chilahati (Bangladesh) rail links. The Maitreyee express along with bus services from Dhaka to Kolkata, Shillong and Guwahati has given impetus to tourism and trade. With Bangladesh giving access to its Chittagong and other ports for transportation of goods from India’s Northeast, the opportunity for commerce and tourism has multiplied. This also connects Bangladesh to the proposed India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway which is expected to give further impetus to trade and commerce with ASEAN nations. What has been witnessed between India and Bangladesh in the past is a glorious chapter of history and what will be witnessed in the future will be an example for nations to follow for socio-economic symbiosis. The two nations need to hold hands and keep moving towards rather than be satisfied with the present.