India And Bangladesh: Inspired Partners Or Frenemies? – OpEd


India and Bangladesh are two important South Asian nations. Both nations have an important role in each other’s foreign policy. Moreover, these nations’ interactions are based on tradition, culture, language, and common ideals.

It is evident that these two nations’ reciprocal connections are critical to each other’s economy and security. Both nations rely on one another to develop in this globalized world. Both nations must share a large area of collaboration in order to accomplish this. When we consider the whole picture of India-Bangladesh ties, we see a graph with many ups and downs. Although there have been many areas of collaboration, other concerns have caused dissatisfaction among neighbors.

India and Bangladesh have multifaceted and increasing relations since they are each other’s nearest neighbors. Trade and business, electricity and energy, transportation and connectivity, research and technology, military and security, marine affairs, climate change, and sustainable development are all areas of cooperation between the two nations. Bangladesh is a major partner in India’s hallmark concept of “Neighborhood First.”

On Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s most recent visit to India, the two countries strengthened their partnership by signing seven Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) on water resources, capacity development, railway, science, and technology. In terms of commerce, India is Bangladesh’s second-largest trading partner, while Bangladesh is India’s fourth-largest export destination. Notwithstanding the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, bilateral commerce has increased steadily and rapidly, rising from USD 9.69 billion in FY 2020-21 to USD 16.15 billion in FY 2021-22. Bangladesh now enjoys access to practically all duty-free products on the Indian market, with the exception of pharmaceuticals and weaponry. Bangladeshi exports to the nation have expanded steadily since 2011, and over the last ten years, they have virtually quadrupled. Bangladesh exported commodities to India for $51.25 million in the 2011–12 fiscal year; this amount rose to $199 million in the next fiscal year, 2021–22.

After China, India is now Bangladesh’s second-largest import market. In the fiscal year 2017–18, products worth $8.62 billion were imported from India, according to data analyzed by Bangladesh Bank. Even while the Covid-19 epidemic caused a little decline in the middle of the final fiscal year 2021–22, imports almost increased to $16.16 billion. That illustrates the unbalanced commerce between the two nations, although analysts think that Bangladesh is not particularly concerned about such commercial imbalances. Bangladesh enjoys a trade surplus with the European Union and the United States while having a deficit with India.

To strengthen the connection even further, India only invited the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina to the G20 conference out of all its South Asian neighbors. Also, Bangladesh has begun negotiations with India on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

It is evident that India has contributed significantly to Bangladesh’s growth. Following extensive negotiations, India has granted Bangladesh an electrical corridor through which to import hydropower from Nepal. Also, in response to significant requests from Bangladesh, India has consented for the first time to discuss and amend the conditions of Indian loans. One of the recommendations was to exclude the Indian Line of Credit (LoC) plan from the need to acquire 75% of its commodities from India. India has dropped its objections to the development of the new Kasba railway station and the Akhaura police immigration facility. Moreover, India is currently enabling the transfer of Russian nuclear power plant supplies to Bangladesh through an overland route. To ease commerce between the two nations, three new border haats would be established on the Tripura-Bangladesh border. Narendra Modi and other Indian politicians have recognized Bangladesh as a key Northeast partner.

The two nations have various outstanding concerns, the most pressing of which being the sharing of waters in shared rivers, especially the Teesta River, which runs through India, and the border killing issue. After decades of negotiations, India has unable to sign the Teesta water-sharing agreement or put an end to the killing of Bangladeshi people by Indian border guards. Bangladesh is, by definition, a downstream nation. It wants India to share more Teesta water. Nevertheless, India has so far been unable to reach an agreement on the issue, most likely owing to strong resistance from West Bengal state. Bangladesh’s foreign ministry has written to India, requesting details regarding media reports claiming that India had started a project to divert water from the Teesta. Because to the arbitrary withholding of water, northern Bangladesh will get drier. West Bengal’s intention to develop two additional canals to take water from the trans-boundary Teesta River would have a negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of around two crore Bangladeshis.

Moreover, India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Registry of Citizens (NRC) have left a bad taste in the mouths of Bangladeshis. The most recent example of unease is an energy contract with the Adani group, in which the Washington Post and other news outlets said that Bangladesh bowed into a deal for paying more than it should have.

Sweeping these difficulties under the rug would be detrimental to the relationship’s long-term health. Under the conditions, it cannot be overstated how critical it is for Bangladesh to find a long-term solution to the long-running Teesta water-sharing dispute with India. After decades of discussions and countless pledges from our Indian counterparts, the Teesta water-sharing deal between Bangladesh and India remains unresolved. Thus far, India has reaped the most benefits from the agreements inked between India and Bangladesh. India has historically benefited from transit and trans-shipment corridors from Bangladesh, as well as other bilateral commercial arrangements. To maintain the essence of real friendship, India may selflessly make Bangladesh the gainer in the Teesta water sharing problem.

On the other side, the Adani issue remains a source of contention between India and Bangladesh. The Indian government might personally inspect the situation and put pressure on the Adani group to reduce the price of power to a reasonable level for Bangladesh. To maintain a good relation with its closest neighbour, India must need to be considerate on these issues. Otherwise, the time is not so far when the India would actually be considered as frenemy of Bangladesh rather than an inspired partner.

Safowan Hossain Khan is a  freelance columnist specializing in South Asian Affairs with a particular focus on the India-Bangladesh relations and Teesta water sharing issue. He has an MSS degree in International Relations from Jahangirnagar University.

Safowan Hossain Khan

Safowan Hossain Khan is a researcher specializing in South Asian Affairs with a particular focus on the India-Bangladesh relations. He is a Senior Research Fellow of University of London.

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