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Bangladesh-India Relations Reach New Heights Amid Ukraine Crisis – OpEd

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The Russia-Ukraine war has already caused massive destruction and displacement of the Ukrainians and foreigners. Damages and casualties have turned into a colossal level. Particularly, several foreigners, including Bangladesh citizens are also caught in the warfighting. Countries were quick to evacuate their citizens from war-torn Ukraine to a safer place. India’s role in evacuating not only its citizens but also the citizens of its neighbors like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal is worth mentioning. It is such a humanitarian and friendly gesture from India which will undoubtedly impact its bilateral relations with these countries positively especially, with Bangladesh. Bangladesh-India have been good neighbors and trusted friends since 1971 and before. Modern-day diplomacy is not only about states to state interactions, but people also play an important role. India’s friendly gesture of evacuating Bangladeshi citizens from Ukraine will definitely have some positive implications for their bilateral relations. 

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The Ukraine Crisis and Indian “Operation Ganga”

The war between Russia and Ukraine has caused deaths to many foreigners. In this situation, states were quick in evacuating their citizens from there. The United States and many European countries even started warning and evacuating their citizens before the war broke out. India also started evacuating its citizens as soon a war broke out. India launched “Operation Ganga” to evacuate its citizens. Under this operation, India has evacuated approximately 18,000 of its citizens by special flights so far. But what is more applaudable is that under this operation, India has also assisted in evacuating 17 citizens of different countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Tunisia from Sumy city in Ukraine. Among them, nine were Bangladeshi citizens. Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina expressed her gratitude toward Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government for their assistance in evacuating Bangladeshi citizens from Ukraine. She marked this friendly gesture as a testament to their friendly relations and expressed her desire to continue like this in the future to realize the collective aspirations of the people of both countries.

Explaining the Indian Act of Altruism from Different Lenses

India supported actively Bangladesh during Bangladesh’s Liberation War. This creates a strong bond between these two states and also among the people. Moreover, both the nations also share the same culture, norms, and values as they were the part of the Sub-continent till 1947. We often see both countries facilitating the engagement of people-to-people interactions at different levels. Academically, it is called ‘public diplomacy. The term “public diplomacy” (PD) is newly originated. Edmund Gullion used the term in 1965 to describe the process by which nations interact with foreign publics to attain their foreign policy goals. While one of the goals of traditional diplomacy is to exercise direct influence on foreign governments, the goal of public diplomacy is to do so in a more indirect manner. 

Indian act of evacuating Bangladeshi citizens from Ukraine can be defined as an act of Indian public diplomacy as it involves direct engagement with the public through an altruistic act. Besides, both countries engage in public diplomacy through educational exchange. Under the ICCR Scholarship Scheme, the Indian government awards 200 scholarships to Bangladeshi students every year, according to Bangladesh’s High Commission in India. Both countries also agreed to set up a “High-Level India-Bangladesh Education Dialogue”. Medical tourism is also an important act of public diplomacy in both countries. More than half of incoming foreign medical patients in India are from Bangladesh. Medical tourism between the two countries features a prominent feature social relations between the two nations. In terms of cultural exchange, the Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre (IGCC) hosts a variety of events that include both Indian and Bangladeshi performers. The National Anthems of both countries were also written by Rabindranath Tagore. In 2011, the Tagore Chair at the University of Dhaka was founded. In January 2017, a Memorandum of Understanding for a ‘Hindi’ Chair at the University of Dhaka was signed. Since 2012, a 100-member Youth Delegation has visited India every year.

We can also describe the recent act of India as an act of Indian ‘soft power’ projection to its neighbor Bangladesh. Soft power, as opposed to hard military power and economic sanctions, is the employment of positive attraction and persuasion to achieve foreign policy objectives.  Bangladesh last year sent 2,600 kilograms of Mangoes to Indian counterpart Narendra Modi as a gift which is called “Mango Diplomacy”. Bangladesh also sent 1,475 tons of hilsha to India as a friendly gesture on the occasion of Durga Puja. Indian Prime Minister visited last year to celebrate the 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence and the 100th birthday of the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. These are the gestures of goodwill that widely help both countries to consolidate their friendly relations and build a relationship of trust between them.

Boosting the India-Bangladesh Relations

India-Bangladesh relations are now at a height unlike ever before. Since the coming of the Sheik Hasina government in 2009, the relationship is getting better and better. Both countries have solved many issues which had been not making any headway for a long time. Exchange of the enclaves was one of them. In 2015, both countries implemented the Land Boundary Agreement which brought to an end the longstanding and perplexed border issue between these two neighboring countries. The agreement resulted in the exchange of 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. The residents of the enclaves in both countries now enjoy the advantages of their nationality for the first time. Maritime Boundary delimitation is another milestone in the relations between the countries. 

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Besides, the bilateral trade between the countries has developed significantly. Bangladesh has become the fourth largest export destination of India in the first seven months of FY22 and it is expected that the export from Bangladesh to India will reach $2 billion for the first time. Bangladesh has also become the largest receiver of the Indian Line of Credit (LoC). Bangladesh is also the fourth largest source of remittance for India. The power and energy sector is another area where both countries are making significant progress. Bangladesh imports 1160 MW of electricity per year from India. An Indian-Bangladesh joint venture is building a coal-fired power station with a capacity of 1320 MW at the Rampal site in Bangladesh. There is also an agreement to build an India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline from Siliguri to Parbatipur for the supply of deiseal. 

Connectivity between countries has also improved. Both nations inked a Coastal Shipping Agreement in 2015, allowing cargo ships to travel directly between them by sea. The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal- Motor Vehicle Agreement (BBIN-MVA) is expected to boost road connectivity in the future. Bus and train services are also quite good in between the countries. Both countries have also made eye-catching improvements in regional multilateral settings, counter-insurgency initiatives, transborder criminal groups, etc.

In this context, Indian cooperation to evacuate Bangladesh citizens from the war zones in Ukraine and subsequent letter of thanks from the Prime Minister of Bangladesh have added a new dimension in bilateral relations between these two nations. Bangladesh and India have recently expanded their engagements in the multifarious sectors to deepen the partnership. When the top leaders of friendly countries act in utmost trust and confidence, the results of cooperation are boundless and multidimensional. 

In the conclusion, the relationship between Bangladesh-India is a role model for others in neighborhood diplomacy. The historical ties and cultural similarities between the two countries have made the friendship an unbreakable one. The relations between Bangladesh and India are not only diplomatic but the people of both countries are connected with their culture, language, and history. Both countries have emphasized vastly on utilizing the ‘soft power’ tools and ‘public diplomacy’ in their conduct of bilateral relations. Indian assistance in evacuating Bangladeshi citizens has been widely prized by the Bangladesh Prime Minister and got huge attention in the media. It will definitely impact the bilateral ties positively. It may help them to widen and broaden their areas of cooperation and solve their outstanding issues in a way that serves their mutual interests.

About the Author: Shuvo Das is a Delhi-based security, defense and foreign policy expert. He is currently pursuing his doctoral degree at Jawaharlal Nehru University. His articles and commentaries have appeared in The Times, The Diplomat, The Star, The Hindu, Nikkei Asia, and War on the Rocks etc. 

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