On 6 December, Bangladesh and India will celebrate Maitri Dibas. Maitri means friendship. Friendship matters in case of any partnership because friendship nurtures trust. In fact, one cannot and should not deny the role and sacrifices of the Indian people and government behind the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation-state in 1971. Indian help in the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh created the foundation of Maitri (friendship) between Bangladesh and India. It is worthy to note that on 6 February 1972, during his Kolkata visit, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman strongly reiterated that Bangladesh-India bhai-bhai, which underscores friendship and fraternity between them.
However, history tells us that Bangladesh and India could not nurture this friendship and, therefore, could not utilise their potentials in the bilateral partnership due to mistrust, claims and counter-claims. However, the world witnessed a different scenario when Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009. In fact, one cannot deny that due to the visionary leadership from Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh and Manmohan Singh and later Narendra Modi in India, a ‘Golden Chapter’ has been scripted in Bangladesh-India relations that has become a role model for others in the region and beyond. Under their leadership, a ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ has been developed between Bangladesh and India, which was absent for a long time.
In a positive note, one needs to mention recent developments in Bangladesh-India connectivity, development partnership, energy cooperation, security cooperation, cooperation at maritime domain, cyber security cooperation in Bangladesh-India relations and its impacts on people’s lives. The level of people-to-people contacts is also praiseworthy.
However, there are also challenges that need to be taken care. India needs to understand people’s perceptions in Bangladesh about the issues that construct their perceptions. One can argue that the issue of water sharing and NRC remain key challenges in Bangladesh-India relations that need to be addressed by India at the earliest possible time for the betterment of the partnership. Bangladesh also expects Indian support in resolving Rohingya crisis that has already created huge challenges for Bangladesh. In addition, media and academic cooperation needs to be promoted between Bangladesh and India.
One cannot deny that Bangladesh is an important country for India’s “Look East” and “Act East” policy. On the other hand, India also matters for Bangladesh for a number of reasons, including economy and development. In this regard, Jayant Prasad writes in The Hindu, “India and Bangladesh are seminal to each other’s progress and prosperity.”
In fact, both Bangladesh and India are rising economic power. Many view their rise as competition that is an unwise task. Rather than competition, Bangladesh and India can work together for a prosperous region of South Asia. There is also scope for Bangladesh and India to make Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal as a zone of peace and prosperity.
The 21st century is defined as the age of shared prosperity and shared responsibility. Moreover, mutual economic and geopolitical interdependence suggest Bangladesh and India needs to work together. It is also important to keep in mind that one can change friends but not neighbours. Therefore, my conclusion is that instead of opposing and criticising, one needs to acknowledge that Bangladesh and India both needs each other for their shared prosperity, security and development. In fact, Bangladesh-India partnership is also essential for their mutual interest and benefits at global forums. Thus, the political and foreign policy establishments in both Dhaka and New Delhi need to understand the mutual importance of a prosperous Bangladesh and India and, thus, deepening the partnership based on mutual trust and benefits. It is worthy to note that the media and academia need to play a constructive role in fostering Bangladesh-India relations as better relations impact tens of thousands of people across borders. My final note is that Maitri (friendship) needs to be promoted both at people and government level in Bangladesh-India relations.
The writer is an Assistant Professor
of International Relations at the
University of Rajshahi. He is the
author of Fifty Years of Bangladesh-
India Relations: Issues, Challenges