Monday, 29 May, 2023

Bangladesh-India Friendship: A Journey of 52 Years

Shaban Mahmood

Bangladesh-India Friendship: A Journey of 52 Years
Shaban Mahmood

The people-to-people relationship between Bangladesh and India is now a bond of soul. Earlier, the flow of people was only from Bangladesh to India, but now the picture has changed. The number of visa applicants for Bangladesh is increasing. The two countries are also ahead in trade, cultural activities and educational exchange programmes.

The height of the relationship between the two countries can be seen through the exchange of high-level visits in recent times. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited New Delhi in October 2019. In November of the same year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the first pink-ball day-night cricket match between Bangladesh and India in Kolkata as the honourable guest of the Government of India. In March 2021, Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh as a 'Guest of Honour' on the occasion of Mujib Barsha. This was PM Modi's first trip to a foreign country since the global outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020.

Moreover, the ex-President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, visited Bangladesh from December 15-17 in 2021 to attend the celebration of Bangladesh's 50th Victory Day, the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 50 years of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh. This was also Ram Nath Kovind’s first visit to Bangladesh, at the invitation of Bangladesh's immediate past President Md Abdul Hamid, since he took office. There is no other example of the President and Prime Minister of India visiting the same country in the same year during corona. This is an expression of the excellent friendly relations and warmth of the two countries.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited India for a State visit from September 5 to 8, 2022 and had exclusive meetings with President Droupadi Murmu and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar and hold bilateral consultations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when she highlighted overall bilateral issues between the two next-door neighbours.

In a series of important meetings, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of maximum cooperation in connectivity, security, uniform river water distribution, border management, trade expansion and investment, power and energy sector. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's recent visit to India has strengthened the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and India and we are hopeful that this relationship will gradually intensify in the future.

The spirit of 1971 is the foundation of Bangladesh-India relations. About 17 thousand members of the Indian Armed Forces were killed and many more were injured to liberate Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh and the people of Bangladesh respectfully remember the martyrs of the Indian Armed Forces and the immense contribution of the Indian people to our liberation war. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina honoured the family members of many martyred Indian soldiers in 2017 in recognition of the sacrifices of the Indian Armed Forces in the Great War of Liberation in 1971.

On December 16, 2018, Bangladesh's Minister of Liberation War Affairs Mozammel Haque handed over the Liberation War Award to the families of 12 martyred members of the Indian Armed Forces in Fort William, Kolkata. Apart from this, the process of honouring 1582 martyred Indian Army personnel is ongoing. During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India last year, a decision was taken to distribute 200 Mujib Scholarships among the family members of the Indian Armed Forces who participated in the Great Liberation War of Bangladesh. To start the process, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handed over 10 scholarships and certificates during this visit. There is no doubt that the Bangladesh-India friendship relationship reached a new height by jointly celebrating the golden jubilee of independence and the golden jubilee of Bangladesh-India relations.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Bangladesh in March 2021 was very important during the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the golden jubilee of independence. On the occasion of Bangabandhu's birth centenary, a digital exhibition was organized on the life history of both Bangabandhu and Mahatma Gandhi. In this regard, the remarkable thing is that - along with Bapu Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation of India and the undisputed leader of the global non-violent movement, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the greatest Bengali of Bangladesh, has been presented in the capitals of 18 countries besides Bangladesh and India.

In the last financial year, India-Bangladesh exports increased by 100% to USD 2 billion. On the other hand, India's exports to Bangladesh have increased by 70% to USD 16 billion. Diplomatic efforts to reduce the trade deficit with India continue. Necessary activities have been started to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) to increase trade between the two countries. Both countries have reached a consensus to continue cooperation to deal with potential energy crises in the future.

During the government of Bangabandhu's daughter Awami League President Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has played a role in protecting the geographical integrity of India and bringing stability to the Seven Sisters. The leadership at all levels of India has unreservedly acknowledged it. Assam, Tripura, Arunachal, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Manipur, the 7 states of Northeast India known as Seven Sisters, are now enjoying peace and stability. One of the top leaders of ULFA, Anup Chetia, was handed over to India. On this issue reports and articles are often published in Indian media praising Bangladesh enthusiastically.

At present 1160 MW of electricity is being imported from India. Discussions on importing electricity from Nepal and Bhutan through India are ongoing. As a result of continued diplomatic activities, a draft memorandum of understanding on investment in proposed trilateral hydropower projects between Bangladesh and India is under discussion, as well as a memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and Bhutan on investment in hydropower projects in Bhutan.                 Now to go from Kolkata to Agartala via Bangladesh it takes 6 to 7 hours in India and the distance has to be covered at most 350 miles. India has been seeking this facility for a long time, which has been piloted in the current context of warm relations between the two countries. In continuation of this, the Akhaura-Agartala rail line will be launched in the next few months. Then Shahjadpur-Kulaura will be completed. Experts believe that the Petropol-Benapol, Gede-Darshana and Birol-Radhikapur connectivity will protect the interests of both countries in the coming days.

During the tenure of the current government, there has been a radical change in the railway management of the two countries. Indian Assistant High Commissioner of Rajshahi, Mr. Manoj Kumar after visiting the second largest Burimari land port in the northern part of Bangladesh recently, said - All closed railway routes between Bangladesh and India will be opened. He expressed his hope and said that if these communication channels are launched, business and trade will increase in all land ports including Burimari in the northern part of Bangladesh.

In water resources management, the news of consistent satisfactory solutions has created a happy charm between the two Bengals. It is also expected to unravel the pending issue of the much-discussed and awaited Teesta water-sharing agreement. A memorandum of understanding has already been signed between the two countries regarding the distribution of the Feni River water. Besides, the two countries have agreed to exchange technical information and set up a framework for signing an interim agreement for the water sharing of 6 identical rivers: the Manu, Mahuri, Khowai, Gomti, Dharla and Dudhkumar. For the first time after the Ganges, MoU was signed for distribution of 153 cusecs of water under the Surma-Kushiara project from the Kushiara to common rivers which will result in irrigating 5000 hectares of land through Rahimpur junction. All-out diplomatic efforts are continuing for the execution of the water-sharing agreement of the said 6 identical rivers including the Teesta. It is to be noted here that both the Congress and BJP governments have agreed to sign the Teesta Agreement at the central government level.

India's Home Minister Amit Shah said at the inauguration ceremony of several projects of Land Port Authority of India and BSF held at Petropol land border of North Twenty-four Parganas district of West Bengal, India on May 9, India's relationship with Bangladesh is very deep. The relationship between the two friendly nations, based on the same culture for thousands of years, is still alive. So no one can break the relationship between Bangladesh and India. More updates on this will follow. I can say with confidence that Bangladesh-India friendship is now at a unique height, the highest level in its 52-year history. This achievement belongs to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Bangabandhu's daughter Sheikh Hasina and the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. Let the warmth of the relationship spread in the friendship and love of the people of the two countries.


The writer is the Press Minister, Bangladesh High Commission, New Delhi