India-Bangladesh ties: A warm friendship despite turbulence

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Mar 26, 2021, 11:54 PM IST

File photo: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina. Photograph:(ANI)

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According to a 2014 PEW survey, 70 per cent of Bangladeshis have a favourable opinion of India

India and its neighbouring country Bangladesh have a history forged in the battlefield.

The two countries share a border, dozens of rivers and most importantly, a common culture.

The key role played by India in the birth of Bangladesh cannot be overlooked and since then, despite roadblocks, the two countries have maintained close relations.

Here's a round-up of the bilateral ties between the two countries from inception to the present day:

Long before colonial cartographers chalked up South Asia, India and Bangladesh shared a common land.

In 1947, the country currently known as Bangladesh was called East Pakistan.

After 20 years of hardship, there were rumours of dissent that East Pakistan wanted independence.

The Indian army was welcomed as liberators in Dhaka. They had turned the tide against West Pakistani forces. They fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Bangladeshi freedom fighters. This joint campaign remains the cornerstone of bilateral ties after 50 years.

The next year, in 1972, Indira Gandhi visited Dhaka. The Indo-Bangladesh treaty of friendship, cooperation and peace was signed. Although the two sides looked set for bigger things, Mujibur Rahman's assassination in 1975 acted as a turning point.

The army took control and steered Bangladesh towards majoritarian politics. In 1991, democracy returned in the country along with warmer ties with India.

In 2010, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited New Delhi signalling a decade of booming relations.

According to a 2014 PEW survey, 70 per cent of Bangladeshis have a favourable opinion of India. However, the ties have gone from symbolism to substance recently. It was a natural progression.

The two countries share a 4096-kilometre border and 54 rivers. 

In 2015, India and Bangladesh signed the land border agreement. Both sides promised to exchange border enclaves. Thus settling a decades-long border confusion.

They set up a joint rivers commission in 1972. Both sides seldom agree on water-sharing. But the conflict remains inside the commission. In 1996, they signed a 30-year treaty on sharing water from the Ganga.

Bangladesh is currently India's biggest trade partner in the South Asian region. To strengthen and encourage Bangladesh's trade and commerce, India has given several concessions to Dhaka, including duty-free access to Bangladeshi products into the Indian markets.

New Delhi is also working continually to reduce Non-Tariff Barriers (NTB). To encourage trade, India is developing the Integrated Check Post in 10 border crossing points to lower NTBs, according to Observer Research Foundation. New Delhi's attempts to boost trade with Bangladesh saw fruitful results, as in 2019 Bangladesh's exports to India witnessed an increase of 43 per cent from the previous year.

Both countries are members of SAARC, BIMSTEC, the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Commonwealth.

Recently, Bangladesh backed India's election to the UN Security Council. The armed forces from both sides regularly conduct joint drills like exercise Sampriti and Milan.

India has extended its hand of friendship whenever Bangladesh faced crises. During the coronavirus crisis, India provided medical training to Bangladeshi professionals, test kits and medicines, besides the dispatch of vaccine consignments. New Delhi gifted 2 million doses of the COVID vaccines to Dhaka,

The Teesta River is a point of contention for the two countries. While India claims 55 per cent of the river's waters, Bangladesh is unhappy with its share.

The Teesta river originates in Sikkim, flows through the northern parts of West Bengal, before entering Bangladesh and joining the Brahmaputra river.

The flow of the river is crucial for Bangladesh from December to March during which the country requires 50 per cent of the river's water supply.

Hundreds of illegal migrants cross the porous border putting economic pressure on India. New Delhi's plan to document illegal migrants and deport them is viewed with concern in Dhaka.

Bangladesh's participation in the China-led belt and road initiative is a cause of concern for India due to the growing closeness between a key ally and a strategic rival.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Modi will hold talks with his Bangladesh counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, when all issues related to bilateral concerns are expected to be discussed, according to Bangladesh foreign ministry officials.