Special Correspondent from Delhi:India and Bangladesh have deep cultural, historical, economic, geographical and emotional ties with intermittent hiccups. The relations have evolved over time and gained huge momentum ever since the NarendraModi government came to power at the Centre. Participating in ‘Indian Diplomacy’, a programme on ‘DD India’ with foreign affairs expert Dr.Shreeram Chaulia, present ambassador to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami and former ambassador to the neighbouring country- Pinak Chakravarty throw sufficient light on almost all possible dimensions of the relationship and have also outlined- why this relationship is so intense and critical for both countries.
‘The relations between the two countries give enough understanding of how India deals with the world, how India builds partnerships, how it relates to other countries not only for mutual benefits, but also for regional and global prosperity and security. This relationship also shows that India is a rising power with responsibility,’ says Pinak Chakravarty.
Chakravarty furthers, ‘Bangladesh has been very dear to India for many reasons. India-Bangladesh relations have transcended all kinds of boundaries. Building good relations with Bangladesh is central to India’s dynamic diplomacy.’
Having served as India’s high commissioner and deputy high commissioner to Bangladesh, Chakravarti says, ‘when we talk of Bangladesh, it the pillar of the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ of the Narendra Modi government and the pillar of our ‘Act East Policy’. This is the reason why strategic relations with Bangladesh have always risen to higher levels. Undoubtedly, Bangladesh is a crown jewel of India’s neighbourhood first policy.’
Chakravarti says, there was always a doubt over whether East Pakistan would remain with West Pakistan. West Pakistan had dominance over everything from army to bureaucracy to capital, and people in East Pakistan were exploited. Though, East Pakistan constituted around 56% of the population, it didn’t get much chance in the upper echelons of the country. Bangladeshi had indeed become second class citizen under united Pakistan. In 1948, when Jinna wanted to impose Urdu on East Pakistan also, there was almost a revolt. Bengali language is rooted in their culture. That was the seed of the separation, which culminated in separation of Pakistan. 50 years have passed of that seminal moment of 1971, when Bangladesh separated from Pakistan. India also sacrificed so much for Bangladesh, when its soldiers laid down their life for the formation of this country. Hence, Bangladesh remains so grateful to India.
‘The bases of India-Bangladesh relations rest on glorious shared past and heritage, but there is much more contemporary dynamism to this relationship,’ says VikramDoraiswami, the present ambassador to Bangladesh.
According to Doraiswami, this relationship is crucial for the aspirations of both India and Bangladesh. If it is realised to its full potential, it has the prospects of transforming the way the sub-continent functions in terms of trade, logistics and connectivity.
He furthers, ‘Success of this relationship has a transformative impact, not just in terms of the foreign policy or foreign security policy, but also in terms of domestic security and policies for both the countries. Relationship between them is positive and forward looking. This relationship will contribute to peace, security and stability in eastern India. This relationship will also contribute to the development of both countries.’
‘Today, Bangladesh is already among our top five trade partners globally. It is an important destination for Indian businesses, especially in automotive and energy sectors. People to people ties have also developed over the last several years. Visa policy has been changed to suit to the burgeoning needs of both countries,’ says Doraiswami.
Chakravarti says, ‘India and Bangladesh have vast trade and business relations, not just politics. Train between Dhaka and Kolkata, pipeline for petroleum products and a lot of other connectivities are there in place. We have bus and rail services and inland waterways. We have also settled our maritime border dispute. Ports are now connected. Sagarmala project is very ambitious one. Bangladesh has permitted cyber connectivity to speed up cyber connectivity in North-East India. Presently, trade takes much time to carry out. As the economy expands, we are going to have more trades in future. Hence, trade facilitation becomes very important for us.’
He says, ‘Bangladesh exports 42 billion dollar annually and Pakistan exports 26 billion dollar annually. This shows where Bangladesh was and where it is today and where has Pakistan reached. Comparisons may look odious, but this comparison is an eye opener. That is why India has deep interest in furthering ties with Bangladesh.’
‘Unlike Pakistan, which is hostile to India because of its ideology, Bangladesh is open to India, and India has also been magnanimous to Bangladesh ever since we settled our border dispute and maritime border disputes. The trust built up during last few years, are yielding rich results, and people are also benefitting from these exchanges,’ says Chakravarti.
Further describing the reasons why both countries feel so close to each-other, Chakravarti says, ‘Our relations with Bangladesh enjoy political consensus within India, and the same kind of consensus is also there in Bangladesh ever since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009. She has also proved to be a very determined political actor in furthering this relationship.’
He says, ‘Both countries have the power of democracy and clear vision to go forward. Made in India Covid vaccine has helped a lot to Bangladesh to fight the pandemic. Bangladesh in recent years has allowed the use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports to be used for the movements of goods by the Indian side. The leaderships of both sides are talking of pragmatic co-operations, bringing transformation, not just for the two counties, but for the whole region.’
Ambassador Chakravarti in the meantime, also warns of the threats like terrorism, fundamentalism, jihadist, being sponsored by Pakistan, who always tries to play spoil sport. He says, there is a rise of Islamist groups in Bangladesh and they have done a lot of damage, killing innocent people, but the present government has cracked down very heavily and they are more or less eliminated. Other Islamist factors also need to be understood, who also try to create certain disturbances, as was seen during Dussehra puja last year. Such destructive forces receive international support as they don’t want the two countries being very friendly to each other.
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