[Editorial Analysis] Remove the wedges in India-Bangladesh ties

Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: Bangladesh Liberation War
Mains level: India and its neighborhood- relations.

Context:

• The friendship between India and Bangladesh is historic, evolving over the last 50 years. Political stability and policy continuity have helped Delhi and Dhaka deepen bilateral ties over the last decade. In contrast, political cycles in Delhi and Islamabad have rarely been in sync.

• Bangladesh’s Declaration of Independence from Pakistan 50 years ago and positive changes in India’s relations with Pakistan has been elusive, including the different trajectories of India’s eastern and north-western frontiers.

Now it is about cooperation:

• The relationship remained cordial until the assassination of Bangladesh’s founding President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 15, 1975, followed by a period of military rule and the rise of General Ziaur Rahman who became President and also assassinated in 1981.

• It thawed again between (1982-1991) when a military led government by General H.M. Ershad ruled the country. Since Bangladesh’s return to parliamentary democracy in 1991, relations have gone through highs and lows.

• However, in the last decade, India-Bangladesh relations have warmed up, entering a new era of cooperation, and moving beyond historical and cultural ties to become more assimilated in the areas of trade, connectivity, energy, and defence.

Bangladesh and India Achievement:

• Bangladesh and India have achieved the rare feat of solving their border issues peacefully by ratifying the historic Land Boundary Agreement in 2015, where enclaves were swapped allowing inhabitants to choose their country of residence and become citizens of either India or Bangladesh.

• Bangladesh today is India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia with exports to Bangladesh in FY 2018-19 at $9.21 billion and imports at $1.04 billion.

• India has offered duty free access to multiple Bangladeshi products. Trade could be more balanced if non-tariff barriers from the Indian side could be removed.

• On the development front, cooperation has deepened, with India extending three lines of credit to Bangladesh in recent years amounting to $8 billion for the construction of roads, railways, bridges, and ports.

• However, in eight years until 2019, only 51% of the first $800 million line of credit has been utilised whilst barely any amount from the next two lines of credit worth $6.5 billion has been mobilised.

• Bangladesh accounts for more than 35% of India’s international medical patients and contributes more than 50% of India’s revenue from medical tourism.

• India and Bangladesh share 4096.7 km. of border, which is the longest land boundary that India shares with any of its neighbours and security is very much impotent.

• The much-awaited railway line between Agartala to Akhaura in Bangladesh will be completed by Sept 2021 and the process for acquisition of land and handing it over to the executing agency in both the countries has been completed.

• The 15.6 km-long Agartala-Akhaura railway link connects Gangasagar in Bangladesh to Nischintapur in India and from Nischintapur to Agartala railway station.

• India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers. A bilateral Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) has been working since June 1972 to maintain liaison between the two countries to maximize benefits from common river systems.

• Highlighted that regional organisations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) have an important role to play.

The connectivity boost:

• Recently, a 1.9-kilometre-long bridge, the Maitri Setu, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, connecting Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh.

• Three landlocked states of India viz. Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura will get access to open sea trade routes from Chattogram and Mongla ports via Indian ports.

• Tripura will be connected to Chattogram Port through the Maitree Setu on Feni river at Sabroom in South Tripura and Ramgarh in Bangladesh. While Agartala is 135 kms from Sabroom, Chattogram port is 75 kms from Sabroom.

• Cargo transportation through IBP waterway route from Kolkata/ Haldia to North East is limited to 2000-ton vessels. Now, larger ships carrying cargo destined for North East can call at Chattogram and Mongla ports thereby increasing trade volumes and reducing logistic costs.

• Bangladesh allows the shipment of goods from its Mongla and Chattogram (Chittagong) seaports carried by road, rail, and water ways to Agartala (Tripura) via Akhura; Dawki (Meghalaya) via Tamabil; Sutarkandi (Assam) via Sheola, and Srimantpur (Tripura) via Bibirbazar. This allows landlocked Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura to access open water routes through the Chattogram and Mongla ports.

Bones of contention:

• Despite the remarkable progress, the unresolved Teesta water sharing issue looms large. Border killings are yet to stop. India not only has failed to stop the border killings but at times has even justified them.

• The year 2020 saw the highest number of border shootings by the Border Security Force. The shots are fired at civilians, usually cattle traders, who are usually unarmed, trying to illegally cross the border.

• The government’s proposal to implement the National Register of Citizens across the whole of India reflects poorly on India-Bangladesh relations.

• It remains to be seen how India addresses the deportation of illegal Muslim immigrants, some of whom claim to have come from Bangladesh.

Keeping the momentum going:

• Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives, once considered traditional Indian allies, are increasingly tilting towards China due to the Asian giant’s massive trade, infrastructural and defence investments in these countries.

• India-Bangladesh relations have been gaining positive momentum over the last decade. As Bangladesh celebrates its 50 years of independence on March 26, 1971, India continues to be one of its most important neighbours and strategic partners.

• As the larger country, the onus is on India to be generous enough to let the water flow and ensure that people are not killed on the border for cattle even if it is illegal when there are appropriate means for justice.

Conclusion:

• India ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ has been losing its influence in the region to China. Bhutan also does not abide by Indian influence as evinced by its withdrawal from the BBIN (Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal) motor vehicles agreement.

• China, in lieu of its cheque-book diplomacy, is well-entrenched in South Asia, including Bangladesh, with which it enjoys significant economic and defence relations.

• The small but important steps can remove long-standing snags in a relationship which otherwise is gradually coming of age in 50 years. To make the recent gains irreversible, both countries need to continue working on the three Cs — cooperation, collaboration, and consolidation.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the None of the Above (NOTA), consider the following statements:

1. Supreme Court, in the PUCL v Union of India (2013) directed the ECI to introduce NOTA in direct elections to allow voters to register their protest if none of the candidates is acceptable to them.

2. NOTA has only symbolic value in a direct election.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C

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