The Indian subcontinent was undergoing massive transition in 1971 with the fragmentation of Pakistan, as East Pakistan was disintegrated from the West Pakistan. India consistently supported the broiling struggles in East Pakistan led by Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that led to the formation of Bangladesh. India was vocal of Bangladesh’s independence and played an imfluential role in the establishment of the country. India is an important neighbour for Bangladesh due to strong Geographic, cultural, historic, and commercial ties. Bangladesh has brought itself to a momentous growth period after decades of overhauling and economic reforms. Due to Bangladesh’s strategical position in the region the aggressive expansionist China and unpredictable nature of US shrouds the region are looking to seize the opportunity and expand their strength in the region. India has emerged as a ‘friend for all seasons’ for Bangladesh as India growing regional and international influence cannot be ignored. India-Bangladesh share a love-hate relationship but that does not deter both the countries from cooperating on several issues.
Bangladesh becoming an Islamist state and problems with India
Four years after gaining independence on the basis of linguistic nationalism, in 1975, Bangladesh slowly began to move away from the type of nationalism that marked its liberation struggle to becoming an Islamist state that served as a binding force in Bangladeshi nationalism. The shift of emphasis on Islam, intertwined with Bangladesh’s concern with Indian military’s buildup and bilateral disputes over shared water resources, riparian borders, and illegal immigration of Bangladeshis into West Bengal, soon became a bone of contention in India-Bangladesh relations. The same year one of the darkest chapter unravelled in the history of the newly independent country, as the ‘Father of the Nation’ sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated. This incident severed the ties between both the countries as Bangladeshis felt disenchanted when India could not support the country during its socio-economic hardships.
India has been concerned about three issues since the Bangladesh’s independence: the internal stability of Bangladesh, strategic relation with China, and the country’s alleged involvement with tribal insurgents of India. India has been an ardent advocate of democracy and denied any intention of destabilising the democracy in Bangladesh, instead, Bangladesh’s strategical location is important for India’s northeastern defenses.
Causes of problems between India-Bangladesh
- Boundary Dispute
India shares a 4351 km long land border with Bangladesh running through five states, viz., West Bengal (2217kms), Assam (262 kms), Meghalaya (443kms), Tripura (856 kms) and Mizoram (318 kms), as per the Ministry of Defence. The border crosses through 25 districts in 5 states. The porous borders are often used as a route for smuggling food items, livestock, drugs and medicines from India to Bangladesh. Thousands of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have crossed the border to India over the years in search of employment and improving their lives. The contentious shoot-at-sight policy has been enforced by the Indian border patrol police to counter reported violence between the illegal migrants and Indian soldiers.
- Water Dispute
India and Bangladesh share 54 trans-border rivers, varying in sizes. 1996 was an important year for both the countries as they reached an agreement successfully on sharing of the Ganga waters. However, the major dispute that has become a bone of contention has been India’s plans to construct and operate the Farakka Barrage. The construction of Farakka Barrage is aimed at increasing the lean period flow of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly branch of river Ganga so as to increase the water depth at the Kolkata port which has been threatened by siltation. However, as the irrigation withdrawals increased in Bangladesh, the sharing of the lean season flow at Farakka became a dispute between India and Bangladesh. The inadequate water during the lean season is unable to meet the assessed demands in the two countries became the root cause of conflict between bordering countries.
- Illegal Migrations
Illegal migration has been the most problematic issue between these two countries. Since 1971, when war of independence broke out that led to the creation of Bangladesh, millions of Bangladeshi immigrants (the vast majority of them illegal) crossed into the neighbouring states in India. Even though, the Indian government tried to deport some of these illegal immigrants, but the large number of immigrants, as well as the porous border between the two countries, has made the efforts of Indian government impossible. At least 10-million Bangladeshis poured into the state of West Bengal in India at the time Bangladesh’s independence. The most affected regions are the eastern and north-eastern parts of the country. Illegal immigrants pose a direct threat to the country’s internal security, while also impacting the social fabrication in the northeast of India.
- Security Concerns
Over the years, insurgency has strained the relations between India and Bangladesh. Since 1956, Northeast India has been the worst hit region facing insurgency due to growing ethnic separatism among the inhabitants. Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI has been accused of operating from Bangladesh, infiltrating and supporting the insurgents in the Northeast India. Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), National Liberation of Tripura (NLFT) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFM) are major insurgent groups that have created an atmosphere of terror in Northeast India.
Economic ties between India-Bangladesh
Economics has served as a significant platform in strengthening the bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh. The economic relations between the two countries have been multifaceted, embracing trade transactions, credit arrangements, joint ventures, transit facilities and transport development. Even during adverse political situations, the economic relations have continued and expanded without any hindrances. The year 1982, was an important year for Bangladesh as it embarked upon the path of liberalisation. India has reaped in major benefits because of the trade relations between both the countries. Bangladesh serves as one of the most important markets for India’s exports.
For the past few decades, Bangladesh has been the India’s largest export market in the SAARC region. During 1985-90, Bangladesh’s trade with India grew higher than that with the world and rest of the SAARC countries in total. Between the period 1988-89 to 1992-93, exports to Bangladesh increased to 293 per cent while India’s total exports rose by 164 per cent. In 1995, India left China behind to reach first position as exporters to Bangladesh. India enjoyed a decade at the same position until 2005-06, after which China retained its position at number one. China has remained in that position until now.
India’s total exports to Bangladesh touched 5.84 billion dollars in the fiscal year 2011-12, since then there has been a subdued increase in the trade between two countries. There was a modest increase of 4.6 per cent in 2014-15 FY taking it to 6.4 billion dollars, however, there was a slight dip of 6.4 per cent ( 6.03 billion dollars) in 2015-16. In 2016-17, the exports grew by 13 per cent, it reached 6.8 billion dollars as rise in exports of high-value machinery and equipments for various project implementation. India-Bangladesh relation can strengthen based upon three primary pillars: concerted counter-terror initiatives, trade and commerce, and bilateral trust and confidence building efforts.