International Relations

Relations between India and Bangladesh: The Golden Chapter

Bangladesh-India relations have recently entered the Golden Chapter of their history. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh has been invited as a special guest to the G20 Summit by the Prime Minister of India, putting the finishing touches on this bilateral friendship. Bangladesh is the only South Asian country on India’s invitation list. India’s invitation to Bangladesh as its guest demonstrates the country’s high regard for its immediate eastern neighbour and “best friend” in the neighbourhood.

The evolution of India-Bangladesh relations

  • India has civilizational, cultural, social, and economic ties with Bangladesh.
  • There is much that binds the two countries together, including a shared history and heritage, linguistic and cultural ties, and a love of music, literature, and the arts.
  • It is also worth noting that India and Bangladesh share the world’s longest border, which is 4,096.7 kilometres long and ranks fifth in the world.
  • They forged greater bilateral engagement and trade with the onset of economic liberalisation in South Asia.

In Depth: Why is Bangladesh so crucial to India?

South Asia’s largest trading partner is India.

  • Bangladesh has emerged as India’s most important trading partner: Bangladesh will be India’s largest trading partner in South Asia in 2021-22, while India is Bangladesh’s second-largest trading partner and largest export market in Asia. Despite the pandemic, bilateral trade has increased at an unprecedented 14 percent.
  • Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement: The two countries are also preparing to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which will significantly strengthen their trade and commercial partnerships.

Gateway for India’s Northeast

  • Strategic location: Efforts have been made in recent years by both Bangladesh and India to improve connectivity between Bangladesh and India’s Northeast, which is geographically located between West Bengal and landlocked Northeastern states.
  • Initiatives to Improve Connectivity: Initiatives such as inviting India to use Chattogram and Mongla ports, adding new ports and protocol routes to the shared inland waterway network, building the Maitri and Padma Setu bridges, and the upcoming Akhaura-Agartala rail line all aim to improve trade and transportation connectivity. The Mitali Express has also begun biweekly journeys between New Jalpaiguri and Dhaka.
  • Important for stability and security: Bangladesh has been an outstanding security partner for India, particularly with its zero-tolerance approach to terrorism. Bangladesh has arrested and handed over insurgents from separatist militant groups in the Northeast (United Liberation Front of Asom) to India on several occasions.

A cornerstone of India’s Neighbourhood First and Act East Policies

  • The Bay of Bengal’s Growing Strategic Importance: The Bay of Bengal’s growing strategic importance, heightened by China’s rising and assertive presence in this maritime space, has prompted India to strengthen relations with the Bay littorals in order to maintain its pre-eminence in the Bay, which it regards as a primary area of interest.
  • Important for India’s Policy of Eastern Neighborhood: Furthermore, as its western front remains troubled, India is attempting to strengthen ties with its eastern neighbours in order to realise its Indo-Pacific ambitions.
  • As China attempts to gain a foothold, India Reviving and Cultivating Cooperation: As China attempts to gain a stronger foothold in the Bay region through inroads into Bangladesh, India has felt an added impetus to nurture its relationship with the country, reviving age-old bonds and cultivating new avenues for cooperation.
  • Vaccine Maitri Initiative in India As an example: During the pandemic, India prioritised Bangladesh and provided 10.3 crore vaccine doses, making it the largest recipient of its Vaccine Maitri initiative. The gesture was graciously returned by providing

Key Areas of Cooperation on India’s G20 Agenda

Climate change and disaster management

  • Green Development, Climate Finance, and LiFE’: As the name implies, this segment is dedicated to raising environmental awareness and understanding the impact of climate change, with a particular emphasis on not only climate finance and technology, but also ensuring just energy transitions for developing nations worldwide.
  • For example, both countries agreed to collaborate on climate change, with a focus on the Sundarban region, which is facing challenges due to climate-induced sea level rise.
  • Disaster risk reduction: Both India and Bangladesh are frequently hit by natural disasters such as cyclones that form in the turbulent Bay of Bengal. As a result, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Disaster Management in 2021 to address this transnational threat.

Make the switch to renewable energy.

  • Cooperation and energy transition: Because energy transitions are an important issue in India’s G20 mandate, Bangladesh recently announced a target of generating 40% of its power from clean energy by 2041. India and Bangladesh have increased their energy cooperation.
  • Projects such as the Friendship Pipeline and the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project, for example, have agreed to strengthen cooperation in energy efficiency and clean energy, including biofuels.

Cyber security

  • Cooperation in cyber security: Cyber security is an inherent aspect of Digital Public Infrastructures (DPIs), and it also happens to be one of the areas in which India and Bangladesh have agreed to collaborate.
  • Joining forces to improve AI and cyber security: In June 2022, both countries agreed to expand their strategic partnership to improve AI and cyber security.

Way ahead: Forging better multilateralism

  • India’s priority within the G20 is to promote reformed multilateralism that fosters accountable, inclusive, just, equitable, and representative multipolar international systems capable of addressing contemporary challenges.
  • Bangladesh, as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, will become even more important to India in the future.
  • Bangladesh is a member of many multilateral platforms in India’s neighbourhood (an area in which India seeks to exert influence), including SAARC, BIMSTEC, and IORA.
  • If India’s G20 ambitions are to be reflected in regional multilateral platforms, the country’s support is required.

@the end

As India attempts to shape the global agenda through the G20, it requires Bangladesh’s help to put many of these ideas into action in its neighbourhood. This will lend credibility to its presidency, and some of these emerging areas of cooperation may eventually add pages to the “Golden Chapter” of India-Bangladesh relations.

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