On Friday, when Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan leads a delegation of more than 70 mukti joddhas and their families to participate in the 45th Vijay Diwas celebrations, the gesture will not be purely symbolic. The relations between India and Bangladesh have been on an upswing since Sheikh Hasina Wajed took office in 2009. But despite India’s well-known role in the creation of Bangladesh, the 45 years have not always been spent in neighbourly bonhomie. Disputes over territory, water-sharing rights, illegal immigration, cross-border insurgency and terrorism have dogged Indo-Bangladesh relations. Three years after the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation, its then prime minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, signed a Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with then Indian PM, Indira Gandhi, to exchange enclaves and simplify the international border between the two countries. That it took 41 years for a revised version of this agreement to be adopted is a telling comment on the way the relations have developed between the two countries, who share a 4,096-km international border and centuries of history and culture.
India and Bangladesh have, however, shown intent in developing good relations in the past seven years. The work on revising the LBA was begun in 2011 during the visit of then Indian PM, Manmohan Singh, to Bangladesh and the treaty was sealed in June this year, when the two countries swapped tiny islands ending a border dispute that had kept thousands of people in stateless limbo for nearly 70 years. The water disputes, though, remain unresolved. But to the credit of both countries, they are not as much of a sticking point as in the past. There have been encouraging developments on the economic front. Bilateral trade has risen to more than $7 billion from $2.5 billion in this period. Bangladesh features prominently in India’s Act East Policy and both countries are willing to look beyond the SAARC by being part of groupings such as BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) and BIMSTEC (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) that extend South Asia’s connectivity with Southeast Asia and China.
At an annual average of six per cent, Bangladesh has witnessed a steady economic growth over the past decade. Its middle-class values the country’s historic ties with India but is also enthusiastic about relations with other countries in the region. In October, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Dhaka and extended loans worth $24 billion to Bangladesh, more than 10 times what India gives Bangladesh. India’s relations with Bangladesh have gone well, but much more needs to be done.