Editorial Simplified: The Bilateral Transformation | GS – II

Relevance : GS Paper II (International Relations)


Theme Of The Article

India and Bangladesh must seize the opportunity to further enhance connectivity and trade ties.


Why has this issue cropped up?

There has been a spectacular victory of Sheikh Hasina, in recently held Bangladesh’s 11th general election.


India-Bangladesh Relations In Recent Times

  • During the last decade of Ms. Hasina’s tenure as Prime Minister, high-level Bangladesh-India engagement has intensified.
  • There is an irrevocable and irreversible bipartisan political consensus in India for upgrading relations across a comprehensive interface of ties.
  • Act East Policy: India’s ‘neighbourhood policy’ has focussed on Bangladesh, which has emerged as a key interlocutor in India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and sub-regional groupings like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) Initiative.
  • Domestic favour: In Bangladesh too, a growing domestic political consensus, overriding fractious politics, has emerged in favour of close ties with India.
  • Insurgency: Denial of support to Indian insurgent groups, with insurgent leaders handed over to India, has progressively built trust and confidence between the two countries.
  • Trade: Bangladesh is India’s largest trading partner in South Asia with an annual turnover of around $9 billion plus an estimated informal trade of around $8-9 billion, across the 4,100-km-long porous border.
  • Padma Bridge: The Padma multipurpose bridge and the Akhaura-Agartala rail link will dramatically change connectivity within Bangladesh and with India.
  • Waterways: Waterways are also being revived to reduce the cost of trade. Improvement in bilateral ties has led to newer areas of cooperation such as cyberspace.
  • Cyber: Bangladesh has provided cyber connectivity between the international gateway at Cox’s Bazar to Agartala for faster Internet connectivity in India’s northeastern States.
  • Nuclear power:India has also become a partner in Bangladesh’s nuclear power programme, with the beginning of construction at the Rooppur nuclear power plant.
  • Power export: India is poised to export around 1100 MW of power to meet the energy deficit in Bangladesh. Power projects totalling more than 3600 MW are under implementation by Indian companies.
  • SEZ:An SEZ in Bangladesh for Indian manufacturing companies has been mooted and notified. When operational it will encourage Indian companies to manufacture there and export to India.
  • Investment: Indian investment in Bangladesh has reached $3 billion. In 2017, 13 agreements worth around $10 billion were signed in the power and energy sectors.
  • Credit: To offset the economic asymmetry, India has granted Bangladesh generous lines of credit (LOCs) and grants, with commitments reaching $8 billion.
  • Capacity building: Capacity building under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme is an important strand in bilateral ties and people-to-people interaction.
  • Tourism: Bangladeshis are among the largest groups of tourists into India. The visa regime has been liberalised and over a million visas are issued to Bangladeshi citizens annually.
  • Radicalism: With the rise of religious radicalism and terrorism, defence and security issues will require greater cooperation. Bangladesh has taken strong and effective steps against those who have been inspired by the Islamic State and involved in terrorist strikes.

Challenges Ahead

  • Trade: The adverse balance of trade has been a bilateral issue. The asymmetry in the economies of India and Bangladesh is the major factor. Bangladeshi exports have plateaued because of demand constraints in India and also because of limited items in the Bangladeshi export basket.
  • Extremism: Islamist organisations have been breeding grounds for religious radicals and extremist views. These forces will pose a considerable challenge for governance in Bangladesh in the future
  • Rohingya: There will be setbacks in India-Bangladesh ties, like the current Rohingya issue, which has imposed a huge economic and security burden on Bangladesh.
  • Migration: Bilaterally, the issue of the illegal migration has already acquired a high profile in India with the publication of the draft National Register of Citizens in Assam. This will require deft handling of bilateral ties.
  • River: Sharing of river waters will remain a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.
  • China: China’s security and economic footprint has grown in South Asia and managing this will remain a challenge for both countries.

Conclusion

Bangladesh-India relations have reached a stage of maturity and with further upgrading and integration of infrastructure, bilateral ties can be expected to grow stronger in the future.