Although Bangladesh and India are two neighboring countries of South Asia, there is a very close historical relationship between these two countries. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Bangladesh was part of the Republic of Pakistan as East Pakistan. The people of Bengal will never forget the support given by the late Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi and her government when the people of East Pakistan, under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, took part in the war of independence against West Pakistan. Mrs Gandhi's role in the international arena, including providing shelter to nearly one crore East Pakistani refugees and military assistance, accelerated the pace of Bangladesh's independence. At the request of Bangabandhu, Mrs Gandhi withdrew the Indian Allied Forces from Independent Bangladesh in a very short time which is a rear incident in the context of a newly independent country.
Read more: Eternal friends
The unity between the two countries since independence has continued to grow. However, the relations between the two countries have reached a certain height in the last 12 years, even though there have been some negative relations between Bangladesh and India for some time before 2008. Many disputed issues have been solved in the last 12 years, including the solution of enclave problems. Bangladesh currently has a list of India's five largest exporters. Relations between the two countries have also been strengthened through India's assistance in various projects.
On an annual basis, India's exports to Bangladesh increased by 46 percent. According to the January-March 2021 estimates, India's total exports to Bangladesh amounted to US$ 3.16 billion. In other words, during this period, Bangladesh was ranked fourth in the list of Indian exporting countries. Bangladesh was preceded by the United States (US$ 15.40 billion), China (US$ 5.92 billion) and the UAE (US$ 5.34 billion). What is clear from these figures is that trade between the two countries has greatly improved. However, despite the increase in Indian exports to Bangladesh, the desired target for products exported from Bangladesh to India has not yet been achieved. However, since 2011, the trade deficit between the two countries has been reduced, albeit slightly, due to the Indian government's decision to allow duty-free trade in the Indian market for Bangladeshi products, except for 25 products. Even then, to improve relations, the two heads of government should reach an agreement to reduce the trade deficit.
We need to remember that the people-to-people relationship
between these two countries is deeply rooted, going beyond the strength
of its bilateral ties. So, the main theme of this year's Maitri Dibosh
(Friendship Day) should be the conviction to move this relationship
forward by reaching a consensus on the issues that have not yet been agreed upon
Extremely friendly relations exist between the two countries in the cultural world. Just as Bangladeshi cultural groups display their cultural activities in India, so Indian cultural groups often display their activities to the people of Bangladesh. Through this, a strong bridge has been established in the cultural arena of the two countries. It is pertinent to mention here that since Bangladesh and India are two states of the subcontinent, there are many similarities between the cultural worlds of the two countries.
The scholarships that the Government of India has introduced for Bangladeshi students in various fields to enhance the relations between the two countries further have positively impacted the relations between the two countries. In addition to scholarships under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Government of India has introduced scholarships for Bangladeshi students in several other sectors. Among these, some notable scholarships are the Friendship Scholarship, the Scholarship for the Children of the Freedom Fighters and the Bangabandhu Chair Scholarship on the occasion of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu. The fact that many people from Bangladesh travel to India every year for medical treatment also sends a positive message about the relationship between the two countries.
The governments of both countries are also seriously considering launching regional inter-country road connectivity. If this communication starts, there will be huge potential to expand trade and commerce between the two countries. It is expected that this will open new avenues for Bangladesh's trade with India and our neighboring countries. Many try to view inter-country road connectivity negatively, arguing that Bangladesh would then become India's corridor. This kind of argument is ill-motivated because if such efforts are successful in the age of globalization, it will benefit both countries. Providing duty-free trade and visa-free travel with this communication will benefit both countries and strengthen the relationship between the peoples of the two countries as we see in Europe. Many European countries can be entered under a Schengen visa.
There is no denying that the governments of Bangladesh and India have reached a consensus on several issues since the post-independence period. The most important agreements were the Padma water-sharing agreement, duty-free access to goods to reduce trade deficits and solve enclave problems. However, although the relations between the two countries are deeply-rooted, it has not been possible to reach a consensus on several issues so far. The most important of these are the Teesta river water-sharing agreement and the killing at the borders. Although the central government of India has a positive intention towards the signing of the Teesta river water-sharing agreement, it is not possible to do so due to opposition from the West Bengal government. This agreement will not only have a positive effect on the relations between the two countries but also the suffering of the people of the northern part of Bangladesh caused due to lack of water in the Teesta river will be reduced to a great extent.
Bangladesh-India relations stand on such a strong foundation that many countries of the world have started envying this relationship. Different countries are busy destroying relations between the two countries. Therefore, the heads of government of both countries should remain careful of this issue. We need to remember that the people-to-people relationship between these two countries is deeply rooted, going beyond the strength of its bilateral ties. So, the main theme of this year's Maitri Dibosh (Friendship Day) should be the conviction to move this relationship forward by reaching a consensus on the issues that have not yet been agreed upon.
The writer is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration, Rajshahi University.