India and Bangladesh once again joined hands to celebrate a friendship on the 6th of December that has withstood the test of time and emerged as a shining example of diplomacy, camaraderie, and shared history. Friendship Day, commemorating the 52nd year of the enduring relationship between these two South Asian neighbors, is more than just a diplomatic event—it is a celebration of the deep-rooted connections between their peoples, a testament to the resilience of their ties.
The journey of India and Bangladesh's friendship began in the crucible of the Liberation War in 1971 when India stood firmly by the side of the then East Pakistan, supporting its quest for independence from the oppressive West Pakistani regime. The shared sacrifices and struggles during those tumultuous times laid the foundation for a bond that goes beyond mere geopolitical alliances. It is a friendship etched in the hearts of the people, transcending borders and diplomatic niceties.
Over the past 52 years, India and Bangladesh have traversed a remarkable path of cooperation, mutual respect, and understanding. From economic partnerships to cultural exchanges, the ties between these nations have deepened, fostering an environment of collaboration and growth. Bilateral trade agreements, joint infrastructure projects, and educational initiatives have been instrumental in fortifying the foundations of this enduring friendship.
The warmth between the two countries extends far beyond the realm of government offices and diplomatic circles; it is a people-to-people relationship that resonates in the shared traditions, languages, and values. The cultural tapestry of both nations is interwoven with threads of each other, creating a mosaic that reflects the richness of this unique bond. The success stories of individuals from both sides of the border, working hand in hand for the common good, stand as living examples of the strength derived from cross-border friendships.
As both the countries celebrated the 52nd Friendship Day, it is imperative to acknowledge the strides taken in addressing shared challenges. The collaborative efforts in tackling issues like climate change, terrorism, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic showcase the commitment of India and Bangladesh to stand shoulder to shoulder in times of need. These joint endeavors underscore the maturity of a relationship that has evolved beyond historical grievances to a shared vision for a prosperous and stable South Asia.
The unity that has defined the relationship between the two countries since their independence persists to this day. Despite experiencing periods of strained ties between Bangladesh and India in the past, the last 15 years have witnessed a remarkable elevation in their relationship. During this period, numerous significant issues, including the resolution of enclaves, have been successfully addressed. Notably, Bangladesh has ascended to the ranks of India's top 5 exporting nations, indicating a robust economic partnership. Furthermore, India's invaluable assistance in diverse projects has played a pivotal role in fortifying the bonds between these two nations, contributing to the overall strengthening of their bilateral ties.
The Indian government's strategic move to extend duty-free trade privileges to most Bangladeshi products in the Indian market, with only 25 (liquor and tobacco goods) exceptions, has contributed to a partial alleviation of the trade deficit between the two nations.
Despite this positive step, the trade imbalance persists at a considerable level. Consequently, to foster a more balanced and mutually beneficial relationship, it is imperative for the heads of government from both countries to engage in meaningful discussions and work towards a consensus aimed at further reducing this trade deficit. Such collaborative efforts will not only enhance economic ties but also strengthen the overall diplomatic relationship between India and Bangladesh.
Culturally, the two nations share a deeply amicable bond. Bangladeshi cultural groups actively showcase their endeavors in India, reciprocated by Indian cultural groups presenting their activities in Bangladesh. This dynamic exchange has effectively constructed a robust bridge connecting the cultural landscapes of both countries. Notably, the cultural affinity is rooted in the shared subcontinental heritage of Bangladesh and India, giving rise to numerous similarities in their cultural realms. This historical commonality has intricately intertwined the cultural fabric of both nations, fostering a close and enduring cultural relationship since ancient times.
The initiatives taken by the Government of India to offer scholarships to Bangladeshi students across diverse fields have significantly contributed to the enhancement of bilateral relations between the two nations. These scholarships, administered through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and extended to various sectors, have played a pivotal role in fostering academic and cultural ties. Noteworthy among these are the Friendship Scholarship, the scholarship dedicated to the children of freedom fighters, and the Bangabandhu Chair scholarship, introduced on the occasion of Bangabandhu's birth centenary. These programs not only underscore the commitment to educational collaboration but also symbolize the enduring spirit of friendship and cooperation between India and Bangladesh.
In a gesture that exemplifies the depth of friendship between India and Bangladesh, the Indian Prime Minister, as the president of G-20, extended a warm invitation to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to attend the Summit held in 2023, hosted on Indian soil. Despite Bangladesh not being a member of the G20, this invitation underscored India's sincere commitment to fostering regional cooperation and acknowledging the strategic importance of Bangladesh in the South Asian landscape. The gesture not only reflected India's recognition of Bangladesh as a valued friend but also showcased the belief that inclusive collaboration is pivotal for addressing global challenges. It was a diplomatic overture that transcended formalities, emphasizing the profound ties between the two nations that extend beyond political boundaries. The invitation spoke volumes about India's regard for Bangladesh as a trusted ally, nurturing a relationship founded on shared values and a shared vision for a stable and prosperous region.
However, as we celebrate the achievements of the past, it is equally important to look forward to the future with a sense of optimism and purpose. The 21st century presents new challenges and opportunities, demanding innovative solutions and sustained cooperation. India and Bangladesh, with their shared commitment to democracy, pluralism, and economic progress, are well-positioned to navigate the complexities of our rapidly changing world.
Let us not only commemorate the achievements of the past but also renew our dedication to cultivating and fortifying the bonds of friendship that unite India and Bangladesh. United as good neighbors and unwavering allies, these nations can persist in crafting a narrative of collaboration, mutual understanding, and shared prosperity destined to resonate for generations to come.
The writer is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the
University of Rajshahi.