Bangladesh maintains strong ties with its neighbors. In the present world maintaining a peaceful relation not only with the neighbors but also with other countries of the world is important. India is Bangladesh’s close door neighbor. Bangladesh has a historical and emotional relation with India. Bangladesh was liberated 50 years ago through an armed struggle and India provided all-out support to win the War of Liberation.
The entire Bangladesh witnessed a massive destruction as Pakistani military junta destroyed almost everything. It was the poorest country in South Asia. Not only in South Asia, Bangladesh was one of the top ten poorest countries of the world. Around 88 percent of the population in Bangladesh was poor and dependency on foreign aid was also 88 percent. After returning home from Pakistani jail on 10 January 1972, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Shiekh Mujibur Rahman embarked on the most difficult task of rebuilding the country from a scratch. The newly independent country’s absolute leader did improve the country a lot during the first three years. He started well planned economic activities by formulating the first five-year plan (1973-1978). In the first five-year plan, poverty reduction was fixed as the priority goal. Then, emphasis was laid on rebuilding programmes and increased production. The target was set at an average GDP growth of 5.5 percent per annum. Several targets such as controlling daily essential commodity prices within people’s reach, increasing per capita income by at least 2.5 percent per annum, reducing dependence on foreign aid, controlling population growth, increasing development expenditure, etc. were set. Detailed strategies for achieving each goal were also clearly described. The country was moving forward as planned. In the second year of the plan, in 1974-1975, the highest GDP growth of 9.59 percent was achieved against the target of 5.5 percent.
It was because of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib’s personal popularity Bangladesh got cooperation from all over the globe. We got help from many friendly countries like India, Soviet Russia, UK and some Middle East countries.
India helped us a lot providing us food grain and other essentials. Soviet Russia also helped us to build our country. We maintain very good relations with all those countries who were friendly to us during our war of liberation. But we want to remember those countries that helped us during our bad days. We must recognize the contribution of our great friend India, which helped us much more than any other countries of the world. To demonstrate our friendship between the two countries, we need such kind of relationship that in our trade deal, both of us are in a win-win situation. Any unilateral step instead of bilateral one may deteriorate our relations. By deterioration we mean step taken by one country unilaterally on common issues that exists due to geographical boundaries. Suppose we have common water in 53 rivers that flow through Bangladesh but its source is in India. India needs water for his vast irrigational land and Bangladesh also needs water for the same cause. The political leadership between the two neighboring countries should realize that the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty was solved through amicable settlement.
But Teesta River Water sharing treaty has not yet been signed. The central government of Delhi is agreeable to make a solution of this issue, but the West Bengal government is disagreeable to it.
Mamata Banerjee disagrees central government’s formula to resolve the Teesta Water Sharing. She is a Bengali by birth. She has feeling for independent Bangladesh. She holds Sheikh Hasina high. We hope this time Mamata would be agreeable to a solution.
Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and India has grown steadily over the last decade. But there is huge trade imbalance between the two countries. If India exports goods worth Taka 100 rupee, Bangladesh exports only Taka 8. If we look into the export volume of India and Bangladesh in the FY 2018-19, it could be found that India’s exports to Bangladesh during the period was $9.21 billion and imports during the same was at $1.04 billion. Bangladesh expects reduction of such huge trade gap. Both Bangladesh and the government of India should take this issue into consideration. India is a vast country of 140 crore people. It has a large market. India should understand that allowing some commodities of Bangladesh with zero tariff facility could easily reduce the trade gap and economic imbalance.
We recognize India’s contribution to our infrastructure sector. It has extended three lines of credits (LoC) to Bangladesh in the last 8 years amounting to $8 billion for the development of infrastructure in various sectors including roads, railway, shipping and ports.
Bangladesh is the biggest recipient of India’s concessional LoC. Therefore, India should take necessary steps to remove this unequal trade.
Dr S A Malek is the former political adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, general secretary of Bangabandhu
Parishad and columnist.