India and Bangladesh share not only close historical, civilisational and cultural links but have also forged strong social, economic and political ties over decades since Bangladesh's liberation in 1971. United by a shared history and common heritage, linguistic and cultural links, fervour for arts, music and literature, and strong people-to-people ties, the two countries share a unique camaraderie and friendship.
India has always cherished its close relationship with Bangladesh and worked for strengthening ties with it while at the same time contributing to Bangladesh's development agenda. Under India's flagship 'Neighbourhood First' policy, Bangladesh is an important partner. The cooperation between the two countries ranges across all fields including trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, defence and security, maritime affairs, climate change and sustainable development among others.
In the field of trade, for instance, India is Bangladesh's second-largest trading partner, with Bangladesh being the fourth-largest export destination for India. Bilateral trade has seen a consistent and rapid rise, growing from USD 9.69 billion in FY 2020-21 to USD 16.15 billion in FY 2021-22, despite the adverse effect on the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Significant boosts in bilateral ties between the two countries were seen in the recent period. Starting from settling the protracted land boundary dispute in an amicable way in 2015, India and Bangladesh have partnered in numerous developmental projects. India, for example, is financing several infrastructure and connectivity missions in Bangladesh through its Line of Credit, totalling over eight billion dollars now, at a concessional rate.
Connectivity projects such as a multimodal road-rail link between Agartala in India's Tripura to Akhaura in Bangladesh is a prime model. The reopening of an old rail link between Chilahati and Haldibari, apart from regular train services between Kolkata and Dhaka, and bus connectivity from Dhaka to Shillong, Agartala and Kolkata is increasing the physical connectivity between the two countries. India has also provided a grant for the building of the Padma bridge which will provide crucial rail-road connectivity between India and the north and south regions of Bangladesh. In waterways connectivity as well several new routes have been activated including a new bridge across the Feni river to facilitate the movement of goods and passengers from Tripura to Bangladesh.
India is also involved in the construction and installation works in Bangladesh's nuclear power plant facilities such as at Rooppur in the Pabna district. In the energy sector, Bangladesh is importing nearly 2,000 megawatts of electricity from India which is set to register an increase of at least 138 per cent in the coming year. The Framework of Understanding on Cooperation in the Hydrocarbon Sector and measures like the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline Project connecting Siliguri in West Bengal (India) to Parbatipur in Dinajpur district (Bangladesh) is aimed at ensuring energy security partnership between the two countries.
During the last visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India, the two countries further boosted their partnership by signing seven Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) in the areas of water resources, capacity building, railway, science and technology. These agreements included the withdrawal of river water from the common border river Kushiyara, capacity building programme for Bangladesh judicial officers in India, training of railway personnel in India, scientific and technological cooperation between Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) institutes of both the countries, as well as cooperation in the areas of space technology. An MoU on cooperation in broadcasting between India's Prasar Bharti and Bangladesh Television (BTV) was also finalised. Apart from these agreements on cooperation, several projects were also inaugurated including the inauguration of the Rupsha rail bridge, connecting for the first time Mongla Port with Khulna by rail, and thereafter to Central and North Bangladesh and also to the India border at Petrapole and Gede in West Bengal. A Khulna-Darshana railway line link project was also unveiled. Another project was announced on the supply of road construction equipment and machinery as well.
Bangladesh is also showing keen interest in exporting military hardware from India. With the operationalisation of a $500 million line of credit for defence purchases by India, Bangladesh aims to buy military equipment such as specialist vehicles from Tata and Mahindra, Tejas light combat aircraft and Dhruv light helicopter. Both countries are also exploring India's assistance to Bangladesh in maintaining Russian-origin equipment such as Mi-17-IV helicopter, Antonov An-32 transport aircraft and MiG-29 fighter jets. With Bangladesh already purchasing protective gear such as bulletproof jackets and helmets, both countries now aim to boost the defence trade for big-ticket items.
Both countries not only have a solid bilateral relationship but are also engaged in regional cooperation mechanisms through multilateral forums such as SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and IORARC (Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation), amongst others. In these forums, both countries share a common outlook pertaining to issues like regional security, connectivity and infrastructure development in the region.
India and Bangladesh have multidimensional and expanding ties. To help develop Bangladesh, India unilaterally offers scholarships and training programmes under ITEC, TCS of Colombo Plan, ICCR, AYUSH, Commonwealth, SAARC and IOR-ARC scholarships/ fellowship schemes to Bangladeshi nationals. India also extended her friend of friendship by providing Bangladesh with free doses of vaccines, and medical provisions like PPE kits and essential medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such a strong relationship between the two neighbours exemplifies the role model of good neighbourly relations and the need for cooperative behaviour among states for a peaceful and stable South Asia. (ANI)