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Extent and pattern of India Bangladesh Relation

By Mohoshin Abbas

The most talked about issue in South Asia is India-Pakistan relations. Bangladesh-India relations are seconding among the population of the region. It could be mentioned that India Bangladesh relations also significantly impact on the internal politics of both the countries. Especially the dynamics and pattern of the internal politics of Bangladesh is importantly influenced by the impact of India Bangladesh relations.

India Bangladesh relations have a long history. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the extent of the relations some times grow warmer and of course some times come down to the level of coolness, but never reached the freezing point.

Presently the relations between the two neighbors are warmer that told by the observers. It is also observed that the recent Dhaka visit of Indian Finance Minister was intending to provide another degree of warmness to the India Bangladesh relations. It should be said that Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina visited India at the early month of this year. And at that time several agreements were signed between the two countries. One of the objectives of Indian Finance Minister's recent Dhaka visit was to observe and discuss on the development of the implementation of those agreements in Bangladesh side.

The India Bangladesh relations evolved around few issues mainly on joint rivers, border & enclaves, security issues and bilateral trade, regional cooperation, maritime boundary, transit and transshipment and on international politics. The extent and pattern of Bangladesh and China relations are also impact on the relations of India and Bangladesh. The public perception on India Bangladesh relation is also another important issue that considered always in both of the countries.

Is India a friend of Bangladesh? While public perception is concern, it is difficult to find out any appropriate answer. In consideration to this public perception, it could be told that India was the friend of Bangladesh while the people of Bangladesh were struggling for the noble cause of independence in 1971. So, what is wrong with the public perception of Bangladesh that they have confusion about India? To find out the answer, it is essential to be analyzed the political development of Bangladesh, the changes in the internal politics of India and Indian behavior to Bangladesh as a powerful neighbor, which took place in last four decades.

The dynamics of internal politics of Bangladesh was continuously changing in last four decades. The spirit of the independence of Bangladesh was a secular political idea. The secularism was in practice up to 1975; mainly it was in practice in state level and among the educated middle class. The secular idea emerged in this land just after the British rule in 1947. And of course, in 1960s, secularism emerged as a strong political and cultural ideology among the educated middleclass of Bangladesh that is among the middle class of the than East Pakistan. But just after the independence of Bangladesh the secular politics was fading out and an obscure picture of religion based politics was emerging in the society, it could be told that the cause of that back step is yet unexplainable.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Muzibur Rahman was assassinated on 15th August of 1975 and Bangladesh stepped into the era of military autocracy. In that changed political scenario, the practice of religion based politics surfaced with vigor in Bangladesh. At that time religion based politics was patron by the state. Importantly, before 1991, Bangladesh never experienced real democracy. Rather, from 1975 to 1990 Bangladesh was ruled under military autocracy or military autocracy with the veil of civil character. That time, Bangladesh, was the hatchery of religion fundamentalism.

An urban people upsurge in on December 1990 ousted the military autocrat General Ershad. In 1991 Bangladesh Nationalist Party BNP, the party founded under military control and took political character while struggling for democracy against military rule in 1980s, came into state power through democratic process. In 1996 Bangladesh Awami League, the leading party of the struggle of Independence and Liberation war, return to state power and again in 2001 BNP formed government.

Bangladesh was governed by an extra constitutional military backed interim government for two years after the end of 2nd BNP tenure. On December 2009, Awami League formed Government with absolute majority.

From 1971 to 2010, India was also the changing showground of politics and many changes were taking place in India. In 1971, Congress was in the control of Indian central politics under the leadership of Indira Ghandhi. After a little interval Congress again regain power in Delhi and Indira Ghandhi became Prime Minister again. After the assassination of Indira Ghandhi, her elder son Rajib Ghandhi became the Prime Minister of India and President of Congress. India stepped into a new pattern of international politics under Rajib Ghandhi. Rajib was also assassinated and this incident forced India towards alliance politics in centre. In provincial level, regional political parties became more important, influential and powerful. The Hindu fundamentalism surfaced and BJP formed government in center. Presently, in central politics of India, Congress under the leadership of Sonia Ghandhi, the widow is powerful but the alliance politics is yet significantly strong.

In this time frame there are many changes in international politics as well. Though India was a non-alliance state, the country had economic and military relations with the then socialist Soviet Union. The socialist center Soviet Union was collapsed at 90s of last century and India had changed international relations policy as a logical consequence of the changed international political environment.

By the time, in the post cold war era, India made themselves as one of the important players of international politics and emerged as globally significant regional supper power. In post cold war world, political Islam and other religion based politics and terrorism in the name of religion had emerged as new world phenomena. What ever the cause of the new phenomena, it is in existence in the world and it has a big impact on the India Bangladesh relations.

It is mentionable that, thought the last four decades, the development of international and regional politics, the impact of these development on the two neighboring countries and the mental makeup of the people of the two countries always have impact on the extent and pattern of India Bangladesh

It is assumed by all that presently India Bangladesh relation is warmer than any recent past that it was. Most of the people will show the logic that in India Congress, the supported the noble cause of Bangladesh that is the Independence, is in state power and in Bangladesh Awami League, the party that lead the war of Independence, is governing the country. Both of the parties are old friends in south Asian region. One could be reached at a conclusion through this simple equation. But it should also be taken into account that international or bilateral relations do not run always through simple equations.

Joint rivers are always a hot issue for India and Bangladesh both. Farakka Barrage and water sharing of river Ganga are not only the issue of diplomatic concern, also the issue is related to environment, ecology, food security and the future geo-pattern of Bangladesh. And of course joint rivers issue has the important impact on the internal political debates and development in Bangladesh. The solution of the problems relating to Joint Rivers depends on the attitude and intention of India. That is why, in Bangladesh, who ever in state power, that government want to reach on a solution in this regard. But India is always reluctant on the issue. Present government of Bangladesh has tabled the Tista water sharing in bilateral discussion but India is again reluctant as the country was. If only joint rivers issue is considered, India Bangladesh relations could not be termed as warm as it seems to. But it should be mentioned that only one issue could not be the indicator to judge any bilateral relation.

The border and enclaves issue should be considered with due importance while the extent and pattern of India Bangladesh relations would be discussed. Of course this issue has a sharp and clear appearance to the people. On enclave, there are discussions between India and Bangladesh but there is no tension on the issue. Border is a big issue to measure the extent and pattern of India Bangladesh relations and it should be told that many unexpected occurrences and incidents over the border line is yet the concern for India Bangladesh relations. Experience is that, several times the behavior of Border security personnel went beyond the norms and of course that actions are the determining factors to judge the pattern of diplomatic relations that prevailing between India and Bangladesh. This issue is the cause of concern for both of the neighbors.

Security is another issue that impact on the relations between India and Bangladesh. In consideration to the totality of India Bangladesh Relation, current character of global politics, image of India and Bangladesh among regional and international community including United States, it could be said that there is no possibility of war between India and Bangladesh. Rather it could be told that war between India and Bangladesh might be a schizophrenic imagination. But Security, in terms of militancy and armed insurgency in the north east India and in the hill districts of Bangladesh, has significant impact on India Bangladesh relations. The political leadership and administration of India and Bangladesh have reached on an agreement that no one will facilitate the militants and insurgents at any extent. This agreement provided warmth to the Indio-Bangla relations.

As bilateral trade is concern, Bangladesh always a country of deficit. Though India and Bangladesh are the member state of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), there are many tariff and non tariff barriers for trade. Most of the barriers are against Bangladesh, this should be mentioned.

The ray of hope is there that both of the countries are agreed to overcome the trade barriers within a logical period of time. Maritime boundary debate that prevails in the India Bangladesh relations is an international, regional and bilateral issue now. It seems that the two neighbors would be able to reach at a solution on this issue; at least the pattern and extent of the relations indicate a good consequence.

Transit and transshipment are the most talked about issues that have extensive influence and impact on India Bangladesh relations. These issues are highly related to regional and international politics as well. While the word transit uttered, the eco of the sound in Bangladesh is that India is seeking facilities for their commercial and military transportation to the northeastern states by using the land of Bangladesh. There might be some truth in this reaction. It is also the truth that India will gain more from the transit through Bangladesh.

The hard truth is that the extant and pattern of the relations of India and Bangladesh is mostly dependent on transit issue. That is why, for Bangladesh, it is logical that transit must be used as a leverage of relationship. It is also a reality that, while transit is concern, Bangladesh must demand transit facility through India to connect Bhutan and Nepal for commercial transportation. And the development is that India agreed upon the demand of Bangladesh in principle and now it is on the track of implementation so far. In exchange of Indian action, Bangladesh agreed to give the surface and river transportation system and the port facilities for Indian use. In view of the actions that have taken by both of the countries, it could be told that the two neighbors are running forward to build up a peaceful and prosperous South Asia. But things are not like this. The pattern and extent of India Bangladesh relations are also related to the international politics.

India and China are the two Asian Superpowers. Both of the countries, probably, intending to enhance their influence in Oceans as part of their security strategy. Apparently Indian Ocean is for India and Yellow Sea and a portion of Pacific Ocean are for China. It is a reality that the extent and pattern of India China relations enable Bangladesh to ensure the rule of the nation in regional and international politics and also enable Bangladesh to determine the strategy to exist as a small state between the two Asian Superpowers, especially as a small neighbor of the gigantic India. It should also be mentioned that the pattern and extent of India Bangladesh relations determine the pattern and extent of Bangladesh China relations.

After the recent India visit by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh relations with India grew warmer. But, probably, it went down following the China visit by the Prime Minister. It is not that China visit has very significant impact on India Bangladesh relations. But Indian observation on Bangladesh China relations has extended and intensified, it should be said, because Prime Minister of Bangladesh, while visiting China, agreed upon to provide transit and port facilities for the use of China. Besides this, Bangladeshi Prime Minister seeks cooperation from China for renovation of Chittagong port and for building of deep sea port at Chittagong coast line.

Presence of China in South Asian Region, especially in the sea is considered as security concern from India. China already has put their foot at Hambantota in Southern Sri Lanka and at Gawder in Baluchistan of Pakistan by providing assistance in building of new ports. In other words, by providing assistance in building of these two ports, China ensured its presence in Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, which is considered as security concern by India. Besides these, Indian and many other countries have believed that China has military presence at Hungai naval base of Myanmar and there is a China observatory at Coco Island near to Nicobar. In view of this situation, it is to be observed that what would be the Indian reaction to the presence of China at Chittagong.

One thing should be mentioned that all superpowers have their front-yards or backyards. It is more than a truth for Russia, China and United States. Central Asia is the yard of Russia and East Asia and South East Asia are considered as the yard of China. But South Asia is not yet considered as the yard of India. India has an image of the largest democracy of the world and also intending to maintain this image as well. That is why India is not intending to use South Asia as yard, rather interested to develop South Asia i.e. the SAARC as an economic, political and to some extent a military Union of the member states as per the model of European Union. This behavioral pattern of India is the determining factor to inter relationship of South Asian Nations.

It is also should be mentioned that present India Bangladesh Relations are mostly necessity driven (could be told reality driven), not that much of Ideology driven, which was showed at the 70s of last century. In consideration to this situation Bangladesh should determine the strategy for relationship with India on the basis of the strategy of regional cooperation.

With all considerations, the historical aspects of the South Asian region also be taken in to consideration for determining the pattern and extent of India Bangladesh relations. South Asia is a land of ancient civilization. The nations have their own culture and politics. But the history of political evolution of the South Asian Nations is same and all the nations are emerged from a single civilization. In consideration to this heritage 'South Asia' is closer to the 'South Asia'. #