UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2- India and its neighborhood- relations.
Is Bangladesh moving out of India’s sphere of Influence
Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river. The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.
India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta. More importantly, Bangladesh’s discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh.
- India has had a robust relationship with Dhaka.
- This was carefully cultivated since 2008, especially with the Sheikh Hasina government at the helm.
- India has benefited from its security ties with Bangladesh, whose crackdown against anti-India outfits has helped the Indian government maintain peace in the eastern and Northeast states.
- Bangladesh has benefited from its economic and development partnership.
- Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia.
- Bilateral trade has grown steadily over the last decade: India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2018-19 stood at $9.21 billion, and imports from Bangladesh at $1.04 billion.
- India also grants 15 to 20 lakh visas every year to Bangladesh nationals for medical treatment, tourism, work, and just entertainment.
- For India, Bangladesh has been a key partner in the neighbourhood first policy — and possibly the success story in bilateral ties among its neighbours.
However, there have been recent irritants in the relationship.
- These include the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens(NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December last year.
- Bangladesh had cancelled visits by ministers, and Hasina has expressed reservations about CAA.
· How has the Teesta dispute progressed?
- The two countries were on the verge of signing a water-sharing pact in September 2011, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singhwas going to visit Bangladesh.
- But, West Bengal Chief minister objected to it, and the deal was scuttled.
- After NDA came to power in 2014, the PM visited Dhaka in June 2015 and both nations were confident that they could reach a “fair solution” on the Teesta through cooperation between central and state governments.
- Five years later, the Teesta issue remains unresolved.
China – Bangla Bonhomie:
- China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh.
- It is the foremost source of imports.
- In 2019, the trade between the two countries was $18 billion and the imports from China commanded the lion’s share.
- The trade is heavily in favour of China.
- Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh (China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries).
- This move has been widely welcomed in Bangladesh, with the expectation that Bangladesh exports to China will increase.
Defence ties – a case for concern:
- China has promised around $30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh.
- Additionally, Bangladesh’s strong defence ties with China make the situation complicated.
- China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh and it has been a legacy issue — after the liberation, officers of Pakistan Army — who were well-versed with Chinese arms — joined Bangladesh Army and that’s how they preferred Chinese weapons As a result, Bangladesh forces are equipped with Chinese arms including tanks, missile launchers, fighter aircraft and several weapons systems. Recently, Bangladesh purchased two Ming class submarines from China.
- In the wake of the Ladakh standoff, India has become more sensitive to Chinese defence inroads into Bangladesh.
India too has provided developmental assistance worth $10 billion, making Bangladesh the largest recipient of India’s total of $30 billion aid globally
How has India been engaging with Bangladesh post CAA?
- Over the last five months, India and Bangladesh have cooperated on pandemic-related moves.
- Dhaka supported India’s call for a regional emergency fund for fighting Covid-19 and declared a contribution of $1.5 million in March 2020. India has also provided medical aid to Bangladesh.
- The two countries have also cooperated in railways, with India giving 10 locomotives to Bangladesh.
- The first trial run for trans-shipment of Indian cargo through Bangladesh to Northeast states under a pact on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports took place in July.
New thaw in Bangla – Pak relationship?
- However, in recent weeks, Pakistan PM’s call to Hasina raised eyebrows in Delhi.
- While Islamabad portrayed it as a conversation on Kashmir, Dhaka said it was about cooperating to deal with Covid-19.
In a recent meeting the following things were discussed:
- The two sides agreed that Implementation of projects should be done in a timely manner, and that greater attention is required to development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit.
- Bangladesh sought return of the Tablighi Jamaatmembers impacted by the lockdown in India.
- Bangladesh requested for urgent reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.
- India was also requested to reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port which has been halted by the West Bengal government in the wake of the pandemic.
- Bangladesh told that it is ready to collaborate in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial, and looks forward to early, affordable availability of the vaccine when ready.
What is the way ahead:
- While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to address it before the West Bengal elections due next year.
- What Delhi can do is to address other issues of concern, which too are challenging.
- Now, the test will be if India can implement all its assurances in a time-bound manner.
- Or else, the latent anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh — which has been revived after India’s CAA -NRC push — threatens to damage Dhaka-New Delhi ties.
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