India is celebrating its 69th Republic Day today. On this day in 1950, the Constitution of India was adopted.26th January holds an everlasting place in the Indian national memory. It was on this day in 1930, that the proclamation of Indian Independence or ‘Purna Swaraj’ was adopted. Two decades later, on the same day in 1950, modern India was born with the adoption of a constitution by a democratic government system completing the transition of the country towards an independent Republic of India. This day saw the culmination of the heroic struggle of an extraordinary generation of leaders who overcame colonialism to establish the world’s largest democracy. The day is celebrated all over India and by Indian communities living abroad with patriotic fervor and immense love for their motherland.
The Constitution of India lays down the foundations of a vibrant and diverse democracy sustained by the values of secularism, pluralism, socialism, equality, liberty and fraternity. These are the driving forces of our nation. These are also the values that India and Bangladesh share together. India proudly fought along with the people of Bangladesh to preserve these values during the Liberation War of 1971. Taking inspiration from these cherished values guiding bilateral relations, India was among the first countries to assist Bangladesh last year in providing humanitarian assistance to displaced person from the Rakhine state of Myanmar.
Today, India and Bangladesh enjoy a special relationship which rests as much on civilizational ties as they do on a shared history, geography, common linguistic heritage and culture. The importance attached by India to its relationship with Bangladesh was reflected in the high level engagements between the leadership of both countries. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s state visit to India in April 2017 was a significant milestone in the bilateral relationship. The Joint Statement adopted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the visit affirmed that the “relations between India and Bangladesh are based on fraternal ties and reflective of an all-encompassing partnership based on sovereignty, equality, trust and understanding that goes far beyond a strategic partnership”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the relationship as ‘Sonali Adhyaya’ or a golden era.
The scope of our multifaceted relationship has widened considerably in recent years. A record number of Agreements/MoUs were concluded during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in 2017. Together with the Agreements/MoUs concluded during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in 2015, close to 60 documents were signed in a span of 2 years. This demonstrates the breadth and depth of the bilateral relationship and the vast potential that can transform our societies and bring development to the people of both countries. Moreover, most of the recent agreements signed were in new and emerging areas of cooperation such as Information Technology, Space, Civil Nuclear Energy, Cyber Security, Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency etc., introducing new depth to exiting bilateral cooperation.
The successful implementation of the Land and Maritime Boundary Agreements under the current leadership of both countries paved the way for progress in other areas of mutual interest, including bilateral trade and economic cooperation. India is a committed development partner of Bangladesh and has pledged US$ 8 billion in concessional financing to Bangladesh. In 2017, a third line of credit of US$ 5 billion dollars was announced in addition to the earlier $3 billion in the first and second lines of credit.
This is the largest amount of credit that India has committed to any single country, and demonstrates the high priority India attaches to its relationship with Bangladesh.
Private sector cooperation is also growing. Indian companies plan to invest over US $10 billion in the power & energy, logistics, education and medical sectors of Bangladesh. Thirteen MOUs to this extent were signed during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in 2017. The proposed Indian Special Economic Zones currently in the pipeline will also facilitate Indian investments in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has the potential to become the engine of growth for the sub-region. Regional connectivity will play an important role in this regard. Both countries are working on several regional and sub-regional constructs that will benefit the people involved. On the bilateral connectivity front, out of the six rail links that existed between India and Bangladesh before 1965, four have already been restored. Restoration work on the remaining two links and a new link between Akhaura (Bangladesh) and Agartala (Tripura, India) is under progress. In addition to regular bus services between Dhaka-Kolkata, Dhaka-Shillong and Agartala-Dhaka-Kolkata, a new bus service was launched between Dhaka-Khulna-Kolkata, during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in April 2017. In November 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina jointly flagged off the inaugural train service ‘Bandhan Express’ between Khulna and Kolkata. They also announced the commencement of end-to-end customs and immigration services for the ‘Maitree Express’ train service between Dhaka and Kolkata. The commencement of trans-shipment of goods and the opening of container services between Kolkata and Pangaon ports were among the important developments in the shipping sector last year.
India has granted full market access to Bangladesh. Improvement of border infrastructure is a pre-requisite for seamless movement of goods and people. The inauguration of new Integrated Check Posts at Benapole-Petrapole and Dawki, along with a new Land Customs Station at Srimantapur in the last one year will facilitate bilateral trade. Border Haats have been an important source of livelihood for communities living in the border areas and more Border Haats are planned.
Bilateral cooperation in the power and energy sector has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. India is committed to supporting Bangladesh in its vision of ‘Power for All’ by 2021. At present, India supplies 660 MW of power to Bangladesh. This supply is expected to increase significantly in the next few years. In the pipeline are also major private sector investments worth US$ 3.2 billion, which is expected to bring an additional 2350 MW of power to Bangladesh. Options in terms of clean and renewable energy are also being explored. Both countries are cooperating in the civil nuclear energy sector as the first nuclear power plant of Bangladesh is under construction at Rooppur.
India and Bangladesh have an ongoing and robust security cooperation and the armed forces of the two countries enjoy a close relationship. A successful example of the co-operation between our coast guards and navy was demonstrated last year through joint operations which helped in the rescue of 63 Bangladesh fishermen during the devastating ‘Mora’ cyclone in the Bay of Bengal.
India is ready to share its expertise with Bangladesh in the knowledge economy. To fulfill this objective, several agreements have been concluded recently between institutions of both countries in areas such as skills development, medical and veterinary sciences. The premier institutions of India, including the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management, have opened their doors to students from Bangladesh.
The strength and soul of the bilateral relationship lies in our people-to-people contacts. A number of measures to facilitate access to Indian visas have boosted the movement of Bangladesh nationals to India, who now constitute the largest number of foreign tourists to India. Both countries enjoy vibrant cultural exchanges.
India-Bangladesh relations, based on the philosophy of ‘Bandhutva’, have emerged as a paradigm for the rest of the region to follow. The economies of India and Bangladesh are growing at a fast pace and both countries enjoy youthful populations. With more cooperation, greater connectivity, sustainable practices and improved infrastructure, we can ensure a better future for the people of our countries. The peace and security of the region, which is a sine-qua-non for economic growth and development of both our countries, is a shared responsibility. Today, India-Bangladesh relations have set a new model for bilateral and regional cooperation, and it will be our endeavour to achieve newer heights in this multifaceted and progressive cooperation.
The writer is the High Commissioner of India in Bangladesh