India and Bangladesh

Context: Recent inauguration of an 11-km rail link between West Bengal and Bangladesh marks the slow but steady effort by Delhi and Dhaka to overcome the negative consequences of the Partition of the subcontinent.

How economic dissociation started in the Indian subcontinent?

  • The political Partition in 1947, which created Pakistan, did not immediately lead to economic dissociation.
  • After the 1965 war, dissociation begun when the borders between India and Pakistan closed down.
  • It made increasingly hard for the movement of goods and people.
  • The subcontinent turned inward in its economic orientation.
  • Countries in the region de-emphasized transborder connectivity.
  • Political difficulties in both capitals also prevented Delhi and Dhaka from restoring the lost connectivity, even after they recognized its economic importance.

How India-Bangladesh relations evolved amidst dissociation in the subcontinent?

  • Over the last decade, political ties between India and Bangladesh have improved due to systematic effort which helped in restoring the natural connectivity between West Bengal, Bangladesh and India’s Northeast.
  • The recent joint statement issued after Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina met virtually outlines a list of initiatives to deepen cooperation.
  • Bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement outlines a host of areas for cooperation, from strengthening river water transport to managing a transboundary elephant corridor and from trade liberalisation to the setting up of a CEO forum.
  • Both countries are also raising their ambitions for regional connectivity with Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar and Thailand.

What are the immediate concerns?

  • India has not demonstrated the same sensitivity to the tragedy of the post-Partition movement of people across borders.
  • There is political impact of people’s movement on ethnic and religious balances in the east.

What should India do?

  • India need to be careful in addressing the challenges posed by migration as India prepares to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act.
  • Insensitivity towards illegal migration and migrants will derail ties between India and its most important regional partner, Bangladesh.
  • Avoid making migration a political issue during elections in West Bengal because it can threaten bilateral relations.

India should not let crude electoral calculations undermine the historic transformation underway in the eastern subcontinent.

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