Of all its neighbours, India has had the best of relations with Bangladesh, though there have been some unfortunate lows, especially when Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party was in power. The present prime minister and leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, has always been well-disposed towards India, and this country has reciprocated in good measure.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of what was then East Pakistan from the barbaric rule of the Punjabi-dominated occupying Pak Army was doubly historic as it coincided with the 100th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman. Despite some irritants such as the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the talk of a National Register of Citizenship, India has managed to maintain cordial relations with Bangladesh. Common appreciation of the geopolitical situation coupled with Sheikh Hasina’s warmth for a country which had played a stellar role in the creation of Bangladesh and rescued her father from the jaws of the Pakistan Army in the run-up to the 1971 war of liberation underpin ties Indo-Bangla ties.
How can anyone be ungrateful for India hosting over a million refugees from the Pak Army terror and barbaric suppression? Happily, extremist elements linked to the Pak-funded Islamic seminaries which have sought to poison ties between India and Bangladesh are being kept in check by the Awami League Government.
Bangladeshis can look back with great satisfaction that ever since they parted company with what was then West Pakistan, they have left the latter far behind both in terms of economic and social indicators. Indeed, in per capita GDP Bangladesh has even stolen a march over India, its exports doing much better than India’s.
On the human development index too Bangladesh scores over India in several aspects. Remarkably, a higher percentage of women in Bangladesh are employed than in India. That said, India no doubt is a much bigger country and has a deep stake in maintaining cordial relationship with the Muslim-majority nation in the east which is constantly being lured both by China and Pakistan also with the objective of antagonizing it against this country.
Fortunately, Sheikh Hasina refuses to fall into the trap and in spite of pressure from her own party colleagues and the Islamic fundamentalists she has declined to allow occasional irritants caused by events in India to embitter the ties. It is remarkable that the warmth of relations between Dacca and New Delhi both during the UPA decade and now in the six years under Modi has remained undiminished.
Yes, the problem of illegal Bangladeshis in Assam and West Bengal is a major irritant but this is a hang-over going back virtually fifty years. The dispute over the sharing of Teesta waters too is decades-old; it could be resolved but for the exigencies of domestic politics in the two countries. Meanwhile, it did not go unnoticed that Modi paid a well-publicized visit to a famous Matua temple in Bangladesh at a time when the Matua vote had assumed much significance in the on-going electoral battle in West Bengal.