The main takeaway from the visit was the assurance of friendship and the recognition of the importance India and Bangladesh attach to bilateral relations.
India’s relations with Bangladesh have been significantly strengthened thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modis’ two-day visit to the country on March 26-27 this year. Prime Minister Modi visited Bangladesh at the invitation of his Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to participate in the gala celebration of two period events, the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh Independence and the Centenary of the birth of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the emblematic leader of the Bangladesh freedom struggle and the country’s first prime minister. Notably, the visit was also his first trip abroad after the COVID-19 pandemic which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh. The visit was a celebration of the special bond between the two countries and set an agenda for the times to come.
The visit was a celebration of a common bond because the main focus of the visit was the Golden Jubilee of the Liberation of Bangladesh, which India has actively supported and is considered a common heritage. During the liberation of Bangladesh, India provided shelter to 10 million refugees from that country and had boots on the ground. The presence of Prime Minister Modi in the closing function of the 10-day gala ceremony celebrating the country’s golden jubilee of independence and the centenary of Bangabandhu’s birth in Dhaka was recognition of this common bond. To commemorate this shared history, Bangladesh is building a Memorial in honor of the martyrs of the Indian armed forces who sacrificed their lives in the 1971 liberation war at Ashuganj in Bramhanbaria. The first stone of the memorial was laid during the visit. In addition, the two countries declared to link the historic route between Mujibnagar and Nadia and naming him Shadhinota Shorok. India and Bangladesh have decided to celebrate the event together in remembrance of this common heritage. An important initiative in this regard was the unveiling of the BangabandhuGandhi digital exhibition which will be displayed in 19 countries around the world together by India and Bangladesh.
The tensions over India’s and Bangladesh’s obligations go far beyond the calculation of strategic consideration, and they are rooted in close connectivity between peoples. These bonds have been strengthened through the sharing of a common language, culture, history and spirituality. The visit focused on celebrating this spiritual connection during Prime Minister Modis’ visit to two religious sites outside of Dhaka. The two temples are Joshorershari temple, an important place of worship for believers in Hinduism, at Shyamnager in Sathkhira and the temple of Harichand Thakur, a spiritual leader and reformer who has followers across borders, in Orakhandi in Gopalganj. Prime Minister Modis’s visit also indicated how these connections could be harnessed for the well-being of the population, as this will also encourage tourism between the two countries.
In addition, to promote interpersonal connectivity between India and Bangladesh, mainly during the 50 years of the diplomatic relationship, three new border haats were inaugurated during the visit. In addition, the visit highlighted improved connectivity and a new train called Mitali Express connecting Dhaka and New Jalpaiguri was inaugurated during the visit. Connectivity has become a priority for India and Bangladesh and the two countries are trying to reestablish old ties that were disrupted during Pakistani times.
The visit was futuristic in its approach due to the attention given to the growing engagement of young people in Bangladesh. In addition, priority is given to strengthening cooperation in areas such as space, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, etc. in the agenda of the bilateral discussion between the two countries during the visit. Some of the key initiatives to broaden engagement with youth stated during the visit include India Swarna Jayanti scholarships for the young people of Bangladesh for having received an education in various fields of study in India. In addition, India unveils plans to invite 50 young entrepreneurs from Bangladesh to share their ideas with venture capitalists to seek funding for their businesses. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the Bangladesh National Cadet Corps (BNCC) and the National Cadet Corps of India (INCC) to increase interaction between young people from both countries.
It should be noted that the long 62 paragraph joint statement issued during the visit described the details of the discussions under specific headings held at the summit meeting included a specific section under the title New Areas of Cooperation. This section of the joint statement indicates that the two sides recognized the potential of new and emerging areas of cooperation within the framework of bilateral cooperation and ordered the authorities of both sides to focus and strengthen cooperation in the advanced fields of science, artificial intelligence, peaceful uses of nuclear technology, big data, and technological services in health and education. The inclusion of this section in the joint statement presents the future vision of the leaders of the two countries on the bilateral relationship. The analysis of the joint statement suggests that the two countries not only wish to expand cooperation in the areas of security, border management, trade and economy that traditionally dominated the rhetoric in bilateral relations, but that they are also preparing to embark on the future.
Despite these many positive aspects, some sections question the actual outcome of this visit. The reason for such curiosity comes from perceptions because people were expecting an announcement about solving certain issues like solving the Teesta water sharing, a long-standing issue. Moreover, people got used to always making big announcements when Indian Prime Minister visited Bangladesh. Most important was the delineation of land border that two countries resolved during Prime Minister Modis’ visit in 2015.
Unlike in the past, the progress of India and Bangladesh cannot be measured using the arithmetic of the announcements made during the visit of senior leaders from both countries. On the contrary, over the years, the two countries have put in place a well-structured institutional framework for interactions between all stakeholders, which ensures a sustained dialogue between the two countries throughout the year. India and Bangladesh have jointly established more than 50 institutional mechanisms in a wide range of fields, including security, defense, trade and economics, as well as science and technology. These mechanisms regularly monitor developments and work to resolve problems. Given the growth trajectory of bilateral relations, the visit of senior leaders gives a philosophical direction to the bilateral relationship. This visit succeeded in giving the vision of the bilateral relationship for the future.
The main takeaway from the visit was the assurance of friendship and the recognition of the importance India and Bangladesh attach to bilateral relations. In addition, the visit marked the commitment of the two countries to work together for the prosperity of their people who will be guided by the spirit of the common past while keeping an eye on the future.
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