Sri Lanka Can Gain By Following ‘India-Bangladesh Eternal Ties Model’

Bangladesh-India friendship has established an example for any neighbouring countries regarding bilateral ties between neighbours. Sri Lanka can learn from this example. Being a neighbouring country, Sri Lanka can follow Bangladesh’s footprint. Bangladesh and India are benefitting from this eternal tie despite having some bilateral problems between them. There might have some problems between Sri Lanka and India. But that can be resolved. Ultimately, Sri Lanka can benefit from following the ‘India-Bangladesh Eternal Ties Model’.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Bangladesh and India are two neighbouring countries of South Asia and these two countries have historically had very close relations. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, present day Bangladesh was part of the Republic of Pakistan as East Pakistan. The people of Bengal will never forget the assistance rendered by the late Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi and her Government when the people of East Bengal under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took part in the War of Independence against the West Pakistani military rule. On the other hand, India and Sri Lanka are also neighbouring countries. It is possible to make Lanka-India eternal ties in the line of India-Bangladesh eternal ties.

The role that Mrs. Indira Gandhi played in the international arena, including providing shelter and military assistance to nearly one Crore East Pakistani refugees, accelerated Bangladesh’s Independence. The generosity shown by Mrs. Indira Gandhi in withdrawing the Indian Allied forces from independence-North Bangladesh in a very short time at the request of Bangabandhu is rarely seen in the case of the newly independent countries.

The unity between the two countries since Independence has continued to this day. However, despite the existence of negative relations between Bangladesh and India for some time, the relations between the two countries have reached a certain height in the last 12 years. Many important problems have been solved in the last 12 years, including the solution of enclave problems. Relations between the two countries have been further strengthened by India’s assistance in various projects. The current regime of Sri Lanka can follow the same path of the Bangladeshi Government.

Sri Lanka and India trade ties

On an annual basis, India’s exports to Bangladesh increased by 46 per cent. As of January-March 2021, India’s total exports to Bangladesh amounted to US$ 3.16 billion. In other words, during this period, Bangladesh was the fourth largest exporter to India. Bangladesh was preceded by the United States (US$ 15.40 billion), China (US$ 5.92 billion) and the UAE (US$ 5.34 billion). Sri Lanka and India trade ties could be increased if they follow Bangladesh’s footprint in this connection.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa with Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina

What is clear from these statistics is that trade between the two countries has greatly improved. However, despite the increase in Indian exports to Bangladesh, the desired target for products exported from Bangladesh has not yet been achieved. However, since 2011, the trade deficit between the two countries has been reduced, albeit to a lesser extent, as a result of the Government of India’s decision to allow duty-free trade of Bangladeshi products in the Indian market, except for 25 products. Even then, in order to improve relations, the two Heads of Government should reach an agreement to reduce the trade deficit.

In the field of culture, very friendly relations exist between the two countries. Just as Bangladeshi cultural groups display their cultural activities in India, so Indian cultural groups often present their activities to the people of Bangladesh. Through this, a strong bridge has been created in the cultural arena of the two countries. It is worth mentioning here that since Bangladesh and India are two states of the subcontinent, there are many similarities between the cultural worlds of the two countries. Cultural ties between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh should be built on this ground. ‘The India-Bangladesh Eternal Ties’ model shows how to conduct it.

The scholarships that the Government of India has introduced for Bangladeshi students in various fields to further enhance the relations between the two countries have had a positive impact on the relations between the two countries. Along with scholarships under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Government of India has introduced scholarships for Bangladeshi students in several other sectors. Among these are the Friendship Scholarship, the Scholarship for the Children of the Freedom Fighters and the Bangabandhu Chair Scholarship on the occasion of Bangabandhu’s Birth Centenary. The fact that a large number of people from Bangladesh travel to India every year for medical treatment also sends a positive message to the relations between the two countries. There is also a rail link from Dhaka to Kolkata that facilitates seamless travel between the two countries.

Strengthen people-to-people ties

In addition, the Governments of the two countries are seriously considering launching a regional inter-country road link. If this communication starts, there will be huge potential for expansion of trade and commerce between the two countries. It is expected that this will open new doors for Bangladesh’s trade not only with India but also with the neighbouring countries. Many try to view inter-country road connectivity in a negative light, arguing that Bangladesh would then become India’s corridor.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina

Such an argument is entirely politically motivated, because if such efforts are successful in the age of globalization, it will bring benefits to both countries. Providing duty-free trade and visa-free travel with this communication link will benefit both countries as well as strengthen the people-to-people ties between the two countries as we see in Europe’s Schengen Area. Many European countries can be entered under the single Schengen visa.

There is no denying that the governments of Bangladesh and India have reached a consensus on a number of issues since the post-independence period. Important among these were the Padma water sharing agreement, the solution of enclave problems and duty-free access to goods to reduce the trade deficit. However, although the relations between the two countries are very deep, it has not been possible to reach a consensus on a number of issues so far. The most important of these are the Teesta water sharing agreement and the killings at the border.

Although the Indian Government has a positive attitude towards the Teesta water treaty, it is not possible to do so due to opposition from the West Bengal government for the completion of the contract. If this agreement is reached, it will not only have a positive impact on the relations between the two countries, but will also alleviate the suffering of the people of Northern Bangladesh due to the lack of Teesta water.

On the other hand, despite high-level talks between the two countries to reduce the number of killings on the border to zero, such killings have occasionally negatively affected relations between the two countries. The killings should be reduced, especially as the people of Bangladesh may have a negative impact on India.

Bangladesh-India relations are on such a strong foundation that many countries of the world have started envying this relationship. Various leaders are trying to bridge the gap in this relationship. The two Heads of Government should be aware of this.

We must remember that the relationship between the people of Bangladesh and India stands on a very strong foundation. Thus, the main theme of this year’s Friendship Day may be the conviction to move the relationship forward by reaching consensus on the issues on which consensus has not yet been reached.

The relationship between neighbours should follow this model. As a neighbour, Sri Lanka must follow Bangladesh’s model. Thus, we can say that Bangladesh-India eternal ties can be an ideal model for Sri Lanka as Sri Lanka and India are friendly South Asian neighbours. Then it would be possible to say ‘Sri Lanka-India Eternal Ties’.

(Jubeda Chowdhury is a freelance columnist holding a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh)

– Modern Ghana 

– Daily News Sri Lanka

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