India-Bangladesh Ties: Aiming new horizons

(Dr. Shujaat Ali Quadri)

A positive news for the year 2024 came in the form of Sheikh Hasina’s fourth straight victory and re-election as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The victory will also make her the longest serving Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The outgoing term had not been an easy one for Hasina as she battled extremist forces, international pressure while consistently working towards economic progress as regional stability. The January 2024 polls had been one of the most challenging contests in Bangladesh’s electoral history given the widespread international support and sympathies for the opposition forces which had not shied away from perpetrating violent attacks on the Awami League leaders in the past. In light of the political instabilities that embattled Bangladesh since the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Awami League, under Hasina’s leadership has come a long way in putting the country on the path of progress.

To begin with, Hasina’s reign witnessed a widespread crackdown on the Jamaat e Islami which was at the forefront of the 1971 genocide of intellectuals and the Hindu minorities. Over the years, the Jamaat found a common cause with the global Salafi movements that became a great to the world since 9/11. The Awami League lent an unconditional support to India’s concerns on extremist and insurgent movements that once found patronage under the previous regimes.

On the economic front, with an average GDP growth rate of around 6.5% between 2016 and 2023, Bangladesh emerged as a promising destination for economic stability and progress and its growth rate outpaced many other successful Asian economies, a World Bank report noted. The World Bank also noticed a visible decline in the poverty rate from 11.8% in 2010 to 5% in 2022.
While challenges remain, it is imperative that Bangladesh and India continue to deepen their cooperation towards shared progress and unleashing South Asia’s regional economic potential.

Today, 12% of Bangladesh’s total exports go to India. The victory of the NDA government also played a significant role in enhancing mutual trust. Between 2015 and 2017, India extended 7 billion in soft credit and 500 million in grants for energy and large scale infrastructure projects. With the completion of two units of Maitree Power Plant by 2023, the collaborative efforts added over 2600 MW power generation capacity at the cost of over $3.6 billion. To strengthen regional currencies and reduce the forex pressures, the two countries also agreed to settle trade transactions in Rupee and Taka. Inaugurated in 2023,the Akhaura-Agartala railway line connected Bangladesh with India’s northeast for the first time.

The importance of Bangladesh was evident during the G-20 Summit in September 2023 where Prime Minister Hasina was invited as a special guest. In her speech, Hasina spoke on working for the larger causes like Climate Change and SDGs and prioritised working towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda over all other issues. She subsequently delved into the need for a blueprint for LDCs to transition into developed economies, women empowerment and South-South cooperation, implying that Bangladesh is ready to ideate as well as cooperating on issues concerning the humanity at large.

In the broader international scheme, Bangladesh has even found a compatible synergy with India’s Act East vision as well its Indo-Pacific strategy and it is for this purpose India has vociferously endorsed Bangladesh as its primary regional ally. Dhaka’s progressive approach towards regional integration and its zero-tolerance policy on terrorism could potentially become a guiding light for the global south and other developing economies working towards attaining political stability. In turn, Bangladesh has strong expectations from the international community to acknowledge the challenges it faces. The nation’s demographic dividend awaits realization of its full potential, its fragile ecosystems need urgent action to be saved and finally the efforts on repatriating Rohingya refugees need to be intensified. And Finally, the Awami League’s efforts in curbing the Jamaat e Islami’s influence must be acknowledged as a successful deradicalization and anti-terror strategy which needs to be incorporated by other nations that face similar challenges.

(The Author is the Chairman of the Muslim Students Organisation and Community Leader)

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