Deepening ties with Dhaka | HT Editorial
For India, each neighbour is important — for political, cultural, economic and security reasons. If there is an open border and special relationship with Nepal, there is a deep friendship and strategic trust with Bhutan. If Sri Lanka is crucial to India’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean as well as stability in south India, Pakistan is important, largely because of its track record of hostility and terrorism. But if there is one neighbour where all of India’s interests converge, it is Bangladesh. The future of India’s Act East policy, stability and development in the Northeast, economic integration in the larger region, climate crisis, cross-border flow of people, and peace and security are contingent on ties with Dhaka.
Over the past decade, if there is one success of India’s neighbourhood policy, it is this relationship. And this is primarily due to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s clear strategic outlook — she has respected India’s security needs, and in turn, Delhi has backed her, both politically, even at the cost of turning a blind eye to Bangladesh’s democratic backsliding, and economically. And in this, there has been continuity from Manmohan Singh to Narendra Modi, who is visiting Bangladesh to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Liberation War and 100th birth anniversary of Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman, Ms Hasina’s late father. There remain issues, of course, from India’s inability to seal a Teesta water-sharing deal to Beijing’s enhanced push in Bangladesh. But the big picture remains of enhanced cordiality and connectivity.
To sustain this, however, India needs to make a careful distinction between the bilateral relationship and the domestic political imperatives of the ruling party. The discourse around the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens alienated the Dhaka street, and generated pressure on Ms Hasina to take a critical approach towards India. While Dhaka has calmed tempers, thanks to India’s assurance that this is a purely internal matter, the framing of the issue remains a sore point. PM Modi is also planning to visit an important Matua temple, perhaps with an eye to the community’s importance in the West Bengal elections. While this shows the depth of cross-border relations, a bilateral visit must not become a tool for domestic electoral signalling. Respecting each other’s sovereignty and interests, within an inclusive, connected and democratic region, is the best road map for the future.