The Indian government welcomed Sheikh Hasina,the Prime Minister of Bangladesh on April 7, 2017. During the course of her four-day visit, 22 agreements were signed on different issues – ranging from communication, defence, space to nuclear energy.
The most prominent initiative in furthering the relations was the $4.5 billion lines of credit extended to Bangladesh.This is the largest amount (in terms of lines of credit), which the Indian government has extended to any foreign government till date.
The second most important initiative was the inauguration of a bus service and the flagging of the Maitree Express-II (between Kolkata and Khulna). These moves will help improve connectivity between the people of the two nations – in turn, boosting trade and businesses in India and Bangladesh. Thus, both nations will benefit (especially, economically) due to these agreements.
Unfortunately, the bone of contention, the Teesta agreement, continues to evade mutual consensus. This is mainly because of stiff opposition from the incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in Bengal. Even though water is an indispensable commodity for people in the region, it is imperative that the Teesta issue is settled at the earliest.
The rise in temperature, unpredictability of weather patterns and severe droughts have ravaged the farmers. As Indian agriculture continues to be monsoon-dependent, water inevitably remains the determining factor in farm yield, the income of the farmers, and ultimately, the state polity. While the domestic interests of the farmers must be taken into account while sealing any agreement, the Teesta issue should not be exploited for political propriety.
One of the best ways of resolving the issue could be by creating a joint water commission, with water experts from both nations gauging the needs of people on either side of the border. Only then should a plausible water-sharing mechanism be recommended.
India, being the ‘big brother’ in this case, should lead the charge in solving the issue at the earliest. Like the 1996 Ganges treaty and the 2015 land border agreement, a resolution to the Teesta issue will significantly bolster the friendship between India and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh remains an important partner to India for furthering its Act East policy. India’s amicability with her neighbors is important if it wants to contain the growing assertiveness of China in and around Indian territories. Bangladesh has also vehemently criticised Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India, and was one of the first countries to condemn the September 19 attack at Uri.
Bangladesh shares the values of pluralism, secularism and democracy with India. At the same time, it also suffers from problems like poverty, malnutrition, natural disasters and trafficking, which also significantly affect India. Furthermore, it shares certain cultural roots with India, and is equally committed to prospering and advancing at a global level. After all, it is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). It is also an important partner in executing the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) transport corridor and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor.
With all these similarities and strategic benefits, India should continue its quest for a more healthy relationship with Bangladesh. A resolution to the Teesta issue could be a major inflection point, here.