India-Bangladesh Relations in a New Height for the Leadership of Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina

Hiren Pandit: Relations between independent Bangladesh and its neighbor India began with India’s recognition of Bangladesh on 6 December 1971. That relationship reached a different height through the diplomatic wisdom and ideological leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi. In his speech delivered at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on February 7, 1972, Bangabandhu said, ‘I firmly believe that India-Bangladesh friendship will remain forever. No power in the world can break this alliance. Bangabandhu laid the foundation for the relationship between the two countries based on respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, democratic norms, and values.

Cultural, social, and economic ties between India and Bangladesh, as well as history, culture, language, tradition, and arts, are similar, so the passion of the people of the two countries is almost the same. Although India became directly involved in the war for Bangladesh at the end of the Liberation War in 1971, it kept its border open since the beginning of the genocide of Bengalis by the Pakistanis. About one crore people left their homes and took refuge in India to escape the brutality. Despite many difficulties, the Government of India provided shelter and food to the people oppressed by the war for nine months.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is following the diplomatic relations path shown by Bangabandhu. Due to the strategic situation, both countries have priority in each other’s foreign policy. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony as Prime Minister of India. On the evening of 9 June 2024, Sheikh Hasina and her daughter Saima Wazed participated in the oath-taking ceremony at the President’s House in New Delhi. More than eight thousand dignitaries attended the event, including the heads of state of Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Mauritius, and Sicily. Later, they attended President Draupadi Murmur’s banquet at the President’s House.

NDA chief Narendra Modi has been sworn in as India’s prime minister for the third time. No Prime Minister except Jawaharlal Nehru has been sworn in three times in a row. Seventy-two cabinet members also took oath in the oath ceremony.

Although Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge was present at the event, Trinamool Congress leader West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not attend. President Draupadi Murmu administered the oath to Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister at 7:15 PM local time. Along with Modi, 72 members of his cabinet were also sworn in at the event. Thirty of them are cabinet ministers.

There are five ministers of state with independent responsibility. Along with the BJP, 11 allies have been given ministerial posts. Forty-three ministers have served three or more times. Of the 72 ministers, 39 are said to have served in the previous government.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, was surrounded by tight security at the event. Earlier, she paid a courtesy call to 96-year-old senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani at his residence. High Commissioner of Bangladesh in India Mustafizur Rahman said, “In the meeting, the two leaders talked about their issues; apart from this, they exchanged cordiality and cherished memories.” Then, in the evening, the Prime Minister attended the swearing-in ceremony as the third foreign leader with her daughter Saima Wazed.

The BJP did not get a single majority in the elections this time. So, the BJP has to depend to a large extent on NDA’s partner parties to form the government. However, the BJP has retained “important” ministries like Home, External Affairs, Defense, Finance, Education and Culture. Several other vital ministries have been distributed, among others, Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP, Nitish Kumar’s JDU, Chirag Paswan’s LJP(R), Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena, HD Deve Gowda’s JDS and Jayant Chowdhury’s RLD.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Bangladesh, where the foreign minister accompanied the Prime Minister in New Delhi. Dr. Hasan Mahmud told reporters this. Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Mustafizur Rahman and Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Nayeemul Islam Khan were with the Foreign Minister then. Minister Hasan Mahmud told reporters at the ITC Maurja Hotel in the Indian capital New Delhi that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had a private meeting with Narendra Modi after the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India for the third time. She congratulated Narendra Modi and the NDA alliance for the election victory on this occasion.

Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi held an exclusive meeting at Hyderabad House on Monday morning. The two leaders sat for the first time after coming to power. Diplomatic sources say that in the private discussions of the two prime ministers, the issue of advancing the relations between the two countries in the continuation of recent years is essential. Sheikh Hasina’s planned bilateral visit to India was also discussed.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to visit India by the end of this month. In the meeting at the President’s House, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her sincere interest in working with the new government of Narendra Modi to strengthen the ties between the two countries, the foreign minister said.

Dr. Hasan Mahmud said that under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bangladesh-India relations have reached a new height, and Bangladesh and India, as the closest neighbors, have many work opportunities.

We have to work together to develop both countries further, including developing communication infrastructure to increase people-to-people connections. In the meeting, the two leaders expressed hope for strengthening the existing bilateral relations in the coming days. Dr. Mahmud said, “In a very warm and friendly atmosphere, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh invited her Indian counterpart to visit Bangladesh at a convenient time in the meeting held at President House.”

Under the visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi, bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India have reached new heights. Narendra Modi has been running his country for the past ten years, and Sheikh Hasina has been running hers for 16 years. Regarding each other’s expectations and achievements, the foreign minister said Bangladesh and India have a multifaceted relationship.

He said, ‘Many issues are involved between the two countries. Since both governments continue to run the country, there are advantages to working together. The people of both countries benefit from various aspects, including communication and friendly relations between the two countries. The foreign minister hoped, “Our multi-dimensional relations will expand and deepen in the future.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met Rajya Sabha, Member of Parliament of India and Chairperson of Congress Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi, and her son, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi. On the afternoon of June 10, they met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the ITC Maurja Hotel.

Sonia Gandhi’s daughter and Indian National Congress Party General Secretary, Priyanka Gandhi, was present. In a cordial atmosphere, the Prime Minister held a private discussion with the Gandhi family. Union Minister of India S Jaishankar met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina right after this meeting. The foreign minister, Hasan Mahmud, briefed reporters about the two meetings later. The meeting of Indian Union Minister S Jaishankar with the Prime Minister was also heartwarming, the Foreign Minister said, recalling the sincerity of S Jaishankar when he was the Foreign Minister of India.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated him on his re-election as a minister and expressed the intention to work together. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will revisit India at the end of this month. Analysts believe Sheikh Hasina’s participation in Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony before that visit and the separate meeting with Modi have different significance.

According to them, this indicates the close relationship between the Awami League and Modi governments. It has been seen even before the election of Bangladesh. It will be seen in the future. However, they feel that the future will tell how much Bangladesh will benefit from this or how useful it will be in solving various unresolved issues. A change of government in India usually does not change much in its foreign policy. And in India, the government has not changed in that sense. Modi is back in power. India has a consensus on foreign policy. And it is more determined about Bangladesh. Even if the party changes, there will be no change in Bangladesh’s policy. An item may be highlighted based on people’s expectations or needs.

The government has not changed in any of the two countries. There may have been some ministers from the coalition. It won’t make a big difference. The relationship between the two countries will remain as it is. When the Awami League came to power in 2008, Congress was in power in India. Congress was in power in India for one term of the Awami League. Modi came to power in 2014. At that time, many people thought that the Awami League would face many difficulties if Modi came to power. There was no problem. The relationship with India is good when the Awami League is in power. This relationship is ancient.

This relationship will be better. There is no reason for that to change. Any incident in neighboring India is vital for Bangladesh. Bangladesh was united under the successful leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur, the father of the Bengali nation, resulting in a single majority for the Awami League in the 1970 elections. But when they tried to rule by force without handing over the power, the great liberation war started at the call of Bangabandhu. At that time, India stood by the helpless people.

With direct support, Indira Gandhi’s historic role in shaping international public opinion and motherly behavior, the Bengali nation defeated the mightiest armies in the world.

It snatched away the country’s independence in a very short time. Just as the national elections of Bangladesh became essential to India, the elections of India also became necessary to Bangladesh. In various calculations, the Bengali support party was favored.

Democratic conduct in India’s national elections is now a model worldwide. The country with which they have maintained the closest relations during the last three governments under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the country that has gained the most importance in Bangladesh’s foreign policy is undoubtedly India. This continuity will likely continue in the new term of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

On the other hand, Bangladesh’s importance in India’s foreign policy has gradually increased in the last decade and a half. Officially, India has repeatedly said Bangladesh is its ‘friendliest neighbor’ in South Asia. During this time, incredible progress can be seen in the talks between India and Bangladesh on security, defense, connectivity, water sharing of common rivers, land and maritime disputes settlement, cooperation in the power and energy sector, etc.

Sheikh Hasina handled the situation wisely and maintained a balanced diplomacy with India and China. Bangladesh needs China in the development process at the moment. There is no reason to think this will become a headache for India. Bangladesh must understand this fact as a good friend and neighbor of India. Sheikh Hasina’s government will never allow any power to use the territory of Bangladesh for anti-India activities. This fact has been proven since the Awami League government formed in 1996.

The government still maintains this policy, and India believes in it. Ignoring China’s opinion, Bangladesh has expressed interest in joining the ‘Quad’ alliance. Bangladesh feels that participation in this alliance is necessary for its economic development. Not only the Great War of Liberation, the Indian Prime Minister also played an essential role in the release of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was imprisoned in Pakistan after the surrender of the Pakistani forces. The Pakistani government was forced to release Father of the Nation.

Bangabandhu within a very short period as global public opinion was formed for his welfare. Bangabandhu did not forget this debt. On his way back to Dhaka from Pakistan via London, he landed in Delhi to meet Indira Gandhi. Sitting on Indian soil, he expressed his gratitude to the Indian government and the people of that country for their sincere support in the liberation war of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu took back the Indian soldiers who helped in the liberation war. The activities of the US ambassador regarding the elections held at the beginning of 2024 were remarkable. They also tried to get the support of Bangladesh’s powerful neighbor, India. The Narendra Modi government did not respond to their calls.

In addition, they have shown a friendly stance against foreign interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. Besides, India was the first to help us with vaccinations during the coronavirus pandemic. In the last decade, Narendra Modi has become one of the world leaders on his merits.

He has taken India to a unique height in world politics through the right foreign policy. From a tea seller, this Indian leader has established himself as the undisputed leader of India in a lengthy political journey. His mature politics has brought the BJP to power three times in a row.

The writer is an essayist, researcher & columnist

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