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TOPIC: General Studies 2
- India and its neighbourhood
In News: PM Modi’s first foreign visit after the COVID-19 pandemic to Bangladesh is a reiteration of his government’s focus on the neighbourhood. As Bangladesh celebrates two momentous events — 50 years of its independence, and the centenary of Bangabandhu — PM Modi’s visit to Dhaka, assumes great significance. The visit is not just an acknowledgement of the sacrifices made by the people in both countries to gain freedom, but also a commitment to advance the visionary worldview of Bangabandhu.
India and Bangladesh have historically enjoyed a good relationship. Bangladesh was formerly East Pakistan. It became a part of Pakistan when the Britain divided the subcontinent into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan in 1947. But in 1971, Bangladesh fought for its independence from Pakistan and with the help of Indian military intervention, it became a separate country.
Underlining theme and significance of the visit
Analysing the relationship between the two countries in the light of the boundary accord and the spirit of cooperation and collaboration clearly highlights that India’s attitude towards Bangladesh does not stop at respect and friendship for its eastern neighbour, but also touches on other crucial aspects such as better connectivity, energy, cross-border trade, health and education. Bangladesh was among the first countries to receive Indian COVID-19 vaccines under the “Vaccine Maitri” mission.
Connectivity is the core principle of PM Modi’s outreach to Bangladesh. It will energise people-to-people contact. India restored four out of the six pre-1965 cross-border rail links with Bangladesh and the remaining two shall be completed soon. The development of three other rail links is also on the anvil. The two countries are planning to double air connectivity to 120 flights a week, which has, unfortunately, been delayed due to the complications arising out of the pandemic. India and Bangladesh are also working on shared waterways for promoting trade and transport, which has seen India assisting in the dredging and deepening of over 450 km of riverways in Bangladesh.
Cooperation in the power & energy sectors: The countries are also cooperating in the power and energy sectors. India is focusing on enhancing investments and creating capacity as well as infrastructure for strengthening sub-regional cooperation in power and energy connectivity. Such an effort will also help in optimum utilisation of resources in the two nations and boost trade and travel. The agreements in the oil and gas sector, road transport, medical and education, port development, space programme, artificial intelligence, civil nuclear cooperation are going to add new dimensions to the Indo-Bangla ties.
Boosting Regional cooperation: PM Modi’s efforts are focused on encouraging and facilitating travel between the neighbours which will not only boost business and commerce, but will also have a spillover effect on education, medical treatment and tourism. The active collaboration and cooperation between India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan under the BBIN Group is yet another initiative of PM Modi in boosting regional cooperation. Cross-border connectivity and economic linkages will play a crucial role as the world, along with India and Bangladesh, comes together to chart out a roadmap to deal with the death and devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
MoUs Signed recently
India and Bangladesh recently signed 5 MoUs in the fields of Disaster Management, trade, NCC, ICT and setting up of sports facilities recently.
- Foundation stone was laid for infrastructure development for power evacuation facilities from the Rooppur Nuclear power plant.
- The Bangladesh leg of the Banagabandhu-Bapu Digital Exhibition was inaugurated by the two Prime Ministers. It will be taken to other parts of the world including the UN.
- Both the leaders also unveiled the foundation stone for the construction of a memorial at Ashuganj honoring the martyrs of Indian armed forces in the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.
- India gifted 109 life support ambulances to Bangladesh and also 1.2 million doses of the Covishield vaccine.
- Three border haats were also opened along the India-Bangladesh border.
- A direct passenger train named ‘Mitali Express’ will run between Dhaka and New Jalpaiguri.
- Indian Prime Minister invited 50 young entrepreneurs from Bangladesh to connect with India’s start up ecosystem
- 1000 Subarno Jayanti Scholarships were announced for the Bangladeshi students to study in India at the Undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
- A Bangabandhu Chair will be established at Delhi University to facilitate Bangladesh studies.
- Both countries agreed to start a new area of cooperation in the Civil nuclear and space sectors.
Following places were visited by Indian Prime Minister on his Bangladesh visit:
- Birthplace of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Tungipara.
- Jeshoreshwari temple in Satkhira.
- Harimandir in Orakandi and addressed the representatives of the Matua community.
The Protest and Violence that followed
A group of Muslim worshippers held a protest on 26 March after Friday prayers at a mosque in the city. Soon, clashes erupted and police used tear gas and batons to disperse the crowd. Protests then spread to other parts of the country and a hardline Islamist group, Hefazat-e-Islam, called for a nationwide shut down on 28 March to protest the attacks on those who held rallies against Mr Modi’s visit. Dhaka and the eastern district of Brahmanbaria witnessed some of the worst violence. Buses, a train, a Hindu temple and several properties were damaged.
The protests were led by Islamists, students of madrassas (religious schools) and left-wing groups opposed to Mr Modi’s visit to Bangladesh. They accused him of pursuing anti-Muslim policies. But why?
Recent Elections & NRC:
- In recent election campaigns in the border states of West Bengal and Assam, Mr Modi and other senior BJP leaders have often raised the issue of alleged unauthorised immigration from Bangladesh. Bangladeshi officials have denied the accusation. In a 2019 election rally, Home Minister Amit Shah described illegal immigrants as “termites”, adding that the BJP government would “pick up infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal”. Mr Shah’s comments drew sharp criticism from rights groups and triggered anger in Bangladesh too. But the repeated references to unauthorised Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, especially during polarising election campaigns, have caused resentment in Dhaka. Ms Hasina’s government, which is seen as pro-India by the opposition, is facing domestic pressure.
- In 2019, Mr Modi’s government passed a contentious citizenship law that would give asylum to religious minorities fleeing persecution from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. By definition, that does not include Muslims.The Citizenship Amendment Act was seen as anti-Muslim and it drew widespread criticism from India’s opposition parties and rights groups. Ms Hasina went on the defensive and denied that minorities were fleeing Bangladesh due to religious persecution. Hindus constitute around 8% of Bangladesh’s population of more than 160 million. At one point Bangladesh even cancelled a few high-profile ministerial visits to India following domestic criticism of the citizenship law and a proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). The final NRC in Assam has left out nearly two million, including Hindus and Muslims, who ostensibly lacked sufficient documentation to prove that they were not unauthorised immigrants from Bangladesh. Hindu hardliners want the Muslims who have not made it to the list to be deported to Bangladesh.
Border Issues: Another thorn in the bilateral relationship is the killing of Bangladeshi civilians along the border by Indian security forces. Rights groups allege that more than 300 people have been killed since 2011 and the shootings have triggered widespread anger in Bangladesh.Indian officials say most of those killed are smugglers from criminal gangs. But Bangladesh maintains that many of the victims were civilians. Activists point out that despite repeated assurances from Delhi, the killings have not stopped.
Connecting the dots:
- India-Bangladesh shares a healthy relationship which encourages competition as well as complimentary behaviour. Analyse.
- Issues related to water resources between India and Bangadesh.