The relations between India and Bangladesh have experienced ups and downs since independence. India is the largest democratic country as well as a growing economic superpower in the world. It is our biggest neighbour and liberation war friend.
Kautilyan foreign policy offers the theory that “an immediate neighbouring state is an enemy and a neighbour’s neighbour, separated from oneself by the intervening enemy, is a friend.”
We have to contemplate the above dictum because it is somewhat likely to be acceptable between our two neighbours and vice versa.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that Indian foreign policy is still revolving around the Kautilya discourse. Quincy Wright said that diplomacy is the art of employment of tactics, shrewdness and skill in any negotiation or transaction. It goes without saying that, no diplomacy can be effective without any befitting military power to back it up.
Kautilya also wrote that power was the only means to ensure friendly relations with other countries. If Bangladesh were a strong military power, it would have been involved in fighting with India more than once over the water conflict.
Bangladesh is a country which does not pose a threat to India. India has got everything they want from Bangladesh. Now it is the time for introspection on our relations over different issues which demand extra explanation.
The facts are not being painted over; we got a lot of things from India since independence. But the mainly disputed issues have actually not been solved yet.
We have signed an agreement regarding the issue of the Farakka barrage but we are not getting sufficient amounts of water, which causes drought in the northern districts of Bangladesh. There have been widespread allegations that we are not getting enough water even with the consonance of the treaty.
We had a land boundary agreement in 1974 which was supposed to solve the enclave problems but this agreement has not been implemented yet. India has been killing our citizens like birds for nothing. Sharing of Teesta water remains uncertain after the then newly elected chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, refused to approve the treaty.
Apart from that, the UN International Law Commission in its Article 7 also emphasises that states shall utilise an international river in an equitable and reasonable manner. Therefore, it is a legal right of Bangladesh to get equitable share with regard to water sharing.
Fortunately, Bangladesh is not a big country like America or the other superpowers; if so, I am sure Bangladesh would have fought over Teesta waters.
On the other hand, we have a huge trade deficit with India and our products have to face a non-tariff barrier when it’s being exported from Bangladesh to India.
As far as our constitution is concerned, the state shall base its international relations on the principles of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlement of international disputes, and respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter.
We want a relation where respect, dignity, mutual understanding, and a “give and take policy” will be the main basis to continue our relations. But whatever we have seen since 1971, it is not called friendship.
Now, the question is why are we not getting fair treatment from the Indian side? The obvious answer is that we do not have any bipartisan foreign policy in terms of our interest. The irony is that our mainstream political parties have failed to define what our main interest is.
It is worthwhile to mention here that, with the change of regime our foreign policy with India also changes. However, Indian foreign policy is more or less the same whatever party comes into the power. There can be polarisation, there can be difference, and there should be criticism among our political parties. But our political leadership should forge a consensus on important issues, for instance when it comes to our national interests.
Our political parties should be careful and need to identify what our main national interests are. At the same time our defence force should be modernised and sophisticated. Otherwise, what would happen is what the famous Bengali song says: “Tumi Arekbar Ashia Jao More Kandaiya.”
Bangladesh and India relations over the years are the reflection of a hegemonic role in south Asia. If India wishes to continue its relationship with Bangladesh, it needs to take a good second look. A hegemonic stance by India would have significant impact on Indo-Bangladesh relations.