by Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd)

On 31 December 2018, when all Indians were getting ready to usher in the new year of 2019 with full gusto, Bangladeshis were voting for their next government to be for five years. Lo and behold it was once again Sheikh Hasina who romped in with absolute majority, leaving main opposition, the anti-Indian Gatbandhan of BNP and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami far behind. She suffered no anti-incumbency and all other rhetoric’s of general elections. While this brought smiles to Indians and those Bangladeshis who love their country, nevertheless these results did give unnatural heart beats to BNP, Jamaat and their supporters in Pakistan. Let us not feel shy in saying that India has been an enthusiastic cheer leader of Sheikh Hasina, always supporting her at her time of need. She also has reciprocated our gesture by being conscious to our security concerns and unlike the BNP Bangladeshi Government of Khalida Zia, did not give any shelter to Indian insurgents trying to hide or set up camps in Bangladesh.

Agreed that bulk of Bangladeshi Armed Forces are equipped with Chinese arms and that Bangladesh has ordered two submarines from china, but that is their concern. We also have arms both from Russia and US however that does not mean that we are firmly in US or Russian camps. India wants to secure Bay of Bengal for itself, without china playing a major role in it, this we are achieving with the help of Bangladesh by investing heavily in Bangladeshi ports of Mongla, Payra and Chittagong. All these ports have economic and security concerns for both the countries. India understands that by and large Bangladesh prosperity is in the Indian interests. Sheikh Hasina has also understood this equation and has capitalised on it for her countries benefit. Successive Indian Governments have been happy to help her, as she cooperated with India on Indian security concerns and India cooperated with her on her development agenda. The relations between the two countries became even more honky dory after both countries got over their enclave problems and got their land and maritime boundary fixed. Now with Sheik Hasina at the helm, at least for next five years India will face no major problem with Bangladesh.

However, there is one issue still pending with Bangladesh and that is sharing of river waters. Mamata Banerjee, the current CM of West Bengal is adamant in not sharing Teesta River waters with Bangladesh. As she is prepared to share waters of other rivers and in any case due to silting Teesta is almost a rivulet and no more a river, So India should try and convince Bangladesh that let us share river waters where there is no problem. Teesta issue, which this Mamta lady has made a prestige issue, may be broached later. Yes, Sheikh Hasina blundered in accepting Rohingya Muslims who had been thrown out of Myanmar Rakhine province, where they belong to. These millions of Rohingyas in Bangladesh are now not ready to go back to Myanmar. Today Muslim countries of the world are sending lot of aid to Bangladesh to help out these Rohingyas but for how long? already this aid is drying up. So, what will Bangladesh do? India has given humanitarian aid to Rohingyas now in Bangladesh and have constructed houses for Rohingyas in Myanmar to enable them to go back, but they are not going. Already this Rohingya pressure is building in Cox Bazar in Bangladesh, where bulk of them are housed. Locals are not liking these Rohingyas and the goodies of aid from Muslim countries going to them. Another problem is their radicalisation, the very reason they were hounded out of Myanmar. This radicalisation is growing very fast in Bangladeshi refugee camps. All sorts of jihadis are making their foothold count in these refugee camps. Even though under international pressure Myanmar has accepted to take back a limited number of these Rohingyas, however the process is very slow. The Islamic world of 50 Muslim countries are not saying anything to Myanmar because their tongues are tied. China has put a million Uighur Muslims of their Xin Xiang province in concentration camps. None of these Muslim countries dare annoy China. So now Sheikh Hasina firmly back in saddle must act tough with these Rohingyas and send them back to their country.

Coming back to Indo-Bangladesh relations. India must go all out to enhance with Bangladesh road connectivity, inland water ways, coastal shipping and development of more ports. What will be a win win situation for both countries will be to jointly develop meat production and processing capability? Today in India, especially in cow belt of central India, there is a big problem of non-milch cows and buffalo’s being thrown out by farmers on streets, who eat away the produce of small farmers. Now only solution is that such non-productive animals are exported to Bangladesh for meat processing. This will not hurt feelings of a large section of Indian population. All in all, today the relations between India and Bangladesh are on solid keel, we should further find ways and means to further strengthen our relations.

Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd) is a distinguished Defence and Strategic Analyst. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN. IDN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same