India Bangladesh Relations

India Bangladesh Relations

This article deals with ‘India Bangladesh Relations.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is an important pillar of the GS-2 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.

Brief History

  • Bangladesh became  Independent in 1971 with the military & political assistance of India.  In 1970, the Bengali Awami League Party won the Pakistani National Elections. But West Pakistan refused to recognize the election results and used brutal force to suppress the agitation by the Awami League Party. This situation led to a near war scenario, with armed East-Bengalis forming the Mukti Bahini (freedom force). India’s support to the Mukti Bahini by training and the supply of arms became imminent with millions seeking refuge in India. Pakistan’s pre-emptive strike at India provided the Indian army with the much-needed excuse to attack East Pakistan. By December 1971, Bangladesh emerged as an independent state.
  • Independence was won under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. He and his party Awami League was  Anti-Pakistan (and Anti-China)  and Pro-India (and USSR). India was the first country to recognize Bangladesh as a separate and independent state and established diplomatic relations with the country immediately after its independence in December 1971. From 1971 to 1975, came the era of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman who assumed power. In 1972, India and Bangladesh signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation which became the foundation of the modern India-Bangladesh relations.
  • In 1975, Mujibur Rehman was assassinated due to a military coup by Zia-ur-Rehman. It ended the honeymoon period between Indo-Bangladesh relations. The regime thus formed was Pro-China, US & Pakistan and Anti-India & USSR. Later, he established Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) .
  • Hence, due to historical reasons, BNP has a propensity to incline its policies to favour Pakistan and China while the Awami League favours a partnership with India. The BNP is not favourably disposed to India and has at times stated that it is suspicious of India.
India Bangladesh Relations

Various aspects of Indo-Bangladesh relations

Geopolitical Importance

  • Bangladesh shares a border of 4,096 km with India (longest border of India).
  • Bangladesh can act as an outlet for the North Eastern States which are land-locked and have a shorter route to the sea through Bangladesh. Eg: Chittagong and Ashuganj ports are just 70 and 40 km from the Indo-Bangladesh border with the North-Eastern States.
  • Act-East policy: Bangladesh can act as a ‘bridge’ to India’s economic and political linkages with South East Asia.
  • Bangladesh is an integral part of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy.

Security Importance

  • Bangladesh can also help India to overcome the strategic vulnerability of Chicken Neck by providing an alternate route.
  • Bangladesh is also important for the Security of the Bay of Bengal  & tackling pirate activities.
  • Various Joint exercises of the Army ( Sampriti) and Navy (Milan) take place between the two countries.
  • Bangladesh can help to contain insurgency in the North-East.
  • In 2013, the nations also signed an extradition treaty.

Economic importance

  • Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has reached $9 billion apart from large unaccounted informal trade. But trade potential between two countries is 4 times this amount.
  • Bangladesh presents investment opportunities for Indian companies.
  • India and Bangladesh can cooperate in the blue economy(deep sea fishing, hydrocarbons, disaster management etc).
  • India is also developing business haats  (trading centres)  on Tripura-Bangladesh and Meghalaya – Bangladesh border.
  • India announced a $ 2 billion Line of Credit (LOC) for Bangladesh in 2015. The new LOC will cover projects in the areas of Roads, Railways, Power, Shipping, SEZs, Health & Medical Care and Technical Education. 

Cultural importance

  • Bangladesh is closely linked to India through its shared culture and ethnicity with West Bengal.
  • The Bengali language acts as a bridge between West Bengal, Tripura and Bangladesh.
  • Rabindranath Tagore is equally famous in Bangladesh (‘Amar Sonar Bangla’  was written by him).

Multilateral Cooperation

India and Bangladesh are co-partner in various multilateral Groups

  • Most important of which are SAARC & BIMSTEC.
  • Bangladesh supports India’s bid for observer status at OIC  and helps in countering Pakistan’s statement on Kashmir at OIC Forums. 

Energy Sector Cooperation

  • Bangladesh is an energy deficit country. India is providing 600 MW of power to Bangladesh since 2010.
  • Maitree thermal power plant is being developed as a joint venture between the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) of India and the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) at Rampal. 
  • Rooppur nuclear power plant (Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant) is being made by  Russia’s Rosatom and  Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).
  • Many Indian public sector units such as Indian Oil Corporation etc. are working with their Bangladeshi counterparts in the oil and gas sector of Bangladesh.
  • ONGC Videsh Ltd has acquired two shallow-water blocks in Bangladesh.


  • Passenger train service ‘Maitree Express’ between Kolkata and Dhaka operates 3 days a week. 
  • Regular bus services are present between Kolkata-Dhaka, Shillong-Dhaka and Agartala-Kolkata via Dhaka. 
  • Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) – Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) will significantly boost connectivity by road.

To reduce the influence of China

  • ‘Neutral’ Bangladesh helps to counter China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) strategy.


  • About 10,000 Indian citizens are estimated to be living in Bangladesh. Most are engaged in the Ready-Made Garments (RMG) sector or as professionals in MNCs, Indian or Bangladeshi companies.

Issues in Indo-Bangladesh relations 

India and  Bangladesh resolved the most contentious land boundary issue. But  there  are  still  some  contentious  issues  that need to  be  resolved

  1. Teesta  Water  Treaty:  Teesta originates in Sikkim and enters Bangladesh after passing through West Bengal. There is conflict on water sharing between West Bengal and Bangladesh.
  2. Ganga Water: Treaty was signed in 1996 but India constructed Farakka Barrage to supply water to Hooghly and in the dry season, Bangladesh doesn’t get a fair share of water. India constructed the Farakka dam in West Bengal, about 11 miles from Bangladesh’s border. India maintains that it needs the barrage for the purpose of flushing the Hooghly River to make it free from silt and therefore keep the port of Calcutta operational and also to meet the demand from Kolkata for industrial and domestic use, and for irrigation purposes in other parts of West Bengal. 
  3. Border Issue:  India and Bangladesh have a 2,979 km land border and 1,116 km of the riverine boundary. Due to the porous border, there is rampant smuggling, trafficking in arms, drugs and people.
  4. Illegal  Immigration / NRC Issue:   Historically people of Bangladesh have been moving into the region of Brahmaputra valley due to the lack of habitable and arable land in Bangladesh. India perceives this movement as illegal immigration into Indian territory. According to the NRC draft, 40 lakh people living in (just) Assam are Bangladeshis. India’s initiation of the National Registration of Citizenship and Citizen Amendment Act has ignited popular resentment in Bangladesh. 
  5. Chakma Refugee Issue: The Chakmas and Hajongs living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts fled erstwhile East Pakistan in 1964-65 since they lost their land to the development of the Kaptai Dam. In addition, they also faced religious persecution as they were non-Muslims and did not speak Bengali. They eventually sought asylum in India. The Indian government set up relief camps in Arunachal Pradesh and a majority of them continue to live there even after five decades. According to the 2011 census, 47,471 Chakmas live in Arunachal Pradesh alone.
  6. Transit  Rights  –  India wants transit rights to develop its North-East but Bangladeshis see it as an infringement of its sovereignty.
  7. Security  Concerns –  Bangladesh provides safe havens to insurgents active in North East.
  8. Tipaimukh  Hydro-Electric  Power  Project built by India on the  Barak river at the junction of Mizoram, Assam and Manipur for electricity generation (capacity = 1500 MW) and irrigation. Bangladesh says that the dam will affect the water supply downstream and affect the flow of water in summers.
  9. Rohingya crisis: There are 11 lakh Rohingyas refugees in Bangladesh. India is providing financial help to Bangladesh via ‘Operation Insaniyat’ but Bangladesh expects India to put pressure on Myanmar for the repatriation of Rohingyas.
  10. Bangladesh uses China card to supplement its bargaining capacity against India. 
  11. Growing Islamic radicalisation in Bangladesh can destabilise the Indian Subcontinent. The Islamic NGOs of foreign nations have been promoting Wahhabism in Bangladesh. Pakistan has links with many such NGOs in Bangladesh which it uses to target India.
  12. India and Bangladesh compete in some sectors like Textile in the world market.

Conclusion: India should adopt the Gujral doctrine of unilateral support to its smaller neighbours to gain their confidence especially given China’s presence.

Things done by India

  • India has played the main role in Bangladesh’s Independence.
  • Land Boundary issue solved: In 2015 the enclaves of India and Bangladesh in each other’s countries were exchanged and strip maps were signed.   India lost some land and EEZ but accepted the agreement for sake of friendship.
  • Maritime Issue solved: India accepted the settlement of the maritime boundary arbitration between India and Bangladesh, as per the UNCLOS award in 2014 where India lost a large chunk of EEZ.
  • SAARC satellite launched by India provides free access to transponders to Bangladesh.
  • The Visa  regime in India has been liberalized for  Bangladeshi tourists and businesses
  • Border Haats have been developed on Bangladesh-Meghalaya & Bangladesh – Tripura border.
  • 130 km India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline Project has been constructed for transportation of petroleum to Bangladesh.
  • India is exporting 660 MW of electricity daily, will add 500 MW more.
  • India provides duty-free, quota-free access for Bangladeshi exports to India.
  • India also gives a line of credits and loans to Bangladesh and provides developmental aid.
  • Indian companies are investing in Bangladesh. Eg: Tata is establishing a three billion USD steel plant in Bangladesh.

Issue: Teesta Water Dispute

54 rivers pass from India to   Bangladesh. Being a lower riparian state, Bangladesh is affected by dams built on them.

About Teesta

Teesta Issue
  • Teesta originates in Sikkim & after passing through West Bengal, it enters Bangladesh
  • It is very important for irrigation on both sides.
  • The problem arises due to the severe shortage of water in the dry months.


  • India has built three Projects on Teesta like Gajoldoba Barrage (in Jalpaigudi) to divert water to other areas. As a result, Indian regions started to prosper but Bangladeshis are raising voice against this.
  • Radical Islamic Parties like Jamaat-i-Islami is using this issue to consolidate people against Sheikh Hasina.
  • In 2011,  Teesta Accord was drafted which proposed to divide Teesta waters between India & Bangladesh in the ratio 50:50%respectively. But, West Bengal Government is acting as an impediment to signing this Accord.

Importance of Teesta Accord for India

  • PM Hasina is an important ally of India who has adopted a zero-tolerance policy against Anti-Indian terror outfits and has helped India in containing the influence of China in the Bay of Bengal region. Signing the deal will consolidate her position in Bangladeshi polity.
  • Not signing such a deal give oxygen to radical elements. Jamiat-e-Islami is becoming powerful by portraying Sheikh Hasina as a puppet of India.

Bangladesh’s trust in India will increase if there are more water-sharing agreements.

Teesta & Indian Internal Politics

  • Teesta is the “lifeline” of north Bengal; ruling parties have never touched it for fear of losing the northern base. 

China Factor in Bangladesh 

  • Bangladesh is part of the One Belt One Road (OBOR project) & has also attended the OBOR Summits.
  • China is increasing its Defence Partnership with Bangladesh => recently Bangladesh procured two submarines from Beijing.
  • China is using Bangladesh as an outlet for Kunming Province by investing Chittagong Port Project).
  • Bangladesh is part of the BCIM project.
  • China is financing 25 energy projects in Bangladesh including  Bangladesh’s 2nd Nuclear power plant.
  • Bangabandhu-1, the first communication satellite of Bangladesh will be launched with Chinese help.
  • As part of its soft diplomacy, China is training Bangladeshi personnel, including Chinese language teachers.

But points in Indian favour

  • During the freedom struggle,  Communist China helped Pakistan and opposed the creation of Bangladesh.
  • China also cast a veto in the Security Council to block new Bangladesh’s entry into the United Nations.
  • The issue of China building dams on the Brahmaputra unilaterally impacts Bangladesh as well.

New Moore Island Issue

  • New Moore Island is a small uninhabited offshore sandbar landform in the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta region. It emerged in the Bay of Bengal in the aftermath of the Bhola cyclone in 1970 and disappeared at some later point. For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh have argued over control of a tiny rock island in the Bay of Bengal but later in 2010, the rising sea levels have resolved the dispute for them as the island was submerged.
  • New Moore Island, in the Sundarbans, has been completely submerged. Its disappearance has been confirmed by satellite imagery and sea patrols. Bangladesh was using the argument of extension of its continental shelf according to which it can demand up to 350 NM EEZ.  Although the island was uninhabited and there were no permanent settlements or stations located on it, both India and Bangladesh claimed sovereignty over it because of speculation over the existence of oil and natural gas in the region.
  • The Resolution: In the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PAC), the dispute was settled in July 2014 by a final verdict not open to appeal and in favour of Bangladesh. The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) verdict awarded Bangladesh with 19,467 km2 out of 25,000 km2 disputed area with India in the Bay of Bengal. However, New Moore Island has fallen in India’s part of the Bay of Bengal.
New Moore Island Issue

Land Boundary Agreement

  • When India became independent, Sir Radcliffe demarcated the boundary between India and Pakistan as well as India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). While dividing the territory in East Pakistan, Radcliffe did not pay attention to small patches of land called ‘enclaves’.
  • These enclaves were, in the pre-independence era, called Chitmahals and they were used by the Raja of Cooch Behar and Maharaja of Rangpur as stakes in the game of chess. In 1947, kings were asked whether to join India or Pakistan (Cooch Bihar joined India and Rangpur joined Pakistan (now Bangladesh)). Hence, Feudal belonging of land in earlier times  is the genesis of the problem
Indo-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement

Timeline of Events

1958 Nehru-Noon Agreement to solve this issue but didn’t fructify because of deterioration in the situation.   
1974 Awami League was in power.  Mujibur Rehman and Indira Gandhi went for Land Boundary Agreement.
– In this, physical exchange of enclaves was to take place.
– But this needed ratification by Parliament with Special Majority.
– Bangladesh ratified this but India failed.
1975 Mujibur Rehman was assassinated.  
1982 Until complete exchange takes place, India decided to give a corridor known as Tin Bagha Corridor on lease so that Bangladeshis can use that to come to their enclaves. It was opposed by most of the opposition parties.  
2011 & 2015   2011: Awami League came to power (Congress Government in India at that time ).
– India and Bangladesh agreed on a protocol that required Constitutional Amendment. This was passed in 2015 (100th Constitutional Amendment Act ).
As per this protocol, India gave 111 enclaves and Bangladesh gave 51 enclaves. 
– People living in these enclaves were given the following options
1. They can choose to stay back and acquire new citizenship status.
2. Or can leave the enclave and go back to the country whose citizenship they have.  

Potentials & prospects

  • North-East India, Bangladesh & Myanmar should create a tourist circuit.
  • Bangladesh is an electricity deficient country.  The hydropower potential of northeastern states and  Bhutan can be harnessed to satisfy the need of Bangladesh. 
  • India can jointly develop Bangladeshi ports  (like Ashuganj)  to connect them with our northeast.
  • BIMSTEC  and  SAARC  have opened up avenues for the multilateral exchange of goods and services.
  • India and Bangladesh can cooperate on climate change as West Bengal and Bangladesh are low lying areas and will face large scale submergence of land due to ocean level rise.

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