The year 2021 was a momentous one for India and Bangladesh as they jointly celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, and the birth centenary of its Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The year began on a promising note as Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for sending over two million doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine Covishield, as a gift.
The vaccines helped Bangladesh launch its nationwide vaccination drive.
Prime Minister Modi — in his first trip to a foreign country since the COVID-19 outbreak — visited Bangladesh in March and participated in the golden jubilee of its independence from Pakistan and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu.
During the visit, which coincided with the 50th year of the establishment of diplomatic relationship between India and Bangladesh, it was decided to commemorate December 6 as ‘Maitri Diwas’ (Friendship Day).
Ten days before the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, India recognized Bangladesh on December 6, 1971. India was one of the first countries to establish bilateral diplomatic ties with Bangladesh.
”Both India and Bangladesh want to see the world progressing through their own development. Both the countries want to see stability, love, and peace instead of instability, terror, and unrest in the world,” Modi said.
In a major boost to bilateral ties, a new passenger train connecting Dhaka and West Bengal’s New Jalpaiguri was inaugurated jointly by Modi and Hasina. It was the third passenger train after Maitree Express (Dhaka-Kolkata) and Bandhan Express (Khulna-Kolkata) running between the two neighbouring countries.
Exclusively honouring Indian martyrs of the 1971 Liberation War, they jointly unveiled the foundation stone for the first memorial in this country.
Modi also reiterated India’s ”sincere and continued efforts” to conclude the long-pending Teesta water-sharing agreement in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
India and Bangladesh share a 4,096-km-long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, with West Bengal having the highest length with 2,217-kilometre.
The two countries participated in a 10-day multilateral UN-mandated counter-terrorism exercise held in Bangladesh. Bhutan and Sri Lanka also took part in the drill along with observers from the US, the UK, Turkey, Kuwait, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
In July, India and Bangladesh reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen the expanding multifaceted cooperation, as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen met in Uzbekistan and discussed a range of issues, including the bilateral and regional connectivity, COVID-19 and the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
Meanwhile, the menace of cross-border human and cattle trafficking continued to pose security threats.
In November, two Bangladeshis were shot dead at the Indo-Bangla border in West Bengal after they attacked a Border Security Force patrol party that stopped them from smuggling cattle.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen described the killings as “unfortunate”.
To consolidate bilateral ties, President Ram Nath Kovind visited Dhaka in December and attended the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan.
During the visit, Kovind said India is committed to assisting Bangladesh in its efforts to achieve strong economic growth and greater prosperity as he highlighted the ”uniquely close” bilateral relationship based on age-old ties of kinship, shared language and culture.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, during a briefing on President Kovind’s high-level meetings here, said the year 2021 has been very significant for the bilateral relationship.
”It marks the Triveni of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Bangladesh, 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries and also the 100th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. And on this occasion we’ve had the Prime Minister visit Bangladesh, we had our External Affairs Minister visit Bangladesh and now we have the President of India visit in Bangladesh.
”So it’s a rare occasion or rare conjuncture, in which we’ve had three of our senior most dignitaries visit our close and friendly neighbour in one year,” Shringla, who was earlier India’s High Commissioner in Dhaka from 2016 to 2019, said.
Commenting on the India-Bangladesh bonhomie, India’s High Commissioner in Dhaka Vikram Doraiswami called 2021 a “special year”.
“India-Bangladesh ties have undeniably reached new heights in the past few years, more so in the year 2021,” he told PTI when asked to review the bilateral ties in the outgoing year.
Doraiswami called the developments “appropriate” as the year marked the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan alongside 50th anniversary of “India’s recognition of an independent and sovereign Bangladesh” as well as Bangabandhu’s birth centenary.
Notwithstanding the pandemic, “we saw an unprecedented effort on both sides to give the relationship special significance” and “we need to build on this platform to make the partnership truly irreversible”, the envoy said.
He pointed out for the first time in recent memory, both the Indian President and the Prime Minister made state visits to Bangladesh within the same calendar year to join the celebrations as guests of honour.
“We have also had an unprecedented number of other visitors, led by External Affairs Minister (S Jaishankar), thus signifying the highest priority accorded to the best possible relationship with Bangladesh,” he said.
At a symbolic level, the two countries exchanged for the first time military marching contingents in each other’s national day parades — in January in Delhi and in December in Dhaka, Doraiswami said.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the two-way trade saw an increase as business ties remained robust. The movement of people was affected, but not stopped by the pandemic.
Even the “unprecedented, once in a century health crisis” could not largely affect the momentum in bilateral relationship; rather it saw expanded cooperation in the health sector as well with Bangladesh becoming one of first recipients of COVID vaccines from India, Doraiswami said.
Bangladesh received over 4000 MT of liquid medical oxygen via ‘oxygen express’ trains in August-September and two Liquid Medical Oxygen plants. India also received Bangladesh medicines and PPE during its devastating second wave.
“The current year has therefore been a watershed year,” Doraiswami said.
Both countries and both peoples benefit greatly from a strong and irreversible friendship, especially if it is diversified beyond government-to-government ties, he said.
“For us in India, a stable, peaceful, progressive and prosperous Bangladesh is in India’s fundamental national interest.
“Close cooperative ties across the widest possible canvas of activity is both a guarantor of development for all the countries of the eastern part of our subcontinent, but also the best means to effect such progress,” the envoy added.