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Restoring broken transportation links and free trade could define next stage of India-Bangladesh ties

President Ram Nath Kovind attending December 16 celebrations in Dhaka

Amid celebrations marking December 16—Vijay Diwas — not just for Bangladesh but also for India, the two neighbours reiterated the need to work closely on issues relating to connectivity and economic co-operation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who earlier described Bangladesh as a “soho jatri” or a co-traveller, tweeted, “On the 50th Vijay Diwas, I recall the great valour and sacrifice by the Muktijoddhas, Biranganas and bravehearts of the Indian Armed Forces. Together we fought and defeated oppressive forces. He added that President Ram Nath Kovind’s presence in Dhaka to be part of the celebrations honouring 50 years of independence “is of special significance to every Indian.”  

“The future of India and Bangladesh are tied and intertwined with each other,” Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, who served as air commodore in Bangladesh’s Air Force said in an exclusive interview to India Narrative.

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The focus for the governments of both countries has been on a host of bilateral issues relating primarily to connectivity including resuming transboundary rail links and opening up inland waterways which would in turn boost trade. Analysts said that these initiatives need to be formalised and concluded at the earliest.

According to the World Bank, seamless transport connectivity between India and Bangladesh has the potential to increase national income by as much as 17 per cent in Bangladesh and 8 per cent in India.

Future relationship between the two countries that share a 4096 kilometre long border have to be based in mutual understanding and progress. “Ours is a joint celebration,” Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International told India Narrative. “It has to be a two way process and a win-win for both nations, for India to prosper economically and socially, Bangladesh has to be taken on board and vice versa,” he added

In 2020, India and Bangladesh resumed rail services between Haldibari in West Bengal and Chilahati located across the border after 55 years.

The two countries are looking at starting train services between Agartala in India and Akhaura, Gede (India) – Darshana, Singhabad (India)-Rohanpur (Bangladesh), Radhikapur (India)–Birol (Bangladesh). Besides, connectivity through waterways is also on the cards. 

A boost in rail and road links between India and Bangladesh will not only enhance bilateral ties but will also enhance connectivity for New Delhi with the north-eastern part while reducing emerging geopolitical vulnerabilities for both nations.

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Besides connectivity, a trade agreement between the two is also expected to be signed. The World Bank report revealed that in East Asian and Sub-Saharan African economies, intraregional trade accounts for 50 per cent and 22 per cent of total trade, respectively. “In fact, it is about 15–20 percent less expensive for a company in India to trade with a company in Brazil or Germany than with a company in Bangladesh,” the report said.