A friend who helps at a difficult time is a friend who you can really rely on. Covid-19 has proved that type of friendship between Bangladesh and India again.
This pandemic is an unprecedented event of our time. It is a crisis that we have never faced before. It’s a war, but the enemy virus is unseen. Bangladesh fought a nine-month bloody war to win independence against Pakistan in 1971.
India stood by Bangladesh wholeheartedly during that war by giving support and providing shelter to millions of people. Indian army also shed blood while fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Bangladeshi freedom fighters.
It is also symbolic that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first international visit since the COVID-19 pandemic is to Dhaka.
This is not merely a coincidence. Bangladesh is celebrating the golden jubilee of independence, which also marks 50 years of diplomatic ties with India.
Bangladesh is also celebrating the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. India is also celebrating those occasions jointly with Bangladesh.
Since 2014, when Modi first took up the office of the Prime Minister, there have been major developments in the bilateral relationship, including the two countries having ratified the land boundary agreement, settled maritime boundary and signed agreements on connectivity.
India has increased assistance to Bangladesh, making it the largest recipient of the concessional aid, implemented agreement to supply 1076 MW of power to Bangladesh, issued over 10 million visas to Bangladesh nationals a year and implemented more than 40 projects in areas such as sanitation, waste management, restoration, and health under grant-in-aid.
“I am also happy to mention that in the last five-six years, India and Bangladesh have scripted a golden chapter of bilateral ties and given new dimension and direction to our partnership. This is because of increasing trust between the two countries that we have been able to amicably resolve complex issues such as land boundary and maritime boundary,” Modi said last year in a video message on the inauguration of the Mujib Barsha – the birth centenary celebration of Bangabandhu.
He had also said that today, Bangladesh is not only India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia, but also a development partner. “Electricity generated in India is lighting up lakhs of houses and factories in Bangladesh. A new dimension has been added to our relations through the friendship pipeline”.
Be it road, rail, air, waterway or internet, our cooperation in several sectors is connecting people of our two countries even more, he had said.
“India is our true friend” – that is what Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had said, expressing her gratitude to the country and the Indian Army for their support during the 1971 liberation war.
Modi was supposed to remain present physically at the inauguration of the celebration last year on March 17. The pandemic hit the world by that time. Lockdown came into force.
In a year of self-isolation, Bangladesh and India have shown the world how to work together for the benefit of the people.
Both countries continue to script the relationship of the ‘Golden Chapter’ guided by the two leaders –Hasina and Modi.
In September, India handed over 10 railway locomotives to Bangladesh, in a show that the pandemic did not slow down the pace of the overall cooperation.
Before handing over the locomotives, the first cross-border train reached Bangladesh with 50 containers loaded with FMCG cargoes and fabrics – the trade of which was otherwise impacted due to pandemic lockdown.
The first transshipment of goods (iron and pulses) from Kolkata to India’s North-East through Bangladesh’s Chattogram port also took place during the pandemic.
“Our two countries continue to script a relationship of ‘Shonali Adhyaya’ (golden chapter), guided by the progressive vision of PM Narendra Modi and PM Sheikh Hasina,” Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar then said, adding that the two neighbours partnership would be “key to building a prosperous and peaceful South Asia”.
“This will be a befitting tribute to the vision of Bangabandhu in this historic Mujib Barsho,” he had said.
The pandemic time cooperation did not stop there. As a neighbourhood first policy, Bangladesh got the Covid-19 vaccine soon after its national rollout in India which made the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for the world.
Prime Minister Modi during a virtual summit in December promised Sheikh Hasina that Bangladesh would get the vaccine as soon as it is available in India.
He kept the promise and sent 2 million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine made in Serum Institute of India as a gift to Bangladesh. This came in addition to regular purchase by the private sector with the help of the health ministry.
Bangladesh until now has vaccinated more than 3.5 million of its population including in remote areas. It is leading Spain, Poland, and Canada in the vaccination drive.
Modi is coming to Dhaka at a historic point of time. India is also part of that because of its role in 1971 that we all know. So, if you want to celebrate the golden jubilee, you have to celebrate it together. This is only natural. And that’s why we see exhibitions like ‘Bangabandhu and Bapu’, highlighting the life of the two respected leaders of the world from the two neighbouring countries, in the year-long celebration.
Covid has taught us many lessons. It shows the relevance of working together for the benefit of mankind. We saw vaccines being dispatched soon after India’s national rollout. This all happened because the relationship is now said to be at its best. Yes there is always room for improvement. We also have issues like river water sharing unresolved. But still if you take stock of the entire relation, you will find no dearth of enthusiasm to take it further forward.
The bilateral relationship today touches almost every aspect of activity including political, trade, investment, security, border, water management, power, cultural exchanges and education.
Both countries traverse similar development paths, with similar challenges such as an imbalance of resources, rising inequities, climate change, and evolving technologies. But Bangladesh and India are on the right track to expand cooperation and meet their development goals for the benefit of people.