BD-India relations: Golden jubilee of a textbook example of bilateral ties
As we celebrate the golden jubilee of our independence and Mujib Borsho together, it's time to reflect back to one of our most important regional and international ally of the last 50 years - India.
The 10-day celebrations that started on March 17, the birth centenary of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, will culminate on March 26 (tomorrow), the Golden Jubilee of our independence.
Tomorrow's celebrations will assume historic importance with the special attendance of Narendra Modi, head of the government of India, the country that contributed crucially to our War of Liberation, 50 years back in 1971.
It's a striking coincidence that Prime Minister Sheikh was in office when Bangladesh celebrated the Silver Jubilee of its independence in 1997 where Palestine's President Yasser Arafat, South Africa's President Nelson Mandela and Turkey's President Suleyman Demirel attended as Guests of Honour.
The Golden Jubilee of our independence and the birth centenary of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is being
celebrated when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in office being elected for the fourth term. South Asian leaders are attending and world leaders are sending greetings virtually.
Our biggest next-door neighbour stood beside us as the second country, following Bhutan, to give official recognition to the new born Bangladesh in 1971. It not only accommodated nearly 10 million Bengali refugees but played a crucial role in training and providing all out assistance to the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters) with military resources. Moreover, the Indian Congress led government under Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi at that time played the key role for mobilising international support, bolstering our cause for an independent and sovereign nation. The people of India stood behind our war for liberation that helped us to defeat the Pakistan occupation army.
In short, fifty years later it is difficult to predict what would have been the road to our struggle for freedom without India's active support and contribution.
Then again, no diplomatic or bilateral tie in today's world can be considered as complete and absolutely fulfilling. Highs and lows would always dominate the scene, yet Bangladesh and India share warm and friendly ties - often regarded as a 'textbook example of a neighbourly relationship'.
In particular, we would focus on two specific types of relations between the two countries - Government-to-Government and People-to-People ties in the last 50 years. Both have been time tested and both have only grown deeper despite a series of challenges and obstacles.
It is also time to override the myths of invisible suspicion and dominance in our bilateral ties. Despite political changes in governments of both countries in the past half a century, our ties have continued to improve.
In Bangladesh political changes after the killing of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975 there were shadows on this relation as there have been attempts to provoke anti-India stunt revoking the spirit of the 1971 War of Liberation. As the pandemic hit world is fast transforming to a new world order, we feel, it is important to accordingly renew our mutual bilateral obligations and commitments in tuned with changing times and expectations.
Similarly, in last 50 years both countries are poised with challenges, many of them are different in nature, many of them similar for both countries.
The ones those are similar can be addressed jointly, for instance in the cases of climate change, poverty eradication and development, water and border issues. At the same time, we believe, disputed and unsettled issues must be jointly addressed by the two countries from a win-win perspective resulting in mutual benefits.
In recent years it is encouraging to note how the two countries have grown closer by undertaking multiple connectivity schemes through land and water routes. This development clearly hints at a deeper engagement between the two countries. By the beginning of this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi labelled Bangladesh as a major pillar of India's "Neighbourhood First Policy". Growing connectivity between the two countries re-affirms his statement.
Reversing the anti-Indian politics of some regimes Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pursued her "zero tolerance" policy steadfastly not to allow any force to use Bangladesh soil to foment terrorism against India, particularly its seven eastern states. She revived the spirit of the 1971 War of Liberation which is the mainstay of Indo-Bangla relations.
As we reflect back on our fifty years of friendship-diplomacy is indeed a sophisticated art where rooms for exploring innovative techniques to boost diplomatic ties are always open. However, no matter how closer-ties the two countries share in the present, closest of relationships must be relentlessly nurtured from both sides.
Another crucial aspect in a close relationship is trust. In 1971 the Indian government and people came forward in our aid based on trust and a humanitarian obligation, more than equating losses and gains, victory and defeat. Indian soldiers also shed their blood along with our Freedom Fighters to wrest our freedom from Pakistan.
Now under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's leadership that Bangladesh fares well on political, social and economic fronts, it should be easier for our Indian counterparts to follow policies that boost bilateral ties. These ties have been neither smooth nor robust all along, despite the special circumstances of the relationship of India's support in the 1971 Liberation War and diplomatic recognition of independent Bangladesh.
The people and politicians of our two countries must accept each other based on mutual trust. That said - trust has a wider application to international relations in today's world than is generally recognized - it is the key to confidence that policymakers of two countries have in their judgments. Moreover, confidence results in the efficacy of bilateral initiatives and their ability to bring initiatives to fruition.
Favourably enough, trust between our two countries is based on shared sacrifice, history and culture, and on the uniquely close ties of kinship. Bangladesh and India must build on our commonalities. With 50 years past, we now have to jointly envision for the next 50 years, even centuries. The trust earned by both countries in the last few decades must be carefully guarded, so that earned confidence is not anyhow misplaced and misconceived. Good that our mutual and strategic ties are deepening based on trust more than calculating profits and losses. Additionally, In terms of people-to-people contact and regional trade and tourism the two countries have become indispensable partners.
We have also taken note of another significant development this year when a tri-service contingent from Bangladesh Armed Forces participated in India's 72nd Republic Day parade. It was an important milestone for our bilateral relationship and New Delhi's neighbourhood policy.
From the other way round, gift of two million Covid-19 vaccine shots to Bangladesh by India has firmly placed Dhaka- New Delhi relations on a stable ground. This gesture is filled with resonance of the spirit of our 1971 War of Liberation.
On the two landmark occasions as Bangladesh moves forward with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Vision 2021 and Vision 2041 in target, we expect our bilateral ties to get even stronger base on shared interests.
Disagreements and differences on bilateral issues are natural in a friendship. What's even more important than that is to move forward by holding each other's hands, and never get separated.
A famous Chinese philosopher once said -"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Bangladesh and India together began that journey during the tumultuous times of 1971. On the golden jubilee year of our bilateral ties we can only hope of better future and stronger ties.