The Emergence Of Bangladesh Politics Essay

1. The emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 with the political & military support of India set the stage for Indo – Bangladesh relations. The moral & material support given by India strengthened the basis of a friendly bilateral relations built on peace & friendship. However this brotherly relationship lasted only upto 1975 and ended with the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Since then the relations between the two nations has seen many a up and down. The dynamism in the relations are due to a number of factors like; pre 1947 historical, cultural and geographic bonds; dominant political philosophies, national interest of the two nations. Historically the relations between the two nations have been plagued by a number of disputes, the river water sharing dispute being one of the most prominent one. Since the emergence of Bangladesh the situation with regard to the aspirations, interests of both the nations have changed and so have the status of both the nations both in South Asia and the world on the whole. Keeping in mind the interplay of relations of both these nations with other nations of the region and the direct or indirect implication of the same on their bilateral relations, improvement of relations between the two cannot be ignored.


2. The aim of this study is to analyse Indo – Bangladesh relations with respect to river water sharing dispute, thereafter attempt to evolve a possible solution to the problem in order to improve their relations.


Statement of the Problem

3. India & Bangladesh share waters of 54 rivers with India being the upper riparian and Bangladesh being the lower riparian state respectively. Bangladesh being agrarian economy uses the river water mainly for irrigation, drinking and navigation purposes. India too uses the waters for similar reasons apart from the generation of electricity and other uses. River water being vital for both the countries the river water sharing has been one of the major irritant between the two, the major issues being resource allocation and equal sharing.

4. Construction of the Farraka barrage over the Ganges, the Tapaimukh dam over the Barak, by India has caused souring of the relations between the two nations. Bangladesh being the lower riparian state, feel deprived of their rightful share over these waters and rightfully wants to make the best of it. Bangladesh claims that Indian stand on this issue has disrupted their irrigation and hence their agriculture, on which their economy is based. Other problems being river flooding, siltation, leading to desertification of some areas. India on the other hand state that these projects are hydro power projects and would also control flooding of rivers not only in India but also Bangladesh, being one of the major advantages apart from conserving and storing water to cater for the lean period.


5. Resolving the long standing dispute between India and Bangladesh will enable strengthening of India Bangladesh relations.

Justification for the Study

6. The much touted shifting of global economic centre from the Western countries to Asia, places India at a place of great strategic advantage. Since 1990, Indian economy has been able to grow at a sustained rate. The inherent strengths of a consumer led economy has allowed India to successfully weather the economic slowdown of the world economy and Eurozone crisis.

7. Statistics would have us believe that India will be the leading economy of the world by 2030. However, to translate the economic prosperity into national power, India needs to have a secure environment for sustained growth and development. The secure environment that India is looking for will only be possible by having a secure and stable neighbourhood. This will be possible only by improving its relations with its neighbours. India cannot afford to remain indifferent to its relations with Bangladesh with which it shares 78.86 percent of its borders, 54 of its rivers, its language, its cultural and historical bonds. Both countries occupy strong geo-strategic location in the South Asian region and IOR. Thus resolving the river water sharing dispute that has historically been a thorn in their relations, will enable them to focus on issues like strengthening their economies, which will define their strength as a nation in the region.


8. The study will analyse Indo- Bangladesh relations and attempt to evolve a blue print of recommendations for improving their relations by resolving the river water sharing dispute.

Method of Data Collection

9. Principle mode of data has been secondary documented sources. These include available books in the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) library & open source information available on the internet. The bibliography of the sources is appended at the end of the text.

Organisation of Dissertation

10. The dissertation would be organised as under :-

(a) Introduction and Methodology.

(b) Indo Bangladesh Relations : Historical and Current Perspective.

(c) River Water Sharing Dispute: The Problems.

(d) Indo Bangladesh Relations: The Way Ahead.

(e) Conclusion.

Chapter I – Indo Bangladesh Relations:Historical and Current Perspective

11. This chapter would cover the brief history of the relations, current state of the relations, its importance for the two nations, including the negative fallouts of an unhealthy relationship.

Chapter II – River Water Sharing Dispute: The Problems

12. This chapter would bring out what the dispute is, the problems faced by both the nations with regard to water sharing. It would also bring out as to why the two nations have not been able to resolve the dispute as yet despite the various measures both political and technical taken by the two nations. Suggested remedial measures to be taken by the nations would also be highlighted.

Chapter IV – Indo Bangladesh Relations: The Way Ahead

13. This chapter would highlight how the two should engage each other to improve their relations keeping in mind their interplay of relations and their mutual interest and importance.



1. General. The national interest, ideals and values form the basis on which the foreign policy and the subsequent relations between two countries depend. However the same basis may not be totally applicable to the relations between India and Bangladesh due to cultural, historical, linguistic and geographical bonds that the two countries share. Despite all this and that the two countries have no major conflict of interest, claims when compared to other countries, which cannot be resolved with some efforts the relations have failed to be warm. Among many reasons with India’s growing stature in the world, probably it does not seem to be overly concerned with its relations with Bangladesh as it is with Pakistan or China. However the present developments do reflect a change in this mindset which is encouraging for both the countries. The political leaders of the two countries and their vested interest have been a major contributor to this thought process. Thus it can be seen that when the Congress and Awami League parties have been in power the relations between the two countries have seen improvement and when the more radicals have been in power especially in Bangladesh the relations tend to get colder. To be more specific in Bangladesh the Awami League is characterised as pro India. In contrast, The BNP and the Jamaat are branded as anti India. Whenever the Awami League is in power the party tries to resolve pending India Bangladesh issues, the BNP and the Jamaat launch a anti India propaganda campaign against India and the Awami League, arguing principally that the Awami League comes to power with the help of India, and that when in power it procures Indian support in exchange for subservience to India on Indian-Bangladesh problems. [1] An important reason behind this attitude on the part of the BNP and the Jamaat is that, if problems affecting Bangladesh and India are resolved, these parties will lose the foundation of their mass support, viz; anti Indianism. [2] The pre 1947 history so influenced on the masses of the Indian subcontinent, with respect to the Hindu-Muslim relations that even after decades the relations between India and Bangladesh were largely governed by the this influence. Soon after the birth of Bangladesh the resolution of the various bilateral issues begun. Among them the withdrawal of Indian troops from Bangladesh, trial of war criminals, border demarcation, diversion of common river waters with more specifically the construction of the Farrakka Barrage in India. The Farrakka Barrage issue probably had the greatest impact on the bilateral relations. The signing of the 25 year “Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation” was signed which promised to take the relations between the two countries forward. Despite the signing of this treaty and the assistance provided to Bangladesh by India one could see the rise of anti Indianism in Bangladesh. Despite their liberation many people in Bangladesh were still associating themselves with the philosophy and ideology of Pakistan. The abortive attempts of the trial of the war criminals, dissatisfaction among the civil bureaucracy, dissatisfaction with respect to relief goods supplied by India including large scale smuggling on the borders and rumours that the Farrakka Barrage in India was turning Bangladesh was turning it into a desert were some of the reasons which some politicians and radicals used to rise anti Indianism in the people of Bangladesh. The role of media was no less significant in further adding fuel to this fire. Perhaps Shiekh Mujibir Rehman could have dealt with this situation but due to the erosion of Awami League by factionalism, staging of violent protests by the violent left and the famine of 1974 consequently began the powerful trend of right wing anti India politics which till today is being used by the rightists, who do not mind if necessary, sacrificing the interests of Bangladesh for this purpose. Due to the same differences with respect to Bangladesh also began to rise in India especially after the many concessions which India gave to Bangladesh. [3] It is remarkable that despite growing intensity of the anti India propaganda and the differences on a number of bilateral issues, Sheikh Mujibir and Indira Gandhi, succeeded in preserving a special relationship between the two countries, however in pursuit of their respective national interest they could not reach a consensus on resolving some bilateral issues. [4] 

The emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 with the political & military support of India set the stage for Indo – Bangladesh relations. The moral & material support given by India strengthened the basis of a friendly bilateral relations built on peace & friendship. However this brotherly relationship lasted only upto 1975 and ended with the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. This evolution of Indo – Bangladesh relations can be broadly classified into three phases : Pre 1971 period; 1972-1990; 1991-2012. [5] 

2. Pre 1971 Relations. The pre 1971 period relates to India’s involvement in birth of Bangladesh. East Pakistan was fighting for its regional autonomy which the government sitting in West Pakistan were reluctant to grant. This turmoil had its own repercussions on India as well as Pakistan. The important question that India had to answer was that would it be worthwhile to intrude in the struggle of the East Pakistanis with a view to liberate them? And the bigger question is that why should India intrude? Was it weaken Pakistan on the west, or ensure that a friendly state on the east would be advantageous on the sensitive North Eastern states of India. Well the most obvious reason for India’s interference was the large numbers in which the Bangladeshi refugees were pouring into India. [6] How the big powers took divergent stand which aided or abated India’s involvement in the crisis is relevant to understanding of India’s role. [7] 

3. 1972-1990. The relations immediately after the liberation tended to be cordial and friendly. The Awami League government led by Sheikh Mujibir proclaimed that “Friendship with India is a corner stone of foreign policy of Bangladesh”. [8] The economic and cultural exchanges between India and Pakistan had virtually come to a standstill after the 1965 Indo Pak war. However with the creation of Bangladesh the ties between India and Bangladesh received a big boost. [9] In the beginning Bangladesh did remain under the influence of India which was reflected in its foreign policy. But in the initial years signs of strain began to appear . Bangladesh started to wean away from India and looked forward to strengthen relations with western nations and Islamic countries. Bangladesh strove to improve relations with USA and China on one hand and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on the other. [10] The first phase of the Indo Bangladesh relations came to an end with the assassination of Mujibir Rehman in August 1975. Post 1975 Bangladesh experienced direct or indirect military rule which transformed internal politics of Bangladesh. It was as if Pakistan had taken over Bangladesh once again. The military rule had two major characteristics : firstly, it wanted to revive a mindset that was reactionary and pro Pakistan; secondly it tried to establish the dominance of the muscle power in society and politics, which would lead to the creation of a new category of people who would unduly acquire privileges and resources while sustaining military rule. [11] One major impact of the military rule upon the domestic politics of Bangladesh was to reinforce the trend of anti Indianism, including a thought process that blamed India for any and every undesirable occurrence in Bangladesh, natural or man made. [12] Bangladesh had made it quite clear that it chose the membership of the America-China-Pakistan- Saudi Arabia axis in place of the preferred Indo-Russia axis. [13] With the Zia ur Rehman taking over the power a big bully image of India was projected which alienated Bangladesh from India. Despite the safeguards provided to Bangladesh in the Indira-Mujib pact there took place unilateral withdrawals of upstream waters in India which began to create greater controversies. It was during this time that the Ganga waters sharing issue was raised in the international forums. The interim agreement between Morarji Desai and Zia ur Rehman provoked criticism for both the leaders in their countries. Other problems like the Moore Island ownership, debates over maritime boundary were also responsible to further alienate the two countries. Zia diversified aid dependence, abandoned secularism and gave a place of pride to Islam in the country which indicated a shift from the Indian influence. For a short while during the time the Janata government in India was in power relations were being repaired. It was during this time that the Ganga waters issue was resolved for five years. But with a change in the government in India with Indira Gandhi coming back to power, relations again began to deteriorate further. Bangladesh now regarded India as a neighbour with whom peaceful co-existence was nearly impossible. With General Ershad took over the reigns of Bangladesh, the Ganga water sharing issue with regard to augmentation of the Ganga waters still persisted. The problem of infiltration in the North Eastern states caused further problems in the relations. General Ershad did try to resolve certain border issues as well as the diversion of the Ganga water issues including the signing of the memorandum of understanding on division of the Ganga waters which although lasted till 1984. In the above period India too suffered from a lot of political instability. A new era had begun after the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and Rajiv Gandhi taking over as the prime minister. Many prime ministers took over the power but focussed more on Pakistan and relegated India Bangladesh relations to the background. In Bangladesh any effort towards improving relations with India was being seen as a sell out to India.

4. 1990-2011. Post the Zia era Bangladesh was led by General Ershad, Begum Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina, thus largely the from 1975 to 1996 there was a sort of continuity in the foreign policy of Bangladesh, except from 1996 to 2000 when Shiekh Hasina tried to revise that policy. With many prime ministers taking over the power but focussed more on Pakistan and relegated India Bangladesh relations to the background. In Bangladesh any effort towards improving relations with India was being seen as a sell out to India. During Khaleda Zia’s tenure India and Bangladesh discussed many issues including the border and the Ganga water issue, but Khaleda Zia too resorted to internationalisation of the issue and made statements in the United Nations blaming India for the unilateral withdrawal of waters. [14] After more than twenty years the Awami League came to power. After Shiekh Hasina came to power, she prioritised two issues of which one was the division of the Ganga waters between India and Bangladesh. [15] It must be noted that after 1977 the two countries had no water sharing treaty. However in june 1996 shortly after she became the Prime Minister, she initiated discussions on Ganga waters and Indian Prime Minister too adopted a positive attitude. [16] On 12 December 1996, they signed the agreement on the division on Ganga waters. However anti India propaganda by BNP and the Jamaat deteriorated India Bangladesh relations, and in 2001 the BNP Jamaat coalition came to power once again and there was no progress in India Bangladesh relations. The trend generally continued till the Caretaker Government was in power until Sheikh Hasina led Awami League once again came to power in 2009 and India Manmohan Sigh was re elected as the Prime Minister of the Congress led coalition. It was during this time that the politicians of both the nations realised that economic relations between the two needed to be improved and for that the bilateral issues including the sharing of Ganga waters needs to be resolved amicably. Keeping in mind the attitude of the politicians of Bangladesh the Indian politicians and the political parties and their attitude is far more important. There are four determinants of positive approach of India towards Bangladesh. First India must look towards an equal partnership with Bangladesh, must rise above choosing a favourite political party and cooperate with any party that comes in power, should exhibit generosity in opening its markets to Bangladesh and lasltly attach importance to the regional and the sub regional role of Bangladesh. [17] The 2010 trip of Shiekh Hasina to India and the signing of the four agreements as also the 50 clause memoranda of understanding has been termed as a defining moment in India Bangladesh relations which included assistance in maintaining navigability of rivers, steps to share waters of 54 common rivers by means of discussion and that the Tapaimukh barrage will not be constructed and water will not be withdrawn from any river without prior information to Bangladesh.


1. It can be seen that Bangladesh perceives the river water sharing issue as the most important outstanding issue between the two countries. Whereas India on the other hand is most concerned about the issues like insurgents & militants operating from Bangladeshi soil. There have been a number of joint committees & mechanisms evolved by the two countries for resolving the issues both countries can do a lot more than this. It is important to bring out that resolving the river water sharing dispute cannot be achieved in isolation. While substantial steps need to be taken for the same, however cooperation in the other areas concerning the two countries also will go a long way in increasing the trust and confidence between the two thus improving the relations. This implies that while Bangladesh should consider taking steps to resolve issues which concern India the most, India too should take steps that would help resolve issues that Bangladesh considers most important to them. It is likely that Bangladeshi efforts to meet the Indian concerns would give them greater negotiating space specially over the sharing of the waters, one of the primary Bangladeshi concerns vis a vis India. [18] 

2. With changing climate and worsening environmental conditions which is impacting the rivers, water sharing between the two nations will become critical in the coming years. Keeping in mind the need for water for agriculture and power generation, needs of the river system and unpredictable monsoons friction on this matter will increase. Bangladesh would bargain for a larger quantum of common water resources and want India to come to an early agreement on water sharing. The way forward is through good hydro diplomacy and consultation backed by technical knowledge to manage riparian relations between the two. It is important to keep in mind that Bangladesh cannot change its lower riparian status and thus will have to accept arrangements based on water sharing cooperation arrangements based on water sharing and not on water rights. India on the other hand has the responsibility to ensure that the equitable principles are fairly adhered to without undermining its own requirements. [19] Given the advantage that India has as an upper riparian state, it should use it to leverage its other security considerations, which Bangladesh has not adequately addressed. The West Bengal government has been advocating that India should link security issues and make it conditional on Bangladesh to deliver on that front before India agrees to any mutually acceptable solution of water sharing on the common rivers between the two states. [20] 

3. Over a period of time non consultation by India with Bangladesh on the river water sharing issue had developed a lot anti India feeling in Bangladesh, which did subside after the 1996 Ganga Water Treaty. The same approach can thus be adopted to arrive at solution of other rivers too. Impressions in Bangladesh exist that India is pro Awami League which is exploited by the Bangladesh National Party. Thus India should reach out to all political parties of Bangladesh, irrespective of which political party is in power. India should at the very beginning have built stronger institutions which could have taken timely and deliberate decisions for credible peace between the two countries. There is also a need to change the way India is conducting its diplomacy. Greater engagement with its smaller neighbours is necessary, to resolve bilateral issues. For example greater people to people to contact at all levels, visits by trade and cultural groups and greater number of visits by the leaders of the two nation would change the thinking that Bangladesh did not matter to India. Petty issues raised by the local politicians of the states in both the countries for personal mileage should not deter taking actions by the party governing the country. It would be prudent for the media not to be projecting a poorer picture of Bangladesh in India but rather project it in a positive light. Many people are of the opinion that India being the bigger and economically well advanced compared to the other nations in the region should do more for her neighbours, even if they cannot meet her aspirations. In the modern era of globalization, trade and economy will be the driving force for developing good relations. [21] India could give tariff concessions to Bangladesh to reduce trade and at the same time Bangladesh should allow transit facilities for India’s North Eastern states. For resolving the bigger issues both the nations should consider solving the problems of the common man. There are a number of commonalities between the two neighbours which should be exploited for better relations and ensuring that the region grows equitably. There was a lot of scope of improving trade between the two nations. Both bigger and smaller companies have scope for development projects in Bangladesh keeping in mind the abundance of raw material India has. Increase in joint ventures and increased investment in each others industry will only help improve relations. It would not be wrong to say that despite being a strong and developed country it has not been able to develop better relations with its neighbours. Thus a few people suggested that since the issues could not be solved bilaterally the nations should adopt a regional approach as members of the SAARC community. But all this will rest on the one most important factor that is of the political will. There are also a few leaders and decision makers that while India should consider all genuine requirements of Bangladesh, she must insist of also taking note of her sensitivities and that reciprocity should be asked for each concession made. While as far as solving the river water sharing issues is concerned the international law is clear that the upper riparian state should consult the lower riparian state, however their vies or objections are not binding as a veto. [22] There is also no need to involve a third nation as well as discuss bilateral issues as a regional one, with the 1996 Ganga Water Treaty being a case in point.

4. The present Bangladeshi youth perceives India as a big neighbour, it admires India’s economic growth, industrial power and political stability. It also holds India’s educational institutions in high esteem and would like to have greater exchanges with them. The business community are all for free trade and would like tariffs to be reduced so that illegal trade is reduced. The common man hold s India in high esteem and those living close to the border would want to see barter trade being opened. They would also welcome more freedom of movement and relaxed visa regime with multiple entry facility, so that they can freely go to India for any purposes. The middle class feel that an easier visa regime will enable them to visit places of pilgrimage more easily, and that India should give more concessions in trade and educational facilities being more economically developed. They feel that he fencing is not a friendly act and that it will fall one day. [23] It can thus be seen that the people of Bangladesh are not too concerned with the larger issues like the water sharing but are rather focussed on improving their living standards by becoming economically sounder. Thus solving the problems of the common man should be the focus which would ultimately lead to resolving the bigger issues.

5. At the same time Bangladesh should consider moving closer to India as they are doing with China and Pakistan. Bangladesh should also stop blaming India for all its failures domestically. At the same time Bangladesh should consider moving away from Pakistan as it was moving towards becoming a failed state. This would greatly enhance trust between the two nations. Also that Bangladesh should not try and match India even though the relations between the two may be different on the political and diplomatic level. Playing of the anti India card for its smaller political gains in the country and any attempt to internationalise the bilateral issues will only harden India’s stance towards issues which could have been solved amicably. While as sovereign and independent country Bangladesh should follow an independent foreign policy, it should not forget the geographical realities and the historical and ethnic ties between the two nations. Bangladesh lives in the fear of India due to its size, economy and hard power, thus afraid to lose its identity Bangladesh should also refrain from projecting India as threat which to many people stands no logic. This has resulted in excessive defense spending by the Bangladesh security forces which being a poor and a developing country cannot afford. Bangladesh should also make an endeavour to appreciate India’s strategic and diplomatic compulsions. India being a large and developing country has naturally to interact more with developed nations so that she finds her rightful place in the international forums, however this does not mean that India neglects her small neighbours. [24] While expecting a few concessions without reciprocating with any offers themselves may work a few times, Bangladesh need to be responsive to New Delhi’s economic and security requirements. Most Bangladeshi people feel that India should show magnanimity in resolving all the problems, being the bigger country, thus having the onus of improving the relations rests ith India , rather than it being reciprocal. Their relations with India get entangled in the internal political differences and debates of the political parties of Bangladesh even at the cost of their national interest. [25] 

6. A few suggested measures for improving relations between India and Bangladesh are given below.

(a) Foreign Policy Options. The options are to pursue the Gujral Doctrine, adopt a policy of reciprocity on each i

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