Bangladesh, a country with the majority of its border surrounded by India, is now the brightest star in the sky of global economic growth. The country with a 162 million population posted above 8 per cent economic growth in the last fiscal year. The country that came into existence after India liberated it from the clutches of Pakistan has been emerging as a stead-fast economy in the neighbourhood and it augurs well for India which can use the communion between the two nations to set a new narrative in the sub-continental region.
On the sidelines of India-Bangladesh Business Forum, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said: “Our relations with India have reached the best ever stage, which Modiji himself has termed as a “Sonali Adhyay” (golden chapter),” reiterating the fact that India and Bangladesh are going strength to strength.
The volume of trade between the two countries is nearly 10 billion dollars. In 2018, Bangladesh was India’s eighth largest export destination with $8.8 billion worth of exports and the export to India also crossed the $1 billion mark for the first time. Bangladesh’s per capita income is now around $2,000. It has the highest population density among the countries with large population and there is an acute shortage of agricultural land, but to compensate for the shortage of agricultural land, Bangladesh focuses on manufacturing by utilizing its huge labour force, which is mostly under the age of 25 and ready to be engaged in the economy at very competitive wages.
With India on the west, China on the north and South-East Asia on the east, Bangladesh is in the middle of a combined market of 4 billion people, and therefore its strategic location is very important and which if utilized properly can help India substantially.
An example can be the 15.054 km-long railway line scheduled to be completed by 2020 connecting Agartala with Akhaura in Bangladesh that will be connecting Indian Railways with Bangladesh Railways for improved connectivity and which in turn will boost trade between the two countries.
The line will connect the state of West Bengal and Tripura through Bangladesh.
Of the total stretch, five km will be on the Indian side and the rest in Bangladesh. The new Akhaura rail line will reduce the journey time between Agartala and Kolkata to 10 hours from 31 hours as the distance between the two places will be reduced to 550 km from 1600 km at present. It will cut through Dhaka instead of Guwahati and will help in freight movement as well as goods from the northeastern state, while goods from Chittagong port will reach Agartala quicker.
The government had also announced that it was working on a plan to set up a waterway freight corridor to connect the mainland with the northeastern states via Bangladesh at a cost of Rs 5,000 crore which would substantially reduce the time taken to transport goods to the eight northeastern states and costs.
Currently, highway connectivity to the northeastern states is patchy and transportation of goods by road entails a high cost and takes time. According to the ministry’s estimate, the waterway could help reduce the cost of transportation by about 70 per cent.
With Sheikh Hasina in power in Bangladesh, India has been able to keep Pakistan’s nefarious designs to destabilise the region at bay. Several insurgency groups that got a free run during the days of the Zia government have been rooted out under the Hasina dispensation. Militancy has declined in a big way under the Hasina government.
In Hasina’s tenure, all-important militant group leaders have either been arrested and tried by Bangladesh or handed over to India. It includes the United Liberation Front of Assam General Secretary Anup Chetia.
The history that already connects the two nations, the similarity in the cultures and languages makes both India and Bangladesh natural allies and consequently, it is imperative that New Delhi calibrates its approach towards Bangladesh and look beyond NRC conundrum so that India has a dominant stronghold in the region. Rapid urbanisation fed by increasing consumption of electricity and accelerated growth of the middle class means that the Indian investors can also expand their horizons in the booming new market of Bangladesh.