That PM Modi is landing in Bangladesh today to begin his first foreign trip after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the close relations that New Delhi and Dhaka have come to enjoy. There’s no denying that history binds the two nations together, given the key role that India played in Bangladesh’s liberation struggle. There’s therefore a nice symbolic symmetry to the fact that India’s PM will be chief guest at the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s founding, which also happens to be the birth centenary year of its founder father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Many had wondered about Bangladesh’s chances of success at the time of its birth, when it was seen as an ‘international basket case’. But today Bangladesh’s emergence as a vibrant nation has pitched it as South Asia’s contemporary rising star. Under the leadership of current PM Sheikh Hasina it has registered steady economic growth and is on target to leave the list of least developed countries by 2026. It, in fact, overtook India in per capita GDP last year and, as per World Bank estimates, is projected to post positive GDP growth for 2020-21.
Thus, Bangladesh has managed to grow its economy despite the pandemic while simultaneously registering lower Covid deaths per million than India. Moreover, Bangladesh is actually ahead of India in several human development indicators such as immunisation, hunger mitigation and fertility rate. That much of Bangladesh’s surge happened in Hasina’s time, even as she dramatically improved relations with India, shows how much regional cooperation can be achieved in South Asia which mostly has a sorry history of the opposite kind – of regional antagonism or at least neglect.
Credit should go to both the Modi and Hasina regimes for working to revive bilateral connectivity and transit – long neglected by previous governments. Which is precisely why, at a time of improving relations, Indian politicians shouldn’t be raising the anti-Bangladeshi pitch on issues such as CAA and NRC to score domestic political points. In any case Bangladesh’s surge in living standards – it may have surpassed eastern India in this respect – and success in garments and textile industries which already employ millions, mean that the problem of illegal immigration belongs more to the past and there’s little point being overly exercised about it today. India and Bangladesh share a special chemistry now. Let’s focus on building on that fact by improving the trade, connectivity and people-to-people relationship.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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