Bangladesh, the former East Pakistan, may have separated from India in 1947, but the centuries of shared history, society, politics, culture, and religion remain etched in the countries' fabric. Some decades later, Bangladesh, too, carved out a space for themselves, becoming an independent nation with the help of India's military operations in December of 1971. Thus, the Liberation War connected Bangladesh and India as historic allies, a relationship that has carried over through the years, with varying congeniality. Fifty Years of Bangladesh-India Relations: Issues, Challenges and Possibilities (Pentagon Press, 2021), evaluates these "contested" relations between the two countries from various perspectives, from both a contemporary and historical standpoint.
Fifty Years of Bangladesh-India Relations is the outcome of five years of extensive research conducted by Md Shariful Islam, who is Assistant Professor at the University of Rajshahi's Department of International Relations and a PhD researcher at New Delhi's South Asian University. In his book, Islam presents the political situation as it is, stressing on the difficulties in security, border management, water cooperation, and connectivity between the two countries along with the necessity of "having an improved Bangladesh-India partnership" in the larger South Asian context.
The book is divided into 11 chapters, with the first offering a holistic introduction on the background of Bangladesh and its historical relations with India since the 1971 Liberation War. By the end of the book, Islam reasserts, with ample evidence, how crucial Bangladesh-India relations are not only for bilateral partnership and peace but also for regional stability and the development of the subcontinent. "India views its development partnership with Bangladesh as a means for strengthening South-Asia", Islam writes, arguing in his third chapter that the two nations' relations sets an example for the world.
Various security dimensions between Bangladesh and India are explored in the fourth chapter. It deals with security and strategic partnerships including increased military and maritime cooperation for the sake of regional connectivity, as well as the mutual fight against terrorism. In the fifth and sixth chapters, Islam shifts focus to the hindrances and disagreements between the two countries, starting with the contested issues of Bangladesh-India's 4,096 kilometres long border cooperation. The mishandling of their shared border has been shown to be a source for cross-border terrorism, smuggling, and border killings, and the writer does not shy away from his coverage on the matter.
Chapter 6 brings to attention another contested issue, the Bangladesh-India water cooperation, and looks at the possibilities of resolving the problems, while Chapter 7 points out recent landmark developments including the Dhaka-Kolkata direct bus and train services as signs of things to come. Islam argues that "growing Bangladesh-India connectivity fosters people-to-people contacts and greater cultural intimacy".
Islam goes on to comment on the role of civil society and examines Bangladesh-India relations with the presence of growing hostilities between India and China. Lastly, by addressing regional protectionism and the rise of populism in some parts of the world, the author advocates for cooperation in health systems, governance, free trade, regional trade, and climate change between the countries.
What this book lacks is ethnographic accounts. All of the author's arguments are constructed based on newspapers and editorials. Interviews, surveys, and personal reports are greatly missed in this narrative, and the accounts of everyday life that are affected by bi-national relations—from the seasonal price-hike of imported commodities to the pressing Rohingya humanitarian crisis—are glaring omissions. The writer also bypasses the interest-driven attitudes of Indian foreign policies. He acknowledges that their intervention in our War of Independence was more for the sake of "India's national interest", but he doesn't explore this argument to depth.
Md Niamot Ali is a PhD candidate at the Doctoral School of Sociology and Communication Science, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary, and Lecturer (on Study Leave) at the Department of Development Studies, Daffodil International University, Bangladesh. He can be reached at email@example.com.