Evolution of ties INDIA – BANGLADESH


Indian foreign policy towards its neighbours is based on one main imperative: New Delhi wishes its neighbours to keep Indian interests in mind when determining their domestic and external policies.


There is no country integrated more closely with India than Bangladesh in respect of language, ethnicity, and culture. The key difference is Islam, and it is this factor that drives the relationship to an unusual degree.


India’s relationship with Bangladesh evolved over four phases determined by developments within that country:

1.   Its independence in 1971

India played an instrumental role in liberation movement of East Pakistan which ultimately led to creation of Bangladesh. This was the death-blow to Jinnah’s two-nation doctrine; Indian foreign policy had triumphed, backed up by force of arms. The Americans and Chinese who supported the Pakistanis had been defeated, leaving a compliant and secular Bangladesh, grateful for the Indian sacrifice and support to the cause of liberation. The new nation would never cause Indian strategic concern in the east. In return, India would be unstinting in material and moral support to the new nation.

2.  The period of military rule until 1990

Having seceded from Pakistan, Bengali nationalism lost traction and the focus returned to religion. Despite Mujib’s secular commitment, Islam emerged as the primary national identity of Bangladesh and dependence on countries like Saudi Arabia, whose aid polices are usually linked to Islamic causes, provided a further endorsement.

As Bangladesh’s relations with Pakistan and the Organization of Islamic Conference normalized, India slipped from its role as the unique ally, and the fault lines in Bangladeshi society rapidly re- emerged with the adherents of secularism and Bengali culture and those of Islamization and orthodoxy ranged against each other. India suffered widespread unpopularity and marginalization in the years of military rule that followed Mujib’s assassination. From Indian foreign policy’s greatest triumph, Bangladesh became its biggest disaster.

The coup against Mujib was engineered by elements in the army and civil society, supported by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and China, and began the second phase. Islam was declared the state religion.

Dhaka’s official policy during this phase was to keep India at arm’s length and enlist Islamist forces inside and outside the country and big powers like the United States and China for support. This led to opportunities for extra-regional engagement and diluted the ties that it had initially enjoyed with India. By 1990, foreign aid was a defining feature of Bangladesh, for which the country had to appease countries like the United States and Saudi Arabia that had opposed Bangladesh’s independence.

3. The third phase began with the ouster in 1990 of military rule

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) under Khaleda Zia stood for Bangladeshi nationalism that was interpreted as synonymous with stridently standing up to the Indian ‘domination’, and its rival, the Awami League (AL), professed the values of the Liberation War, namely Bengali nationalism, secularism, and socialism. These principles being the same that India espoused, New Delhi instinctively supported the AL led by Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina.

Both major parties often had recourse to support from the anti-independence party the Jamaat e Islami (JeI), which had revived after its leaders returned from self-exile abroad, during which they had portrayed the Liberation War as a confrontation between India and Islam.

Fundamentalist Islamist forces were thus encouraged into the political space, and the nadir for Indian foreign policy was reached between 2001 and 2006, when the BNP-JeI government sponsored rampant terrorist activity in and from Bangladesh, together with vicious attacks on domestic minorities.

4. Fourth Phase

The return of the Awami League government in the elections of 2009 represents the current fourth phase. The bilateral relationship was transformed from neighbours to partners in growth and economic development. The relationship between two countries have further strengthened with sharing of common interest. Some of the recent developments in the relationship between the two countries

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