India Table of Contents

Although India played a major role in the establishment of an independent Bangladesh on April 17, 1971, New Delhi's relations with Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, were neither close nor free from dispute (see The Rise of Indira Gandhi, ch. 1). In 1975 Bangladesh began to move away from the linguistic nationalism that had marked its liberation struggle and linked it to India's West Bengal state. Instead, Dhaka stressed Islam as the binding force in Bangladeshi nationalism. The new emphasis on Islam, combined with Bangladeshi concern over India's military buildup and bilateral disputes over riparian borders, shared water resources, and illegal immigration of Bangladeshis into West Bengal, made for fluctuations in India-Bangladesh relations.

Relations are generally good, nevertheless; the two countries have maintained a dialogue on a variety of issues and initiated a modest program of joint economic cooperation. In 1977 New Delhi and Dhaka signed an agreement--that is renewed annually--on sharing the waters of the Ganga (Ganges) River during the dry season, but the two sides made little progress in achieving a permanent solution to their other problems. The main item of contention is the Farakka Barrage, where the Ganga divides into two branches and India has built a feeder canal that controls the flow by rechanneling water on the Indian side of the river. The two nations were still at odds, despite high-level talks, in the mid-1990s.

In the mid- and late 1980s, India's plan to erect a fence to prevent cross-border migration from Bangladesh and Bangladesh's desire that Chakma insurgents not receive Indian covert assistance and refuge in India were major irritants in bilateral relations. As agreed eighteen years earlier, in June 1992 India granted a perpetual lease to Bangladesh for the narrow, 1.5-hectare Tin Bigha corridor in the Ganga's delta that had long separated an enclave of Bangladeshis from their homeland. The two countries signed new agreements to enhance economic cooperation. Bangladesh also received Indian developmental assistance, but that aid was minor compared with the amounts India granted to Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. The year 1991 also witnessed the first-ever visit of an Indian army chief of staff to Dhaka.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress