Sheikh Hasina’s Visit to India: Unleashing the Potentials of Connectivity

In light of recent global geopolitical commutes, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s impending visit to India will have a highly beneficial impact and usher in a new era of bilateral and regional cooperation.  It has been three years since the last visit of Premier Sheikh Hasina before the Covid 19 Pandemic in 2019. The visit is significant for both Bangladesh and India, and various agreements and MoUs are anticipated to be signed there incorporating connectivity initiatives in land, water, energy, and sub-regional forms. From strengthening political and cultural ties to fostering economically beneficial associations, ‘connectivity’ has become a buzzword in recent years. In the wake of globalization’s second wave, strengthening regional and sub-regional cooperation is widely appreciated and acknowledged at all levels. Thus, connectivity has emerged as a hallmark in Bangladesh-India bilateral relations in recent times. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “We need to improve our connectivity. India’s North Eastern provinces – Assam and Tripura – could have access to Chattogram port if the countries’ connectivity is improved”. India and Bangladesh made bold moves to bolster communication via roads, rail, and waterways which would harness the prospects of regional connectivity. The visit is expected to provide a framework for a multimode of connectivity after the two countries resolved major disputes over land and maritime boundaries. Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Kumar Doraiswami observes that improving trade and transport connectivity between India and Bangladesh, as well as other neighboring countries can be a game-changer not only for the two countries but for the entire region.

Why is Connectivity so Important?

Bangladesh and India have similar historical and cultural roots and a lot of common areas of cooperation which paves the way for a robust strategic partnership. Additional similarities in the bilateral relationships reflect comprehensive cooperation founded on sovereignty, along with equality, trust, and understanding much more than just a neighbor. The implementation of bilateral and sub-regional connectivity projects needs to be accelerated by Dhaka and Delhi as Bangladesh plays a significant role in India’s extensive effort to implement its Look East Policy due to its geographic location and its geographical proximity to India’s northeastern provinces. On the flip side, by boosting its exports to northeastern India and imposing tolls on the vehicles that transport Indian goods across Bangladesh’s land or waters, Bangladesh can also gain significantly. Bangladesh and India share the fifth largest land boundary and 54 joint rivers. Connectivity may offer the routes through which development impulses can be transmitted throughout the region and may increase the dynamism of economic and social advancement in India as well as its neighbors to the east and south. The purpose of the Bangladesh-India connectivity is to resurrect earlier routes that had been in use up until the 1965 India-Pakistan War. Both administrations launched numerous measures to reestablish train connections and other communication ties before 1965. Such advances in India have the prospect of heralding significant changes in its own eastern and northeastern states, including Kolkata.

The expansion of their bilateral connectivity can spill over to the sub-regional level ensuring greater good for the regional countries. India is eager to let Bangladesh use its ports, railways, and other infrastructure, especially for sale to non-Indian nations like Nepal and Bhutan. It is important to look at the greater port, energy, infrastructures, and economic interconnectivity in south Asia.

Domains of Bangladesh-India Bilateral Connectivity Cooperation

At the bilateral, regional, and international levels, Bangladesh and India share heavily prioritized multimodal connectivity plans. An obvious illustration of Bangladesh’s sustained commitment to supporting attempts to increase connectivity and economic integration in the region, notably in the Northeast of India, is the recent opening of the Feni Bridge. On March 9 of last year, Indian Premier Narendra Modi opened the “Maitri Setu” (bridge) over the Feni River to support the port’s connectivity with Chittagong, Bangladesh. Additionally, the recently opened Padma rail-road bridge in Bangladesh may improve the physical ties between the two brotherly countries.

Bangladesh and India share transport connectivity which creates a win-win situation for both countries. To convey Indian commodities to the northeast, Bangladesh has offered India transit and transshipment services. Additionally, it will probably allow the transit problem to benefit from synergies with the recently built Padma Bridge, which connects southwest Bangladesh, including the Mongla Seaport, with the rest of the nation as well as India.

The two South Asian nations enjoyed railway connectivity during the colonial period and even after the partition. Several railway connections between Bangladesh and India are currently in o operational. On December 17, 2020, the freshly rebuilt railway link between Chilahati (Bangladesh) and Haldibari (India) was officially opened by the prime ministers of these two nations. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, both nations began utilizing side-door container and parcel trains to ensure uninterrupted supply lines. In September 2022, a much-anticipated railway connection between Agartala and Akahura will be completed.  During the upcoming visit, it is anticipated that India will probably propose increasing railway connectivity and restoring three more train services between India and Bangladesh since it views connectivity as

The bilateral connectivity also exists and can be expanded much further, for instance, in the maritime domain.  Bangladesh has expressed interest to be a part of the India-pioneered initiative – Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR). In July 2020, a successful trial run of the transshipment of Indian commodities from Kolkata to Agartala via Chattogram was completed. Tripura will profit immensely from it, especially as it is in the landlocked Northeast. Both the leaders are likely to discuss the opposition Bangladesh has to the establishment of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) as well as other matters about Tripura. Prime Minister’s visit will pave the way for future connectivity as well as the scope for unresolved bilateral connectivity projects both on land, water, and regional. Thus, both countries will be able to unleash their untapped resources and opportunities in terms of bilateral cooperation and connectivity.

Prospects for Regional and Sub-Regional Connectivity

These two nations collaborated to create a wealthy and secure South Asia, placing particular emphasis on regional cooperation. They discussed collaboration and regional institutions on a bilateral basis. For instance, Bangladesh proposed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and India helped make it happen. Additionally, Bangladesh and India collaborate closely on regional platforms such as the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Initiative, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). To strengthen and broaden regional economic cooperation, Asia must now encourage infrastructure connection inside the area. Investment in infrastructure connectivity could increase productivity and competitiveness, hasten economic recovery, and support medium- to long-term balanced, sustainable, and inclusive growth. Additionally, the connection could encourage environmental sustainability by fostering the growth of international green transportation and energy networks.

Several regional connectivity projects are expected to be materialized which need Bangladesh-India cooperation that can bring overall development to South Asia. Asian Highway Network Routes (AH 1 &2) can provide for greater trade and social interactions between Asian countries, including personal contacts, project capitalizations, connections of major container terminals with transportation points, and promotion of tourism via the new roadways. Additionally, through the execution of the Motor Vehicle Agreement between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) and the regional hydroelectricity grid with northeastern India, Nepal, and Bhutan, Bangladesh is also keen on regional connectivity.

India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Agreement has possible positive implications in terms of energy development in the region where Bangladesh is aspiring to be a partner. This agreement can increase the capacity of Bangladesh in terms of time and cost and reduce energy dependency on Europe. Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) can provide access to numerous markets in Southeast Asia, improvement of transportation infrastructure, and creation of an industrial zone. Bangladesh-India’s robust friendship and cooperation can be a key factor to make these regional initiatives happen.  

Following the Covid pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, global and local politics, the two blocs are attempting to sway nations to their respective sides in light of the growing rivalry between the West and Russia, and China. Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh and India should work together to address the existing challenges and focus on peace and stability to promote more robust friendship and cooperation. Therefore, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit can ameliorate the existing arena of connectivity and at the same time, unleash the area of cooperation which have profound significance both in terms of bilateral cooperation and regional solidarity.

Saume Saptparna Nath
Saume Saptparna Nath
The author, Saume Saptaparna Nath, is currently Working as a research associate at the Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs. She was a project coordinator at the "Revive Project " a joint venture of UNDP and Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship Development Center,University of Dhaka. She was also a former intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh. She had pursued her post -graduation and graduation degree from Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka