Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Indian Air Force (IAF), paid a two-day visit to the neighbouring country Bangladesh on the invitation of his Bangladeshi counterpart, Air Marshal Shaikh Abdul Hannan. The CAS reviewed the passing out parade on June 28, 2021 and presided over the commissioning ceremony at the Bangladesh Air Force Academy in Jashore. The ceremony was organised on the occasion of “President Parade 2021”. “The two-day visit was highly significant in view of the Golden Jubilee of the historic victory in the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh,” said the IAF representative. The visit by the CAS to Bangladesh came after the visit to that country by General M.M. Naravane, Chief of the Army Staff, Indian Army.
The key role that India had played in the war in 1971 that led to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation, cannot be forgotten or overlooked. At the end of the war that lasted for nearly two weeks, on December 16, 1971, around 93,000 Pakistani troops had surrendered before the joint forces of the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini. This victory paved way for the birth of Bangladesh.
Despite India taking on and defeating Pakistan in a full-scale war on two fronts, at the end of which, the erstwhile East Pakistan got its new identity, bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh in the period 1975 to 1996 remained deeply troubled. It was only after the Awami League came to power in Bangladesh in 1996 that bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh began to improve. Factors that bring the two nations close to each other are shared history, common heritage as well as linguistic and cultural ties. Apart from these, relationship with India’s Eastern neighbour are based on civilisational, cultural, social and economic factors. After all, the area that is now Bangladesh, was an integral part of India before the tragic and unwarranted partition of the sub-continent in August 1947. The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
India was one of the first countries in the world to recognise Bangladesh and establish diplomatic relations immediately after its independence in December 1971. Over the years, there has been considerable interaction between the two nations in the domain of defence cooperation through joint exercises between their Armies and Navies. India and Bangladesh have a common border of over 4,000 km, longer than India’s borders with other neighbours namely Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar. To ensure effective and trouble-free management of the border, in June 2015, following the exchange of instruments of ratification, the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) came into force.
During the recent India-Bangladesh virtual summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Bangladesh as a major pillar in India’s “neighbourhood first” policy. Since the time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office, he has accorded the highest priority to the effort of his government to strengthen ties with Bangladesh. However, in the recent past, there have been some decisions by the Government of India that have turned out to be irritants that have impinged on the relationship between India and Bangladesh. Enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as well as plans to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC), have triggered apprehensions of the possibility of mass exodus of Bengali-speaking population from Assam to Bangladesh. Apart from these, there are a few other factors that have had adverse effect on the relationship between India and Bangladesh. First is the proximity and close relationship that Bangladesh enjoys with China. Bangladesh is an active partner on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a programme launched by China. India on the other hand, has refused to join this programme. What is a matter of discomfort and of greater concern for India is that Bangladesh is a major recipient of military hardware from China which includes submarines. It is about time that the two nations got together and resolved some of the major issues that could seriously impinge on their relationship in the future. One problem that Bangladesh has been facing since August 2017 is the mass migration of more than 7,00,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar and entered Bangladesh. The problem of Rohingya refugees is one such factor that needs urgent attention of both nations though India has very limited options to assist Bangladesh in fighting this crisis.
It is with the background of the prevailing environment in the region and the relationship with Bangladesh that that the visit by the CAS was undertaken. This visit was special as it was the first instance of any service dignitary being invited to review the parade as the Chief Guest. It was a re-affirmation of the strong bonds of friendship and trust between India and Bangladesh and their Armed Forces. The focal point of the visit by the CAS was to further expand military cooperation between the two countries. In the pursuit of this objective, the CAS held extensive discussions with the top military brass of Bangladesh including the Chief of the Air Staff of the Bangladesh Air Force as well as the Chief of the Army Staff and Principal Staff Officers of the armed forces.