India, known as the Indian subcontinent for centuries, was a very rich region in terms of culture, economy and civilizations. For example, at the end of the 17th century, India’s share actually represented a quarter of the world economy. From history we see that Europeans came to this region to change their destiny. In fact, India had a rich maritime heritage and has played an important role in world trade and economy for centuries. A British scholar, John M. Hobson, in his book The Eastern Origins of Western Civilizations, argues that “until the end of the 18th century India was more powerful and more extensive than the great European powers.”
So it was India, an economic power, a maritime power and certainly a soft power. But the 200 years of British domination and exploitation have caused India to decline in all parameters. Against British exploitation, India became a sovereign nation state on August 15, 1947. India’s independence in 1947 is a landmark event in world history. And as a citizen of Bangladesh, the independence of India is crucial for me for several reasons.
First of all, I believe that if India had not been independent, Bangladesh might not have emerged as a sovereign nation state in 1971. Without India’s material, moral and diplomatic support, independence of Bangladesh would not be possible. It is important to note that 1, 6, 61 Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Bangladesh. This is how the Indians fought for the independence of Bangladesh which is well recognized in Bangladesh. Moreover, when 10 million refugees from Bangladesh took refuge in various states of India, including West Bengal, the people of those states supported them wholeheartedly. The spirit of 1971 remains the cornerstone of Bangladesh-India relations.
Second, From an âinternational hopeless caseâ, Bangladesh is today a miracle of development. And behind such success, we must also recognize India’s role over the past 50 years.
Third, India is a versatile land with great geographic, linguistic, religious, cultural and ethnic diversity. In fact, the impressive development record, continued prosperity, stability, sustainability of the world’s largest democracy, strong democratic institutions, and a vibrant civil society, including media and academia, is an inspiring story for many. in the region and beyond. And to create an identity of the South Asian region on the international stage, Indian independence was crucial.
Fourth, a stronger and prosperous India is good for the countries of South Asia and the region as a whole and beyond. During these 75 years, India has achieved impressive successes from agricultural production to nuclear and space technology, from Ayurveda to biotechnology. Thus, if India were not independent, it might not be able to excel in the fields of science, technology and innovations which have ripple effects in the region.
Finally, the independence of India has value from the point of view of international relations. It must be remembered that India emerged during the period of the Cold War, where power politics predominantly dominated world politics. In such a context, India advocated for decolonization, argued for South-South cooperation and avoided aligning with power blocs. India emphasized peaceful international relations, a rules-based order. In fact, India played a crucial role in the success of the Bandung Conference of 1955. It should also be noted that India hosted the very first Conference on Relations with Asia in March-April 1947, precursor of the Bandung conference.
I would like to stress here that by 2021, India must play a leading role as a regional power. As a citizen of Bangladesh, I believe there are some issues that can be taken into consideration on the occasion of India’s 75 years of independence.
First of all, after 75 years of independence from India, I am convinced that India must focus more on its soft power than on its hard power. With around 1.35 billion inhabitants, investment in human development and human security is becoming necessary for India.
Second, I think India needs to focus more on institution building in the region. In this case, it should be noted that India is doing a great job in promoting regional awareness through the University of South Asia. However, with the exception of the University of South Asia, we do not see as much success from SAARC. In fact, it won’t be wrong to claim that SAARC is not functioning well due to the Indo-Pakistani rivalry. In such a context, India can strengthen BIMSTEC. I think it is high time to move forward the Bay of Bengal region which has remained a conflict free region for years. There is also a need to strengthen the BRICS, the BCIM Economic Corridor and the Indian Ocean Rim Association, where India can play a crucial role.
Third, there is increasing militarization in the Indian Ocean region which does not benefit any coastal state. In order to make the Indian Ocean region a zone of peace, India can play a leading role.
Fourth, in 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) with a major focus on the maritime domain, which is very encouraging for the region. We can mention that maritime terrorism, piracy, armed robberies against ships, marine plastic pollution, climate change and ocean acidification, the emergence of dead zones, overfishing, IUU fishing are of serious concerns for the coastlines of the Bay of Bengal region including India. In this case, a regional approach becomes imperative where India must play an important role.
Fifth, On February 8, 2019, the late and former Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at the 5th India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Committee Meeting mentioned that no less than 90 bilateral agreements have been signed between Bangladesh and the India since Narendra Modi’s 2015 visit to Bangladesh (Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2019). I would like to reiterate here that this was only possible thanks to a strong political will from Delhi and Dhaka to deepen the ties. And this enhanced relationship has impacted millions of people across borders. I still believe that strong political will is enough to change the South Asian region and the Bay of Bengal region, where India can play a crucial role.
Sixth, I believe that nurturing people-to-people contacts becomes important in any bilateral relationship. In this case, the relaxation of the visa regime, the increase in the volume of scholarships, the volume of cultural exchange programs, including student and teacher exchanges, musicians will be imperative to accelerate people-to-people contacts. in the region where India can play a leading role. . It is very encouraging that in 2019 the number of visas issued by India to Bangladeshi citizens has crossed the 1.5 million mark, which is imperative for the promotion of people-to-people contacts.
Seventh, I firmly believe that the strengthening of university cooperation between India and its neighbors is becoming necessary. India can do a study; how many Indian study centers are available in the region and how many Indian institutes focus on neighborhood studies? It is important to promote joint research and collaboration between academics and researchers in the region. The center for Indian studies in the region should be promoted where the Indian high commission on those particular countries can play a vital role. Although there is a Center for Japan Studies and a Center for East Asian Studies with a primary focus on China and Japan at Dhaka University, there is no such center. studies on India in Bangladesh. It is important to establish an India Studies Center / Institute at Rajshahi University which will be dedicated to promoting knowledge on Indian affairs, Bangladesh-India relations.
Eighth, the world of 1945 and 2021 is not the same. Likewise, India in 1947 and India in 2021 are not the same. For example, in 1947 India was a poor country with a large population impoverished and suffering from food shortages. The situation for the industry was not good enough either. The country also faced challenges such as national integration and nation building in the post-partition era. In 2021, India is the third largest economy in terms of PPP (purchasing power parity) while the country has the third largest pool of scientific and technical experts in the world. It is one of the key countries in the global economy and the global supply chain. The country has made an enormous contribution to the field of international peace and security through its contributions of active troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions. So, I firmly believe that the United Nations Security Council needs to be reformed. And as the representative of South Asia, India can be a permanent member of the Security Council. Indian neighbors can actively help India to become a member of the Security Council.
Ultimately, there is a possibility of rising protectionism, less cooperation in the post-pandemic world. The coronavirus crisis has also shown the world the apparent lack of global leadership when it is absolutely necessary. The coronavirus crisis has also shown us the importance of the region, regionalism and regional cooperation in dealing with any pandemic or common challenge. So, I think in the production, sharing and trade of vaccines, India’s neighbors, including Bangladesh, should be given top priority. Because in this era of interdependence of so many factors and dimensions, if the people of their neighbors remain at risk from the pandemic, India’s security would also be threatened or vice versa.
I conclude by saying that the fate of India is closely linked to that of its neighbors because we say that we can change our friends but not our neighbors. In fact, neighbors matter in the context of security, development, peace and prosperity. Therefore, India, along with its neighbors in South Asia and the Bay of Bengal, can work collectively in international forums for common causes such as global health governance, climate change and free trade. Regionally, India taking its neighbors with confidence, can constructively cooperate for a prosperous and peaceful South Asia and Bay of Bengal region in the post-COVID-19 world, which would ultimately benefit to all.