The participation of a tri-services contingent from Bangladesh in India’s 72nd Republic Day parade is an important moment for the bilateral relationship and New Delhi’s neighbourhood policy. Bangladesh’s participation in the parade and preference for Indian, as opposed to Chinese, help with Covid vaccines testify to the evolution of bilateral ties.
That Bangladesh fares well on social and economic fronts will make it easier for India to follow policies that boost bilateral ties. These ties have been neither smooth nor robust all along, despite the special circumstances of the relationship — India’s support in the 1971Liberation War and diplomatic recognition of Bangladesh.
But there has been, in recent years, an appreciation of the importance of cultivating strong bilateral ties, building on those special circumstances. Different aspects of engagement and cooperation have been added on, over time. Nor is Bangladesh the only success story of India’s Neighbourhood First policy.
The supply of Covid vaccines as gift or grant assistance was not limited to the two million doses to Bangladesh. Other countries in the region, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Myanmar, Mauritius and the Seychelles, are recipients as well. The New Delhi-Dhaka relationship is the most robust but that does not preclude strong relationships with other countries in the region.
There are ups and downs. In assessing New Delhi’s relationships in the region, one must not forget that countries, whatever their size, have agency in shaping their engagements. With two powers — India and China — in the region, bilateral relationships are unlikely to be linear or straightforward. Countries could seek to use either to wrest concessions from the other. Robust relationships take work and time.