‘Emergence of Bangladesh and evolution of India-Bangladesh ties’ book review: Looking East

This book, by a veteran diplomat with widely acknowledged expertise on Bangladesh, etches a wide arc of regional history right upto 2022. A concise, pithy and racy book, it begins with the history of formation of Bengali identity in its different facets, especially Muslim. It then traces its evolution, conditioned by not infrequent changes in political circumstances whose precipitate, violent dimension barely recede from the community’s consciousness. The author reflects throughout on the precise identity of a Bengali Muslim, which animates the regional politics till today while dissecting Bangladeshi politics to explain the functioning of the state and its regional ramifications for India’s foreign and domestic policies. The constant identity-related tension in Bangladeshi politics, whether a Bengali Muslim is ‘Muslim’ enough to constitute the core of its nationhood manifests itself as its daily grist.

The inner contradictions of Bengali Nationalism before Partition, and thereafter, burst forth with ferocity during the liberation war for Bangladesh. Despite Sheikh Mujib’s mass popularity before and after liberation, an abortive democratic transition under him complicated its growth as a nation, prising further apart its existing societal and governmental fractures. The post-1971 euphoric bilateral relationship was quickly followed by periods of dramatic swings between friendship and hostility. The hard-core statecraft practised by successive Bangladesh leaders necessitated suitable Indian responses to cope with these shifts.

As the author elaborates on these phases, baring innumerable critical inter-dependencies between the two countries, he provides insights into the steadying of this relationship in recent decades due to the friendly attitude of PM Sheikh Hasina. She has leveraged the relationship for a spectacular growth of Bangladesh’s economy and India’s keenness to foster it through various measures, especially wide spectrum connectivity projects.

A candid explanation has been given of the achievements as well as of the enduring and emerging challenges placing them in South Asia’s volatile geopolitical setting. Bangladesh’s authoritarian leadership is now in transition, its economy is increasingly vulnerable to internal and external geopolitical shocks, including the multiple localised impacts of accelerating global warming, and the overarching tension in India-China relations with its pluses and minuses for its leaders.

This empathetic, perceptive book, interspersed with his personal experiences as a highly placed participant in the shaping of this relationship, is a must read for everyone interested in understanding the profound complexity of managing India’s foreign relations in its immediate neighbourhood in our uncertain times.

Emergence of Bangladesh and Evolution of India-Bangladesh Ties

By: PR Chakravarty

Publisher: KW Publishers

Pages: 270

Price: Rs 1,500

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