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North-eastern region of India has always been a tumultuous region since 1947. Also, this is one of the most backward regions in terms of economic and political development. It helped giving birth to the insurgency in the area, which once again, hampered its growth. It is a landlocked and mountainous region, while Bangladesh is almost situated between it and mainland India. In fact, this region has a faint connection with mainland India through Siliguri corridor of West Bengal. Geographically, it feels more proximity to Bangladesh than the mainland India. It creates scopes for Bangladesh to get more engaged with the states.

To undo this geographical disadvantages, successive Indian governments over the years have tried to secure transit to its north-eastern states through Bangladesh. Finally, Awami League-led government has allowed these transit facilities. But rather than being limited to transit only, we should explore other scopes of engagements.

Since Manmohan Singh government allowed duty-free access of all but 25 Bangladeshi articles to India, our export to India rose sharply for some years but stagnated later on mostly because of non-tariff barriers. Nonetheless, some Bangladeshi products have made significant footprints in the north-eastern India. The trade deficit between the two countries is yawning. Bangladesh is not happy with the situation, so to address our grievance, India can allow our businesses to operate in the mostly untapped north-eastern region, which would further the cause of India’s look east policy. Many of our big companies have capital enough to invest directly in these regions. Already, Pran-RFL group of Bangladesh has established a plant in Agartala. India-Bangladesh can jointly explore more scopes of investment in the region.

Once, Bangladesh-India relationship revolved around security concerns of this region. It is alleged that during the 1970-80s, Bangladeshi governments backed the insurgent groups of this region, while India backed the Shanti Bahini of our hill tracts. So, this mutual act of backing other country’s insurgent groups soured our relationship for long. But those days are over. The incumbent Bangladesh government dispelled this concern and India heaved a huge sigh of relief. Bangladesh, with its political and geographical proximity, can be of great advantage to north-eastern India. This is to be noted that the launch of BBIN initiative has been made possible due to this improved state of security. Together, we can create more scopes for regional cooperation.

The general opinion in Bangladesh is that our relationship with India is a one-way traffic, where we unilaterally concede everything to them. In fact, it has become a national grievance in Bangladesh, which cannot remain unheeded for long. Coupled with the fact of border killing, the said grievance has taken a really grave turn. India should immediately stop this and take joint measures with Bangladesh to regulate illegal border activities. On the other hand, wide scope of direct investment of Bangladeshi capital in India can mend the grievances of our people to a certain extent. It would be psychologically comforting on our part to know that our capital has been invested in India. People would feel empowered, at least. This is to be noted that Pran-RFL group of Bangladesh has already established a plant in Agartala. More and more groups should be allowed to do so.

Direct investment of our capital in north-eastern states would facilitate people to people communication leading to better understanding of each other. Bangladesh having achieved a better score in some human development indexes compared to these north-eastern states can be a source of inspiration to them. Once communication is facilitated, they would have easily come in touch with our practices in human development, which would enrich their experiences. And don’t forget, north-eastern states have nature’s bounty, which would attract Bangladeshi tourists. It has already started. Bangladeshi investment over there would be an added advantage. At the same time, we should take initiatives to reduce the trade deficit. Our RMG exporters should look to operate directly in India through making own brands, while others should diversify products based on the market evaluation.

Of course, the days of uneasy relation with India is over, which set forth since the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We can afford to make this relationship a special one. People to people communication is the key to achieving that. Once people’s attitude changes, it has its impacts on the policy making. But we painfully observe that the people of our neighboring states of India are grossly misinformed about us. Bangladeshi TV channels should be allowed to telecast their programs in India to dispel this misconception.

Mongol Shovajatra (welfare rally) has been held in Kolkata on pohela boishakh (Bangla New Year) this year, which was pioneered in Dhaka in the early 1990s. Artists from Dhaka went there to extend their helping hands in the preparation. This is a great sign, no doubt. But cultural exchanges is not enough. The exchange should take place in all spheres of our lives, and mostly in business, which would ensure mutual trust, and then nobody in India would mind having a defence pact with India. However, in Diplomacy, it is often said that don’t put all the eggs in the same basket.

Protik Bardhan, Editorial Department, Daily Prothom Alo

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    While India and Bangladesh relations have improved a lot, there are bottlenecks in many aspects. With the right – wing in power in most states of north east, the refugees ( mainly Muslims) are at a receiving end. Constant demands of their deportation may become a contentious issue. The ‘ chakma’ tribals and problem of ‘ rohingyas’ remains cause of differences. The trade and commerce may show signs of co- operation but people of both nations have many things to be settled to live in peace and harmony