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21_Narendra+Modi_Sheikh+Hasina_06062015_0010One of the positive aspects of India-Bangladesh ties that deserve attention is the curiosity of the common people in each other’s matters. Bangladesh generates huge interest in bordering Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, and parts of Assam and Meghalaya. India being the most important neighbour, as rightly pointed out by Bangabandhu Kanya, means the expectations of the people of Bangladesh are much higher.

The enthusiasm they displayed on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden Dhaka visit was unprecedented. The buzz around the visit was such that it compelled even orthodox Jamaat-e-Islami, an ideological adversary and vocal critic of the ruling Awami League’s certain foreign policy priorities, to endorse popular sentiment and issue a statement saying “Bangladesh has a friendly relation with India”.

Bangladesh had been keenly watching the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and Modi’s rise to power. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited Modi to visit Bangladesh soon after he pulled an emphatic electoral victory. Modi sought to make his first overseas trip to Bangladesh.

But it could not be worked out as there had been no progress on two outstanding issues—Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and Teesta water sharing deal. He decided to undertake a visit to Bangladesh after resolving at least one of the two lingering issues. The date of the visit was finalised barely two weeks after the Indian Parliament ratified the LBA paving way for its implementation.

Modi’s historic visit has elevated India-Bangladesh ties to a higher trajectory and opened the flood gate of opportunities for enhancing cooperation in the arena of connectivity, education, culture and tourism. Some of the agreements inked during the visit covering these areas were: Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala and Guwahati-Shillong-Dhaka bus services, Kolkata-Khulna train service, Cultural Exchange Programmes for the years 2015-17 and a Memorandum of Understanding between University of Rajsahi, Bangladesh, and University of Jamia Milia Islamia, India. Both the sides also adopted a Statement of Intent on Bangladesh-India Education Cooperation.

India and Bangladesh share similar colonial history and language. The improvement of cross-border connectivity has always been a popular demand since the people of the two neighbouring nations continue to maintain strong ties of kinship. The opening of new bus routes between India and Bangladesh will largely benefit tourists and residents of landlocked North Eastern states by drastically reducing travel time and cost. Both the countries also agreed to restore old Kolkata- Khulna railway link.

During their bilateral talks, the political leaders of India and Bangladesh underscored the need to up grade transport infrastructure along the international boundary for economic development of the border regions and boosting of friendly ties between the people of the two countries. Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid told Modi that improved connectivity between Bangladesh and India would bring the people of both the nations closer.

A major outcome of the visit has been the expansion of consular facilities between the two South Asian countries. After hectic negotiations, both the governments decided to open Bangladesh Mission in Guwahati and Indian Missions in Khulna and Sylhet. The opening of new missions will definitely enhance trade and commerce, cultural ties and tourism between the two nations. Prime Minister Hasina observed that people-to-people contact is the strongest of links. She added that the decision to open new missions in each other’s country demonstrated “growing mutual confidence and shared commitment to expand our relationship”. Modi also stressed on boosting tourism between the two countries. He remarked, “Terrorism divides, tourism unites”.

Greater trade and connectivity, especially people-to-people relations had been the focus of Modi’s June 6-7 Dhaka visit. During their one-to-one talks, Modi and Hasina agreed to enhance connectivity for the development in South Asia. Finalisation of a motor vehicle agreement between Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and India (BBIN) is a major step in this direction. The BBIN agreement, which was recently approved by Hasina’s cabinet, is set to be inked on June 15 in Thimphu.

Another significant factor that brought the people of the two neighbouring nations nearer was the positive role of the media. The Indian media gave full coverage to the historic visit. Several commentators had been appreciating Hasina’s bold leadership in the face of strident opposition from the rightist and extremist elements. The television channels ran a number of programmes highlighting the pioneering role of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the liberation struggle and war, the challenges he confronted to rebuild a war-ravaged country and the circumstances under which he was brutally murdered along with most of his family members.

These programmes helped people, particularly those who were born after 1971, to know the historical background and uniqueness of India-Bangladesh ties. Such activism also assumes significance as Modi prior to his visit lamented that the ratification of the landmark LBA had not received proper media attention. Modi’s Dhaka sojourn had gone down well in Bangladesh with the media calling it dawn of a new era in India-Bangladesh ties.

During Mod’s visit, a cultural exchange pact was signed for screening Bangladeshi programmes on Indian television. Dhaka’s media outlets were seeking New Delhi’s approval in this regard as Bangladesh had already allowed some Indian television broadcasters to operate in the country. This step has been lauded by the Indian viewers in the border states where several Bangladeshi cultural programmes are quite popular.

A big attraction of the visit was Modi’s inspiring speech on India-Bangladesh relations at the Bangabandhu International Convention Centre. In his indomitable style, Modi enthralled a gathering of 1,500 people, representing almost all sections of the society, including diplomats, teachers, students, business and political leaders. He noted that India and Bangladesh are not only neighbours but also share a common destiny. In his words, “India and Bangladesh are not just neighbours but nations bound by the threads of history, religion, language and kinship and a passion for cricket.”

In its bids to expand people-to-people relations between the two countries, the Modi Government had been planning to launch a new visa regime since it assumed power in May 2014. India’s Ministry of External Affairs proposed to allow visa-free entry for Bangladeshi nationals below 10 and above 65 years and visa-on-arrival for all other citizens. But the Ministry of Home Affairs turned them down as the Assam Government raised strong objections to the suggestions on security ground.

Relaxation of visa formalities could have benefited many people of Bangladesh whose preferred destination for tourism, treatment, and education is India. It was expected that Modi would offer long-term multiple-entry visas for children and senior citizens. But it was not included in the bilateral agenda of discussions during the visit. We hope that the issue will be taken up at the appropriate level soon to fulfill the wishes of thousands of Bangladeshis.

Dr. Rupak Bhattacharjee is an independent political analyst based in New Delhi, India, and focuses on issues related to India-Bangladesh relations, insurgency, infrastructure development, and regional connectivity in North-East Bangladesh.

Rupak Bhattacharjeeis an independent political analyst based in New Delhi.

4 Responses to “India-Bangladesh people-to-people ties stronger”

  1. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    Well said and very realistic. India, or any other country will do their job,protect national interests. But let us (BD) DO our job properly and keeping in perspactive our national interests. But do we do that?
    True, our Homework is never complete and not done sincerely. Whining will only make things bitter!

  2. sundar swapan

    Yes,but it is one side of the story not the whole truth. Modi’s visit has also simultaneously stirred a renewed anti India sentiment among a bulk segment of our population. Tv talk shows mainly dominated by anti India intellectuals like Mahfujullah, Imtiaj Ahmed, Tarek Shamsher and Amena Mohsin etc are doing overtime in proving that the outcome of Modi’s visit was disastrous for Bangladesh. He came here to purchase total allegiance of a subservient government for free and have successfully done it. The most servile government has sacrificed all its national interest to India just to stay in power with the help of India. No material gain has been achieved out of this visit. Their list of India’s betrayal is getting longer day by day, take some example; no Teesta water, no stoppage of boarder killing,no relief on negative balance of trade,no easing of non tariff barrier, free transit ,no step to make visa processing easy,no gurantee to show our tv program mes in Indian channel etc. In other words nothing tangible has been achieved out of this visit and until this servile government is ousted the independence and sovereignty of this country will remain at Indian threat.

    • ıat7b

      Mr. Swapan,

      Grandstanding is dime a dozen. It seems, the Anti-AL camp in Bangladesh are in a vicious, never-ending loop of making India the bogeyman. İt started during the Pakistan era and has failed to generate a single concession from India.

      The issues are indeed legitimate and India is indeed at the defaulters end so far these issues are concerned. However, we should be evenhanded in our assessment as well.

      River water sharing: We cannot even put pressure on India because we don’t have the expertise to make a coherent claim for water in international arena. China is withdrawing water upstream, India is doing the same and we are at receiving end. We have failed to generate enough international exposure for Bangladesh’s plight. Maybe, we take on an international campaign without whining within our borders?

      Border killing: Can you deny the smuggling industry in an around the border? İs it possible that a fraction of these killings are due to deals going sour? Do you think BSF is a bloodthirsty force that just shoots at anything that moves around the border?

      If you have such a dangerous border, you should stay away from it. That’s what commonsense says. At the same time, claims by İndia about illegal immigration is utter rubbish. All indicators suggest Bangladesh is a better place to stay compared to India. İf people are desperate to leave, they’ll leave for Middle East, Europe, Malaysia.

      Trade: If we are so up in arms about the trade imbalance, maybe we should quit buying Indian products and services? Nope, that’s not happening. We are habituated in thrashing İndia but at the same time, very cozy with their products and dance to their tunes. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. India will do everything at its end to hinder our entry to their market. But our inefficiency and bureaucracy are also responsible for our failure to overcome the barriers.

      TV program and Channel: Have you seen any movie by Mustafa Sarwar Faruqi? Enough said. Our industry don’t have the muscle, creativity to compete with their programs. If you have so much grievance, take the remote and turn off all Indian Channels. Nobody is doing that.

      India is indeed supporting the AL government. But other governments are still dealing with AL government. Why single-out this particular country then? When, opposition parties are holding meetings with foreign diplomats and complaining about election; isn’t that inviting foreign intervention? US has subcontracted out regional hegemony to India. They will try to take advantage of the situation. Our political class are falling head over heels to lick their shoe.

      I am sure by this time, I am termed as ‘India’s dalal’. I guess it makes it easy to ignore our shortcomings.

      Lets stop being a selective patriot, address our shortcomings and put pressure on India, constructive cooperation can generate mutual benefits. Whining will leave everyone bitter.

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