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Taking the leap

Prime Minister Modi’s Bangladesh visit affirms a more purposeful and problem-solving neighbourhood policy.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: June 8, 2015 12:00:58 am

For the 50,000-plus practically stateless people in the Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves, the celebrations came after a long wait. The two countries have finalised the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) that settles their approximately 4,000 km long border during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh. Modi’s remark that “It will make our borders more secure and people’s life there more stable” sums up the enormous achievement that has been sealed in Dhaka. Of course, that India has had a determined partner in the Sheikh Hasina regime has made it possible. The Bangladesh PM’s unreserved cooperation on terrorism and a readiness to think out of the box have been key to constructing a genuine partnership between Delhi and Dhaka. But the larger significance of Modi’s visit is in the demonstration of the potential for transforming the region through a more purposeful and problem-solving neighbourhood policy. The presence of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee signalled that this can be done while engaging state interests and drawing in regional leaders with high stakes in bilateral ties.

Addressing the unfinished agenda of the territorial partition of Bengal in 1947 also includes restoration of connectivity and lifting many of the barriers that have come to obstruct the flow of goods and people. Extending the Kolkata-Dhaka bus link to Agartala and liberalising the visa regime, along with opening new consulates in each other’s countries, are steps that will help this process of economic and cultural reintegration. India is extending a new $2 billion credit line to Bangladesh that will aid Indian exporters and also have the multiplier effect of creating almost 50,000 jobs for Indians. To redress the trade imbalance, India will invest in Bangladesh and the Indian private sector is also set to enter the country in a big way, from power plants to an exclusive SEZ for Indian firms, the first offered by a neighbouring country. The implications of gaining access to the Chittagong and Mongla ports — the former developed by China — in return for allowing Bangladeshi goods road access to Nepal and Bhutan extend far beyond greater convenience for Indian cargo vessels, tying up economic cooperation with a growing bilateral strategic trust.

The challenge, however, will lie in the hard work needed to implement these initiatives. Slow pace of implementation has undermined the gains of many a hard-won political battle in the past. A couple of major issues are still to be settled. The Teesta waters treaty negotiated in 2011 remains in a limbo. Modi and Hasina will also need to find a sensible solution to labour mobility across the border. Instead of framing the issue in terms of illegal immigration, the two sides can benefit by an agreed system of citizenship identification in border regions and work permits. All attempts must be made by both countries to ensure that this political breakthrough is extended and built upon.

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First published on: 08-06-2015 at 12:00:55 am
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