India & Bangladesh: Time to Eliminate DifferencesDespite the MEAÃ¢â¬â¢s reassuring words on its website and the Land Boundary agreement that is to be signed during PM ModiÃ¢â¬â¢s visit to Bangladesh on June 6, relations between the two neighbours, though better than they were in the seventies and eighties, are not as rosy as they are made out to be. There remain a lot of contentious issues on both sides.
By Sunil Garodia
The chief among them are: the Teesta water sharing issue, cross border terrorism and infiltration of illegal migrants from the Bangladesh side. The Teesta issue will not make much headway this time too as West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has devised a new tactic to avoid being a party to the negotiations. She will fly in to Dhaka a day ahead of PM Modi and leave a day before, after the Land Boundary agreement is signed. This way, she will not be present when the Teesta issue is discussed. MamataÃ¢â¬â¢s opposition to the Teesta agreement as it stands is well known. She had refused to join former PM Manmohan SinghÃ¢â¬â¢s delegation to Bangladesh due to this. But since things are now moving ahead with the neighbouring country, this agreement should also be signed in a spirit of give and take, without, however, harming West BengalÃ¢â¬â¢s interests too much. People in Bangladesh feel that India can do more on water sharing and Modi will have to do a lot of explaining on this issue.
Cross border terrorism remains a thorny issue given the fact that there are groups active in both countries working to undermine the security of the other nation. Although Bangladesh had done much in the recent past to address IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s concerns, the discovery of splinter groups in West Bengal who were working to harm the elected government in Bangladesh was hugely embarrassing for India. For, India had always taken the position that Bangladesh was allowing militants from the North-East to settle in its territory. Now Bangladesh will claim that India is also guilty on this score. Hence, the best way ahead is for both countries to realize that such groups feed on the disagreement between the two nations to strengthen themselves. A concerted effort by the two countries to root out terrorism is overdue and should be taken up in real earnest.
Bangladesh should also seriously do something about infiltration of illegal migrants from its side. The issue has assumed gigantic proportions, as evidenced by changes in the demography of the Indian districts bordering Bangladesh. India should tell them that it will not tolerate the crossovers anymore and Bangladesh should step up vigilance on its borders. Routes from where such crossings regularly take place should be identified and both countries should try and plug them. A mechanism should also be devised for humanely sending back identified infiltrators, even if they have been staying and working in India for a good number of years. Bangladesh often denies massive infiltration, saying the issue is being politicized in states bordering the country to prevent people from other states of India to settle there. While this is true to an extent, the other truth is that Census figures prove that there is in fact massive inflow of migrants from Bangladesh.
What is heartening is that both countries have by and large agreed to enhance regional connectivity under what has come to be known as BBIN Ã¢â¬" Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. This will allow free transit through transport corridors to vehicles from all four countries. This will be of great help to land-locked Nepal and Bhutan. For India, it will reduce travel time from Kolkata to its North-Eastern states. The Kolkata-Dhaka -Agartala bus service through Bangladesh is to be flagged of by PM Modi during his trip. It will herald many other services, for instance, from Kolkata to Tinsukia/Dibrugrah in upper Assam.
Modi will visit Bangladesh at a time India is not being looked upon as the Big Brother in that nation, especially in the wake of the goodwill generated by the land agreement. Political parties in Bangladesh realize that the Indian government has approved the agreement despite protests in Assam. The country is already importing power from India. There can be agreements on exploring alternative energy resources. India can offer its expertise in disaster management to Bangladesh which is frequently ravaged by cyclonic storms. IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s experience in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh will be of much help to that nation. If the two countries learn to first agree where little or no disagreement exists, that will take them to a level where they will learn to avoid disagreements. ModiÃ¢â¬â¢s visit should take this stand and pluck low hanging fruits to take relations forward and generate goodwill.