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Uddipta Ranjan Boruah
Date of Publish: 2017-04-11

Dhaka Meets New Delhi but the Periphery remains ignored

 

 

 

The Bangladeshi ‘Lal Sobuj’ and the Indian ‘Tricolor’ stayed unfurled along the way as the convoy of diplomatic vehicles drove up the Raisina Hills in New Delhi. The motorcade escorted the Bangladeshi Prime Minister (PM), Sheikh Hasina who was in India for a four days’ state visit. In her first bilateral visit to India since last time in 2010, Hasina was duly received with utmost enthusiasm and hospitality. Her Indian counterpart, PM Narendra Modi went far beyond protocols to receive her personally at the airport. The two sides signed 22 agreements while furthering the bilateral strategic cooperation to newer heights. Areas of agreement this time range from defence, nuclear energy, cyber security etc to cooperation in outer space and passenger and cruise services. A defence deal and a settlement on the Teesta river sharing were the primary cornerstones of the visit but not much could be achieved on the later.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Ms. Sheikh Hasina, at Hyderabad House,

in New Delhi on April 8, 2017 ( Photo courtesy: Press Infomation Bureau)

Hasina and Modi on Saturday released the Hindi translation of the unfinished autobiography of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. To commemorate the occasion of Hasina’s visit one of the roads in Lutyen’s Delhi was abruptly renamed after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. To express a ‘friendly gesture’, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation renamed the erstwhile Park Street to Shiekh Mujibur Rahman Road just a day prior to arrival of Hasina. Among many other things, New Delhi offered a line of credit to the extent of $ 4.5 billion for investment in projects in the priority sectors in Bangladesh. In an attempt to wean Dhaka off Chinese military procurements, New Delhi offered an additional $ 500 million towards the same.

Appreciating Hasina’s strife against terrorism, Modi stated: “We have the greatest admiration for PM Sheikh Hasina’s firm resolve in dealing with terrorism. Her government’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards terrorism is an inspiration for all of us.”

There has never been any reluctance on the part of Hasina in appreciating India’s role in the Liberation War of Bangladesh. During her recent visit, she honoured the families of seven Indian soldiers that had laid their lives in the war of 1971. Reprimanding several voices across political circles in Bangladesh that denounce the role of India and Indian soldiers in the liberation war, Hasina on Saturday said: “History of Bangladesh has been written by blood of the Indian martyrs, along with those of Bangladesh.”

Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Ms. Sheikh Hasina at Sommanona Ceremony to

salute Indian Soldiers who fought in 1971war, in New Delhi on April 08, 2017. ( Photo courtesy: Press Infomation Bureau)

Attempt was made to achieve some considerable advancement or at the least a basic understanding in regard to the tangled Teesta issue. Modi stated that ‘only’ his and Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh could resolve the intractable Teesta issue. The extant of optimism however could not undermine the relevance of the West Bengal Chief Minister (CM), Mamata Banerjee and Modi had to pointedly acknowledge her in his speech. Modi stated: “I am very happy that the chief minister of West Bengal is my honoured guest today. I know that her feelings for Bangladesh are as warm as my own.” It requires mention that previous attempts to reach on considerable settlement over sharing of Teesta have been stalled due primarily to indifference of West Bengal.

Ms Banerjee called on the Bangladeshi PM at Rashtrapati Bhawan and apparently informed her of the reservations of the West Bengal government. Mentioning about four alternate rivers in north Bengal that could be diverted to meet Bangladesh’s requirements, Ms Banerjee apparently highlighted the ‘scarcity’ of water in Bengal that causes hindrances in agreement over Teesta.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Ms. Sheikh Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister

Mamata Banerjee at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on April 8, 2017 ( Photo courtesy: Press Infomation Bureau)

 

What about the Periphery?

It is obvious that any interaction or moving forward with Bangladesh shall have its impact – direct or indirect – on West Bengal and the states in the northeastern periphery of India given the geographical contiguity. Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura share direct land boundary with Bangladesh and each of the state has a complex history entwined with the neighbouring nation. Despite the utmost potential of getting impacted by any agreement between New Delhi and Dhaka, it is unfortunate that the northeastern states have been systematically ignored on occasions of interaction between the two. The matter has come to fore yet again in the wake of Hasina’s visit.

There can be no denying of the fact that all interactive attempts of cooperation that the current political dispensation in India have initiated vis-à-vis Bangladesh shall in one way or other foster New Delhi’s Act East policy. A seamless connectivity across Bangladesh with West Bengal on board is an essential prerequisite to better ensure New Delhi’s outreach to its own conflict-ridden and development-starving northeastern periphery which eventually would open up further to Southeast Asia. Under such understandings it is unfortunate that the northeastern states are kept at bay on occasions when issues such as cooperation are discussed with Bangladesh. The northeastern states on the contrary are forever fed with the traditional fodder of illegal migration and associated antagonisms with Bangladesh and Bangladeshis. The northeastern states are systematically kept beyond the discourses on cooperation and peaceful coexistence wherein roads are renamed overnight and protocols are bypassed without delay. The only imagination of a Bangladeshi that therefore prevails in the periphery is that of an encroacher with an insatiable hunger for strips of agricultural lands.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Ms. Sheikh Hasina at the delegation level talks

between India and Bangladesh, in New Delhi on April 8, 2017. ( Photo courtesy: Press Infomation Bureau)

The visit in a way brings to light the two faces of New Delhi’s diplomacy vis-à-vis Bangladesh. One face of it appreciates the need for cooperation and friendship with the neighbour and shows overwhelming commitment towards free movement of capital and investments. Agreements are inked even at the celestial realm where issues as opulent as cooperation at the outer space are talked of on high tables of diplomacy in the power centres of New Delhi. The other face however builds upon anti-Bangladesh rhetoric and propels domestic politics by making promises of strict border control and restriction of movement. The national flags of the two nations flied high in the wind of friendship along the Raj Path for four pleasant days while the quotidian existence in the periphery where the actual interaction between the two nations occur lie in utter animosity and hatred towards the unseen neighbour across the arbitrary line called border.

Uddipta Ranjan Boruah

(Uddipta Ranjan Boruah is a Doctoral Student at the Department of International Relations, South Asian University. Blogs at urbscribbles.blogspot.in. Views expressed are the author's own)

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