Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Bangladesh-India Ties: Pragmatic Transformation

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Bangladesh-India Ties: Pragmatic Transformation

Article excerpt

The Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), finalized during the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in June this year, justifiably received top billing in the media. So did the Teesta water sharing agreement which could not be signed, thanks to domestic politics in India. The LBA has been implemented, and enclaves, adverse possessions and demarcation of the land boundary was implemented on 1 August 2015 in a time-bound manner. A lingering ghost of the post-colonial era has finally been exorcised, freeing Bangladesh-India relations from the shackles of the past. The Teesta water sharing agreement, however, is enmeshed in political horse trading, as well as disagreement between the Central government and the West Bengal government on the water sharing formula. West Bengal believes that North Bengal will be deprived of its legitimate share of water, if the current formula for sharing is sanctified in the final agreement. Water is a State subject, like law and order. The Indian Constitution mandates that on water sharing, the Central government requires the concurrence of the States, though the Centre has full powers in the domain of external affairs for entering into treaties with foreign countries. However, different Central governments in India have, quite wisely, not tried to ram a water sharing agreement down the throat of a State government.

Prime Minister Modi's visit to Bangladesh produced a sheaf of bilateral agreements but lefthim with some heavy lifting to do on convincing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerji on the Teesta Draftagreement. One agreement which did not merit much media attention was the one which will connect India to the International Gateway in Bangladesh for voice, data and internet traffic for India's north-eastern states which have chronically suffered from indifferent and downright poor service in this important digital domain. An International Gateway is being established in Agartala. This will be connected to the Cox's Bazaar Cable Landing Station in Bangladesh, an International Gateway. When that becomes a reality, the north eastern states of India will get the extended bandwidth for internet traffic that they have been leftwithout for so long. The cost of this project will be offset by better revenue generation for both sides. India's BSNL will lay the optical fibre cable network from Agartala in Tripura to Akhaura in Bangladesh to connect to the Bangladeshi network. This is huge gain for connectivity.

The future of Bangladesh-India ties and the eastern region of the sub- continent lie in creating a web of connectivity that integrate roads, railways, waterways and coastal shipping for the faster and easier transportation of goods. Connectivity remains the bedrock of a more efficient transportation infrastructure for India's "Act East Policy" and bringing the north-eastern states into the mainstream of the Indian economy. Hence, Bangladesh and Myanmar are bridges to connect to India's north-east and the ASEAN countries. India, therefore, has for long engaged Bangladesh for transit facilities to send goods and supplies to its north-eastern states in order to cut transportation costs as well as time. Bangladesh adamantly opposed transit to India for all these years. This opposition was bipartisan, and came from all shades of political opinion in Bangladesh. Denying transit to India seemed to unite most Bangladeshi politicians for quite a long time. It was somehow seen as a loss of sovereignty. While some transport companies in Bangladesh saw it as profitable business provided only Bangladeshi trucks were utilized, other businesses were concerned about losing markets in India's north-eastern states for the limited range of manufactured goods that were produced in Bangladesh. Denial of transit to India served the purpose of leveraging bilateral ties for concessions from India on trade, mainly tariffreductions and removal of non-tariffbarriers.

A game-changer in connectivity is on the horizon. …

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