India, B’desh must boost people to people contact and focus on small local issues across border

New Delhi, March 5: Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Dhaka, a Bangladeshi think-tank has flagged practical grassroots projects to advance the special relationship.

Prime Minister Modi's visit is part of celebrations marking 50 years of the liberation of Bangladesh.

"The focus between the two countries typically has always been on big issues, but there is a need to prioritise local issues which may not hit headlines but impact the daily lives of the people living in the border areas.

These small initiatives can have a far reaching impact in building a stable relationship between India and Bangladesh," says Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) in a conversation with India Narrative.

Ahmed spotlighted the local benefits of border trade, which she said should be high on the to-do list.

She stressed that 'border haats' must be carved out which can increase markets for local products.

Until last year, there were four 'border haats' ? ready markets for people of both sides to mingle together and make purchases.

Ahmed added frequency of 'border haats' and trade fairs showcasing products need to be increased.

Increased connectivity between India and Bangladesh has gone a long way in cementing ties between the two neighbours while creating new business opportunities.

Greater rail and road connectivity has also boosted people to people contact.

"Connectivity will boost trade and once people from both sides see business opportunities opening up, an environment of trust and camaraderie will automatically build.

Let's understand money speaks better than politics. Once connectivity is expanded new business opportunities will be created and this will address the existing misgivings," Ahmed observed.

In December, rail connectivity between Haldibari in West Bengal and Chilahati in Bangladesh was resumed after almost 55 years.

The two countries are now working out the modalities to open up a bus route between Dhaka and Siliguri.

The route is expected to be opened this year. Besides, India is also looking at fast-tracking the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India Nepal (BBIN) initiative which will boost connectivity among the South Asian neighbours through rail and road.

Though Ahmed noted that several thorny issues remain between the two neighbours, including the issue of water sharing especially related to the Teesta river, she said the two leaders must focus on the areas that are progressing well.

"I don't see any reason why the two countries should focus on issues that are difficult to resolve, let us emphasize on the things that are working well between India and Bangladesh.

The focus should be on new opportunities," Ahmed noted.

However, she also added that New Delhi must refrain from taking sudden decisions related to export bans.

Last year, New Delhi's sudden decision to ban export of onions to Bangladesh created confusion denting bilateral relations.

"It may be a small thing but these small things leave a bad taste and if avoided, relations will only grow stronger."

Last year, India had all of a sudden stopped export of onions with rising inflationary pressures.

Besides, heavy rains in many parts of the country also impacted production and supply.

In fact, Hasina, had also brought the issue at the India Bangladesh Business Forum saying that the sudden ban created problems in her country.

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Source: IANS