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Mainstream, VOL LV No 1 New Delhi December 24, 2016 - ANNUAL 2016

Bangladesh deserves More Attention and Appreciation from India

Monday 26 December 2016, by Bharat Dogra


Suppose you have two neighbours—one hostile neighbour and one friendly neighbour. For different reasons you need to give a lot of attention to both. The hostile neighbour requires attention for some reasons while the friendly nation requires attention for some other reasons, but they both require equal attention.

Now suppose that you give a lot of attention to the hostile neighbour but relatively much less attention to the friendly neighbour, then what will be the impact on the friendly neigh-bour? This neighbour may still remain friendly, but some of the enthusiasm for friendship will surely decrease with the passage of time. What can be even more harmful is that when the most favourable time of friendly ties is not utilised for strengthening people-to-people ties and for resolving any pending issues, then valuable time for ensuring more durable relationship even in difficult times will be lost. The potential benefits of utilising the friendly relationship to enhance the welfare of people on both sides of the border will also not be fully realised.

Something similar has been happening in the context of India’s relationship with its two close neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While India has been too busy with protecting its security and other interests from the hostile neighbour, Pakistan, it has not been able to give adequate attention to promoting in a sustainable and durable way its favourable relationship with the friendly neighbour, Bangladesh. This anomaly has still persisted despite the welcome look-East policy of the present government in India.

This needs to change and Bangladesh should get more attention and better appreciation from the government and people of India. In the recent past people in the subcontinent were surprised when the Bangladesh cricket team either defeated or came close to defeating the cricket teams of India and Pakistan which are generally considered to be much stronger. Well, this is only a relatively less important part of the many-sided achievements of Bangladesh. Over-coming more difficult circumstances Bangladesh has quietly made significant achievements in several important human development indicators, surging ahead of not just Pakistan but even India in some indicators.

 Such achievements made in hostile conditions deserve wider appreciation and more respect. This is not to underplay the many serious and some worsening problems which continue to exist in Bangladesh, but only to bring into focus some very important, yet neglected, achievements.

At the same time it cannot be denied that future challenges are much bigger than past achievements. A big part of Bangladesh as well as the coastal area of eastern India constitute a densely populated zone which will become increasingly vulnerable in the coming years to climate change. In this region the susceptibility to floods, storms and river erosion is already very high and this will enhance in the coming times the prospect of sea level rise while increasing the threat from cyclones.

 Hence in this entire zone giving adequate emphasis to real priorities of saving human lives and sustainable, broadbased food security is very important. Similarly, the need for mutual cooperation among peoples as well as authorities in normal times but even more so at the time of disasters is very high. Whenever the need arises, artificial boundaries should not come in the way of mutually cooperative actions for saving human lives.

Over vast areas where rivers are extremely important for the life and livelihood of people, there is need for mutual cooperation not just for equitable sharing of the benefits of river waters and respecting the needs of each other but even more so for working together to protect rivers, river ecology and coastal ecology to ensure sustainable benefits and protection of interests of future generations as well. These principles should be the basis for mutual cooperation among all people living in the Ganga-Brahmaputra region. Both India and Bangladesh should build a friendly relationship on the basis of respecting these principles. One can only hope that in regard to the Brahmaputra river China too will respect these principles, but there have been signs and warnings that it may instead play the big-bully role. If this happens then cooperation of India and Bangladesh and their united action will also prove helpful in checking such tendencies on the part of China.

While the cooperation and friendship of all neighbouring countries is generally of mutual benefit, in the case of India and Bangladesh the overall geographical and environmental conditions are such that the need for such cooperation and friendship is much higher. If this is well understood on both sides and becomes the basis of mutually beneficial policies and actions then the peoples of the two sides have much to gain.

 Keeping in view this larger perspective friendship at people to people levels as well as cooperation at the level of experts should also be promoted and in particular meetings of ecologists and health experts, representatives of farmers and fisherfolk, social and cultural organizations particularly womens’ groups should be facilitated in conditions of mutual understanding and friendship.

This is all the more necessary in the context of Bangladesh whose fortyfifth anniversary of liberation from the Pakistani yoke of domination and exploitation is now being observed. This was achieved through the bond of friendship between the Bangladeshi freedom fighters and Indian Armymen forged by the blood of martyrs of both sides in the battlefield in December 1971.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.

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