Event ReportsPublished on Feb 20, 2009
It would be useful if India adopted a more generous approach towards resolving some of the contentious issues which have hindered a stronger bilateral relationship
Bangladesh after elections
India must help Bangladesh stabilise politically as well as economically while carefully avoiding being seen as an overbearing neighbour. It would be useful if India adopted a more generous approach towards resolving some of the contentious issues which have hindered a stronger bilateral relationship. This was the consensus at a roundtable discussion on “Bangladesh after the Elections”, organised by Observer Research Foundation on February 20, 2009. The discussion was attended by distinguished experts including Amb. M Rasgotra, former Foreign Secretary and President of ORF Centre for International Affairs, Mr. Vikram Sood, Former RAW Chief and Vice President ORF Centre for International Relations, Lt Gen. Vinayak Patankar, Distinguished Fellow ORF Centre for Security Studies, Dr. Nitish Sengupta, former Revenue Secretary and ex-Member of Parliament, Dr. Sreeradha Dutta, Research Fellow Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses and Mr. Bhaskar Roy retired IPS officer. Initiating the discussion, Dr. Sreeradha Dutta said the January 2009 election was a break from the past in more ways than one. The Awami League (AL) won with a surprisingly high majority without either raising the bogey of India or evoking the Banga Bandhu mystique. A large number of the voters were either young or first-timers and they quite decisively voted against corruption and radical elements. The AL won on the promise of generating employment, promoting agriculture and curbing corruption, a promise which will be hard to fulfill though Referring to the bilateral relationship, Dr Dutta said the contentious issues between the two countries could be resolved if there was political will on both sides and a generosity on the part of India when it came to making concessions. She said the main problem in the relationship was India’s aggressive approach which should be toned down and made more accommodative towards smaller neighbours. She said Bangladesh was acutely aware of India’s concerns in the region and could be persuaded to work along but for the perception of India acting as a Big Brother. ``We should give Bangladesh time and space to figure out its policies. India should tailor its policies to accommodate Bangladesh’s concerns,`` she said. Focusing on the bilateral economic ties, Dr. Nitish Sengupta said there was a need for promoting easy movement of human and goods across the borders. He pointed out that the geographical location of Bangladesh was such that it can hardly overlook India on the economic front. A large amount of trade was anyway going on across the borders, mostly illegal and it could be tackled to mutual advantage by introducing D-category visa, a mechanism that granted visa to a person to visit the country for a day. In fact, Dr. Sengupta highlighted the need for understanding the ground realities on different bilateral issues before formulating policies. On illegal migration, Dr. Sengupta said a visa-like mechanism could be introduced to monitor and check the high level of migration that takes place from Bangladesh to India. Dr. Sengupta suggested reducing of taxes on imports from Bangladesh and also argued that similar gestured needs to be reciprocated by Bangladesh. On the transit route, he said Bangladesh can benefit economically by providing transit route to India by charging taxes. Dr. Sengupta sounded optimist about the future of India-Bangladesh relations but suggested that both the sides should sit together to resolve issues. Meanwhile, Mr. Bhaskar Roy assessing the future of Bangladesh politics, said it was important for the new Sheikh Hasina government to punish the war criminals of 1971 war and Mujib’s killer as these two issues have been haunting the country since it’s independence. On Jamaat-e-Islami, he said `` we should not overlook Jamaat because it has performed badly in the elections. Jamaat still has considerable influence in the country and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat combine can create problems for the government. Jamaat, he said, has not given up its anti-India rhetoric. The report was prepared by Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Associate Fellow, ORF
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