Tuesday, June 28, 2011

India Needs To Change Attitude In Dealing With Bangladesh

ONE-way traffic in India- Bangladesh relations becomes apparent once again if we take into consideration the news that Bangladeshi citizens are not allowed to enter India through the Botuli check post in Sylhet, although Indian citizens are allowed to make the trip the other way round. According to a report published in New Age on Monday, the Indian authorities have stopped issuing visas to Bangladeshis since November 2003 at the Botuli check post in Moulvibazar, reactivated by both countries in 2001 , after a 26- year gap.    While the issue of a single check post may appear minor in the greater scheme of things, it nonetheless feeds on the growing perception, at least amongst a significant section of the population in the country, that India-Bangladesh relations are affected by a lopsided foreign policy, where Bangladesh end up giving a lot more concessions to its powerful neighbours. At a time when both governments are vocal about improving relations between the two countries, such news can feed into abovementioned perceptions. The Bangladeshi government has already initiated the process of allowing India transit to its north- eastern states, and Botuli certainly does set a bad example in this regard. It does raise the question as to why, when the Bangladesh government has extended a hand despite significant resistance from many quarters in the country, the Indian government is still inclined to keeping its doors closed. More simply put, if ‘friendly relations’ is the word that is being bandied around, why should there be double standards, albeit in one check post or many? It has been apparent since the Awami League-led alliance came to power that the government has among its priority agendas to improve ties with India. In this regard, the government has initiated transit facilities, have cracked down on Indian fugitives seeking refuge in Bangladesh and also opened doors to a number of trade and investment opportunities. However, India’s response to Bangladesh’s concerns has so far been lukewarm. Killing of unarmed Bangladeshi citizens along India-Bangladesh borders continue to take place despite repeated assurance from the top brasses of the Indian state. The Indian government is also yet to address the issue of enclaves between the two countries, the un- demarcated borders or for that matter, conclusively address the issue of water share of the river Teesta. Botuli could very well be an administrative oversight or a strategic concern of the Indian authorities, but it is nonetheless consistent with the Indian government’s attitude in dealing with the people of Bangladesh. If the governments of both countries are indeed interested in developing lasting ties between the peoples and governments of the two countries, then a change in attitude—whether it concerns large issues such as Teesta or small ones like Botuli—is in order.