New Delhi: The historic 2015 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement would have happened earlier had Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the “father of the nation” of the neighbouring country, been alive, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an op-ed for Bangladesh’s The Daily Star Friday.
Modi arrived in Bangladesh Friday for his first foreign trip since the Covid pandemic began last year. It is meant to mark 50 years of Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan and the birth centenary of Mujibur, fondly referred to as “Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal)”.
A leading figure of the Bangladesh freedom movement, he was assassinated four years after liberation, in 1975. Incumbent Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina is his daughter.
“India and Bangladesh were able to finally overcome the complications of history through the 2015 Land Boundary Agreement. It was a historic moment in the history of modern nation-states,” wrote Modi. “But had Bangabandhu been at the helm longer, this achievement may have come much earlier.”
The boundary agreement, signed on 6 June 2015 in Bangladesh, facilitated a land swap between India and Bangladesh to address issues stemming from the undemarcated land boundary. It also led to the exchange of Bangladeshi enclaves inside Indian territory, and Indian enclaves within Bangladesh.
If the boundary agreement had happened earlier, Modi said, India and Bangladesh’s cooperation “would have reached a different orbit altogether”.
“This may seem unrealistic, but one only has to look at examples elsewhere. Europe was marred by centuries of conflict, but achieved incredible success in bringing its people together to partake in a prosperous and shared future. Somewhat similar is the achievement of ASEAN,” he wrote.
Although the majority of the op-ed talked about how the subcontinent would have been if Bangabandhu were alive, Modi did credit Hasina with pushing the India-Bangladesh relationship forward.
“Cargo from Bangladesh can move to Nepal and Bhutan through India. We are in the process of implementing a similar arrangement for Indian cargo to reach India’s northeastern states through Bangladesh,” he wrote.
“We are making concerted efforts to operationalise our inland waterways, which will allow Bangladesh barges to reach all the way to Varanasi and Sahibganj in India.
“Last year, we also commenced cargo and parcel services via railways, a move which has directly benefited the consumers and producers in both countries,” he added.
In the op-ed, Modi said connectivity projects between the two nations, like the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline and the Akhaura-Agartala rail link, are likely to be completed this year.
“As our connectivity improves, our business will increase, our partnership will deepen, and we will open new vistas of cooperation,” he wrote. “I firmly believe that we are once again striving towards a destiny that the Liberation of Bangladesh had once augured for our region.”
India, he added, will remain Bangladesh’s partner towards achieving the “Shonali Adhyaya (golden phase)” that Bangabandhu envisioned.
The phrase Shonali Adhyaya was popularised after October 2018 when India and Bangladesh inked seven agreements. These included plans for the import of bulk LPG from Bangladesh to Tripura through trucks, setting up of a Vivekananda Bhaban at Ramakrishna Mission in Dhaka, as well as the Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute (BIPSDI) at the Institution of Diploma Engineers Bangladesh in Khulna.
Had Bangabandhu been alive, Modi said, India and Bangladesh would have achieved “a closely integrated economic region” by now. The region would have realised “deeply interlinked value-chains spanning food processing to light industry, electronics and technology products to advanced materials”.
India and Bangladesh could have also joined maritime capacities to propel economic growth, wrote Modi, emphasising the importance of building such a region in and around the Bay of Bengal. This is significant as the Bay of Bengal area is fast becoming the cornerstone of the Indo-Pacific strategy.
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