by Staff Correspondent
It was only in 1971, that the erstwhile Bengal that underwent struggle and political upheavals since 1947, became Bangladesh and became a nation; but the lines drawn on maps don’t stop the flow of brotherhood and love that has existed for centuries. There’s an inherent attraction and appeal, in listening to one’s mother tongue, the fragrance of one’s food and colors and beautiful views/visions of specific art forms; and that appeal is what brings both India and Bangladesh close to each other.
The development of dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Kathak etc, which are common across the sub continent happened over centuries, when both India and Bengal were under the same throne, from the time of Nanda, Maurya, Shunga, Kanva, and eventually the Mughals. It is because of this contiguity of administration, that there are striking similarities which are found in every aspect of the cultural fabric of the two nations. If we look at the architecture, the Islamic effect is clearly visible in the high domes and pointed arches, while recently, remains of Buddhist monasteries have also been found in Bangladesh, taking the uniformity and alikeness to one more aspect that is of being a home to the Buddhist religion.
Although, Bangladesh is the younger democracy, but the path of the struggle that us, brother nations took, is more similar than different. The language, literature and music that acted as a uniting factor for the erstwhile Bengal with rest of the Indian mainland at the time of freedom struggle in 1947, was also the driving force for the movement of Mukti Vahini in 1971. The language and literature that filled young minds with fervor of sacrifice for motherland has today metamorphosed into the symbol of freedom of expression and liberty of thought; both signs of a healthy democracy. As is evident, a lot of bonhomie and warmth already exists between the two nations because of our shared past and geographical contiguity, but student exchange programs, increase in tourism cooperation in health is an area that needs more exploring and tapping of opportunities. The bond shared between Bangladesh and North East India is a historic one. Generation and generations of our ancestors had shared linguistic and cultural bonhomie in North East India and Bangladesh. States like Assam and Tripura share stronger than shield people to people connect with their Bangladeshi brothers and sisters. You cannot pen down the emotions and feelings of this connect but only feel the vibe once you are in these parts of North East India and Bangladesh. And yes, this tree of bonding is the place that gives us shade of relief wherever there is same unreasonable heat between Bangladeshi and North Eastern population.
As the saying goes that “The price of security is eternal vigilance’, so is the nature of domain of security along the 4094.7 Km of Indo-Bangladesh International Land Boundary and shared regional of maritime coastal Boundaries. India’s International border with Bangladesh is the largest interims of overall length amongst all of India’s International Borders. This over 4000Km of land border spans through various marshes, wetlands, Riverine troughs, tropical thick forests, deltaic deposits and pristine mangroves. Apart from the above mentioned geographical differences in physical forms, in the cultural arena it runs though regions having diversity in class, creed, customs, cusine, credence and convictions. This border runs through areas having spatial differences in ethnicity, faith, language and way of life. Thus, the challenges present in management of these border regions, which are paresis inherently in nature, become a challenge to reckon with. Approx 1800 Km of the border is shared between Bangladesh and North East India. This border has its own security concerns too and both nations have been sharing info of various levels to tackle these problems. This border management is one of the basic points of discussion wherever we discuss India and Bangladesh. North East India and Bangladesh borders shares its own reputation in this whole gambit and this has never been tarnished due to mature understanding and handling. North Eastern India’s border has its own challenges with Bangladesh but not one that cannot be managed.
The high density of population accompanied by demographic changes on both side of the boundary has given opportunity of becoming the breeding grounds of multiple illicit and illegal activities, which are trans-national in nature. Terrorism shelter places and transit points of anti-India elements were once rampant in these regions, though with active support of Bangladesh in curbing of the former has given good results in eradication of the above. Demographically similarity exists between Bangladesh and North East India from a long time now. The times when connectivity was a major hurdle for people to people connect also saw varied exchanges between population from both sides. Cultural exchanges, religion and agriculture played a major part in all this.
Bangladesh has been similarly the transit touristy between the ‘Golden Triangle’ region of South East Asian Drug and Narcotics trade to the Golden recent region of Central Asian republics. This creates precarious situation in dealing with drug smugglers and peddlers in proximity Indian Areas and then possible smuggling and illegal trade. Similarity due to high population pressure and other socio-economic reasons there has been a sustained witnessing in illegal border crossing into India from Bangladesh.
The requirement to tackle with these present and near evolving threats lies in synergy between India’s and Bangladesh’s police and defence forces. An understanding of mutual concerns and development of faith in one another, nurtured through close relations in from of data and intelligence sharing, joint safety and defence cooperation in terms of joint exercise of land and coastal nature will certainly help in giving boost to shared security interests, as one must remember that when relations between two nations are this close on political and cultural sphere, then incidents in one county have ramifications in the other.
India and Bangladesh share 54 perennial rivers and sheams crossing though the common international bonders. The Ganga Basin and Bhrahmaputra Basin sheams of river system is the most prominent. Sharing of water from these sheams have been a long time bone of contention between India and Bangladesh. Water sharing is an issue which has been stymie to amicable relations between the two nations.
Bangladesh is a lower riparian state and has always complained of not getting its fair share of water since construction of Faraka Barrage in 1960’s to divert water of Ganges to then Calcutta Port upto the present complains of the same sharing of water of River Tista, which has been the lifeline of North West Bangladesh. Observing the issue closely one can find that Bangladesh as upto certain extent has gravity and substance in its complain of being the receiver of wrong end of the cane in both times of draughts and floods. However, closely observing one can find that the trend which is ubiquitous in most of domain of water conflict between India and Bangladesh are twin push and pull hindrances happening in the political areas of domestic politics of Bangladesh. For example, the Bangladeshi far Right Nationistic elements obfuscating mutual agreements alongwith the periodic change in political regimes which have exacerbated the issue out of proportion as have intentionally limited the level of co-operation to serve and cater to local and limited political interests.
North East India is a landlocked place and will not be wrong to say that it is a prisoner of geography. Land based network is the lifeline. But all this can be overcome by placing a multipronged approach where water bodies of Bangladesh and North East India can be utilised. Indo Bangladesh Protocol for Inland Transit and Trade (IBPITT) is step towards this. No paper, editorial can be complete till mention of the mighty Barak River is done. This 900 Km river flows through states of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam and into the Bay of Bengal via Bangladesh. Starting from its source in Manipur till Bhanga Bazar where it enters Bangladesh, this majestic river with its basin of almost 52000 square Km is a haven for variety of flora and fauna and aquatic biodiversity. From erstwhile Assam, Barak River has connected people, extended trade relations and diversified demography. With declaration of Barak River as National waterway it will facilitate large movement and cross border trade between Bangladesh and North East India.
The way forward in solution to disagreements over water disputes and claims can be achieved by keeping the political interests on the backburner and making tryst with reality. The reality is that instead of a right based claim, a responsibility based behaviors must be adopted in use and conservation of water. This may encompass drastic change in human habits from personal use to commercial and agricultural use of water in the most optimal way as due to imminent effects of climate change and water hegemony of China over Bharamaputra river any empirical pact/ data based agreement went hold for long and again sounds of discontent or occasions of theft etc will start to take place.
In the peculiar type of water sharing and water use pattern between India and Bangladesh it must be remembered that solutions based on zero-sum outcome or par to optimality principle cannot take place as any water sharing agreement based on the data from past overage flow would not be prudent to apply in calculation of or predication of future availability of water in such rivers. Hence, the need of the hair is to adopt a humanistic approach towards preserving water as a shared treasure instead of making it a fight of grabbing the biggest portion of cake.
The ‘Threads that Binds’ both the nations have long lasting strength and have seen the test of the times. Our nations have nurtured each strand of these threads to make it our most valuable asset. For us all, it is time to weave out a majestic articraft out of these threads for nations to behold.