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8th India Bangladesh Friendship Dialogue

The horizon of India-Bangladesh relations has extended into a brave new world. A wide spectrum of events has taken place between May 2015 and now, making land boundary agreement, visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Dhaka and signing twenty-two odd agreements of cooperation. The slow and gradual return of confidence and continuity in the relationship between the two nations is hard earned though certain forces raise their heads to destabilise this new and vibrant paradigm of growth and shared prosperity.

                The unlimited potential of the youth, a possibility of demographic dividends, a pervasive and hardcore poverty, a yawning inequality, an obstinate knowledge-divide, incidents of violent extremism, community driven traditions of employment and prosperity and ambitions for a better future form the eight cornerstones of the theoretical framework for the 8th India-Bangladesh Friendship Dialogue. Its Seventh round was entitled ‘Ground Rules of a New Paradigm’. Held on 4-5 March 2016 in Dhaka, it assessed and measured how far India and Bangladesh made progress in the three areas discussed in the sixth round. It also assessed three more areas of the core dialogue mechanisms: Connectivity and Integrated multimodal communication- with special emphasis on sub-regionally utilising inland waterways, rail networks, sea ports and coastal shipping; Generation, grid and trading in power and energy, designing innovative market solutions for securitising the power and energy sector investment, production, manufacturing and service sector complementarity between the two countries and designing sustainable and forward looking mechanisms in joint finance and marketing of both innovative and high- end value added products and services.

                “The eight round of India- Bangladesh Friendship Dialogue gives a clear signal to develop strong bi-lateral ties for mutual growth. Following the principle of ‘Sab Ka Sath, Sab Ka Bikash’, initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two nations can scale new heights, together working for progress, in the South-Asia region. The two nations share a lot in common- culture, traditions, customs. The land agreement has improved bi-lateral relations. We have common enemies but we have to combat to get rid of them”, said Sarbananda Sonowal, Chief Minister, Assam, inaugurating the three-day meet at a conference hall of Vivanta by Taj at Guwahati on July2, 2017.

                The state government of Assam will seek the support of Bangladesh for dredging the Brahmaputra and Barak  river which will not only help to tackle the problem of flood but will also improve navigation facilities for strengthening trade and commerce between the two nations, said Sonowal. He also called for removal of barriers and restrictions on trading of goods through the international border in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.

              The meet was jointly organised by India Foundation, Guwahati, India, Bangladesh Foundation for Regional Studies, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies (MAKAIAS), Kolkata and State Innovation and Transformation Aayog (SITA), Assam. The theme of the eight round of the Friendship Dialogue was ‘Into a Brave New World’. It was held to assess the impact of the changing world order on the peace, stability and prosperity of South Asia, particularly India and Bangladesh. It reassessed the progress achieved in managing peaceful and prosperous international borders and security, water security and joint basin management. It discussed about energy security, cross border power generation and trade, integrated multimodal communication and connectivity. It considered the factors for sub-regional and regional development, construction of regional and continental highways, rail networks, seaports and coastal shipping. There were discussions on designing sustainable and forward looking mechanisms in joint finance and marketing of both innovative and high-end value-added products and services. The meet prepared the ground for outlining ‘A security and Economy Vision of South Asia for 2030’.

                “This initiative of the dialogue may be called a brave new world. Brave indicates courage to move forward in the path to build good relations from a troubled past. We have shown capability to do so, being interested to clarify the context of bi-lateral relations coming across a turbulent past. The map has already been laid by framing the Act East Policy. We have to share the prosperity which can be done through peace. The most disturbing factor is violence and terrorism in this sub-continent. Now by virtue of the dialogue process, new vistas of bi-lateral relations have opened. In future we can take our schemes and projects to higher levels, including this momentum”, said M.J.Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India.

                Mohammed Shahriar Alam, State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh was also present on the occasion. He said that India is always given a well deserved important place in the bi-lateral relations between the two nations that can act as catalyst for development in South Asia region.

                Dipok Kumar Barthakur, Vice Chairman, SITA, Captain Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation also addressed the audience soon after inauguration. Pankaj Debnath, Member of Parliament, Bangladesh gave the vote of thanks and Dr. Sreeradha Datta, Director, MAKAIAS, Kolkata was the moderator for the inaugural session. There was a video presentation by Assam government which was followed by a cultural programme for which the moderator was Kazi Muntasir Murshed, Bangladesh Head of Mission, Guwahati.

                On July 3, the first working session was on Changing World Order and Bangladesh-India Relationship for which the Chairman was M. Shahriar Alam, State Minister for External Affairs, Bangladesh. The lead speakers were Dr. Sreeradha Datta and Prof. Manzurul Islam, Dhaka University. Dr. Delwar Hossain, Dhaka University, Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, President, Bangladesh Federal Journalist Union, Captain Alok Bansal and Prof. Nani Gopal Mahanta, Gauhati University participated in the discussions.

                The second working session was on Drivers of Mutual Prosperity for which the Chairman was Veena Sikri, former High Commissioner of India in Bangladesh. Dr. Ainun Nishat, Academic, BRAC University and Dhruv Katoch, Director, India Foundation were the lead speakers. Dr. Qazi K. Ahmed, Dhaka University, Sabyasachi Dutta, Director, Asian Confluence, Mahbub Ali, Member of Parliament, Bangladesh and Jaideep Saikia, Strategic Thinker participated in the discussions.

                The third working session was on Boosting Connectivity for which the Chairman was Syed Muazzem Ali, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India . Pinak Chakravarty, Former Diplomat and Dr. Khondaker Golam Moazzem were the lead speakers. There was a presentation from Government of Assam. Dr. Ainun Nishat, Ms Shubhrastha, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation and Delwar Hussain participated in the discussions.

                On July 4, the fourth working session was on Designing Long Term and Forward Looking Mechanisms for Sustenance of Good Relationship of which the Chairman was Captain Alok Bansal. The lead speakers were Dr. Qazi K. Ahmed and Tarun Vijay, Eminent Thinker. Dr. K.G. Moazzem, Research Director, CPD, R.P.Sarmah, Member of Parliament, Shishir Shill, Secretary General, All Party Parliamentary Groups, Bangladesh and Binod Bawri, Director, India Foundation participated in the discussions.

                  “The relationship between the northeastern region of India and Bangladesh is friendly, based on common values. But there are some common challenges, one of which is the problem of infiltration of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh into Assam which is alarming. The draft NRC will be ready by the end of this year. We will understand the magnitude of the problem and will seek the help of the government of Bangladesh through the government of India for a lasting solution to this problem. The northeastern states of India and Bangladesh can join hands together for setting up world class institutions and facilities in the area of education and healthcare”, said Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Minister, Education, Health, Finance, Tourism etc, Government of Assam, giving the valedictory address.

                Tathagata Roy, Governor of Tripura was the Chairman of the valedictory session. He said that China has plans to divert water in the upper reaches of river Brahmaputra, which will not only be harmful for India but will also affect Bangladesh. He said that the two nations must look into the matter as the two nations have common interests and irritants as well, one of which is the water sharing issue.

                “The India-Bangladesh relationship is long lasting as it has withstood the ravages of time. There is the possibility of increasing people-to-people contacts, following the spirit of inclusiveness. Business delegations will be allowed to come to northeast India from Bangladesh to explore the possibilities and potentialities for trading and business. The relations between the two nations will enhance peace and prosperity based on mutual trust”, said M.Shahriar Alam, giving the keynote address in the valedictory session.

                Ram Madhav, the national General Secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party also addressed the valedictory session. He raised the issue of illegal movement of cattle from India to Bangladesh and urged to stop such activities. Confronting both external and internal challenges, both the nations are among the fastest growing economies of the world, he said. Both the nations share certain values like democracy, secularism and desire for peace and both are working to combat violence, terrorism and hate, he added.

                The 8th India-Bangladesh Friendship Dialogue concluded on 4th July, adopting the ‘Guwahati Declaration’, calling for greater business-to-business and people-to-people contacts between northeastern region of India and Bangladesh for sustainable goodwill, trust and shared growth and prosperity. It made suggestions for preparing a vision document and research report on ‘NE India and Bangladesh: Borders as Prosperity Zones’ and laid proposals for holding a joint business summit. He said that the progress made by the two nations through bi-lateral relations should be taken forward with a firm conviction. The 8th round of the Dialogue assessed the impact of the changing world order on peace, stability and prosperity of South Asia, particularly India and Bangladesh. Political leaders, academicians, intellectuals, former High Commissioners and Media personalities of both the countries largely attended it.

By: Rukhmini Barua Deka

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