Indian northeast worried over stalled talks with Bangladesh

DNA, July 10, 2012

Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s failure to reciprocate Bangladesh’s “peace gestures” either by granting a concession on Teesta River water or operationalising the already signed land boundary agreement is frustrating the chief ministers of the north-eastern states.

The ministers are peeved at the UPA government’s inability and indecisiveness to table the Border Management Bill in the previous budget session of Parliament due to stiff opposition from the Trinamool and the BJP. “The delay is hampering the trans-border trade, contact and cooperation. Improvement in relations with Bangladesh is a real game-changer for the north east,” said Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma.

Government officials here admit that Hasina Wajid’s government in Dhaka has immensely contributed towards maintaining peace in the militancy-affected north-eastern states. She reversed the policy of her predecessors by ordering closure of several militancy training camps and even handed over some hardcore Assam militants to India.

Five Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram share a 2,429 mile-long border with Bangladesh.

Without naming them, chief minister Sangma told DNA, “Certain political parties were bent to ruin the prime minister’s look east vision and his carefully strategic initiative towards Dhaka.” He believes that his state, along with the entire north-east, were on the verge of making huge strides in development by the look-east policy.

The CPI (M) government in Tripura is also demanding greater economic engagement with Bangladesh. Sangma, who met prime minister Singh in Delhi recently, demanded improvement in internal waterways to Bangladesh to promote cross border investments. Further, he also asked for a transit route to Bangladesh’s Chittagong port, claiming it was the nearest port for all in the north-east.

Stressing on cooperation with the neighbouring country, the chief minister said improved relations had enabled us to move heavy machinery from Kolkata to Tripura through Bangladesh territory to set up the Palatan gas-based power plant.

Sangma is annoyed that while the BJP is making an issue of the India-Dhaka relations, it ignored its ally, Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal’s, underlining his state’s expansive interests in reconciliation with Pakistan.“I am desperately waiting for the day when people of both the Punjabis would freely move across the borders without visa restrictions,” Badal had said a few months ago while inaugurating facilities at Attari-Wagah border.