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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

'India can be a little more sympathetic and giving'

Syed Munir Khasru

WITH A renewed emphasis in New Delhi on relations with Bangladesh, Syed Munir Khasru , chairman of the Institute for Policy, Advocacy and Governance (I-PAG) gives a Bangladeshi view on relations:

How would you define India-Bangladesh relations today?
Unfortunately, the history of the subcontinent, thanks to the legacy of Partition, has been a history of distrust and suspicion. In 1971, at the time of the birth of Bangladesh, India had gained a lot of goodwill for providing us moral, logistical and political support during our liberation war. However, over the years Indo-Bangla relations have steadily degenerated. This is not how we would have imagined things in 1971. But in reality we have grown more distant. There are several reasons for this. But i still feel there is great scope for synergy between the two nations.

What would it require to strengthen ties?
If you look at relations between big and small nations, most of the time it is the bigger nation that plays the lead role and has to be a little generous. Just as India's generosity in 1971 was unparalleled, we Bangladeshis expected India to be a little more lenient on many issues. For example, take the issue of Ganges water. India happens to be an upper riparian state with respect to Bangladesh in most cases. Look at what's happening with the Teesta river. In Bangladesh roughly 20 million people are affected while in India it's about 8 million. But during the dry season India had access to about 32,000 cusecs of water and Bangladesh only 5,000 cusecs. The latter is disproportionately low. Now we are not saying that India should negatively act against its own people to the benefit of Bangladesh. But India can be a little more sympathetic and giving. We can have several rounds of talks, but it is only through small, significant gestures that we can strengthen our relationship.

Again, our relationship is defined by unfulfilled expectations. The total volume of Indian exports to Bangladesh is around $2.5 billion. That of Bangladesh to India is around $225 million. A huge trade deficit. India is a massive industrial power compared to Bangladesh. We are happy that a neighbouring country is doing so well and hope to benefit from India's boom. So for India to have a negative list of exportable goods from Bangladesh running into 480 items is simply unjustifiable. Why would India have such a huge number of negative items with a country with which it enjoys 10 times trade surplus? When India's commerce minister came to Bangladesh last April he only promised to take off about 60-65 items from the list. So there is much more that India can do to enhance two-way trade and build business confidence.

What are your expectations from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit?
Recently foreign minister S M Krishna came to Dhaka and said that the relationship between India and Bangladesh can serve as a model to other South Asian countries. We're glad Manmohan Singh is coming to Bangladesh. But i'd still say given that India is so big, be a little more generous with water and trade. For example, why do you need a ready-made garments quota with Bangladesh? You can easily do away with this. On the other hand, Bangladesh must get out of this mindset that any deal with India needs to be put under the microscope. This kind of attitude doesn't serve any purpose. Whether it is transit or water sharing, things can be done in a transparent, professional manner to the benefit of both parties.

Published in the Times of India, India, August 1, 2011

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