India-Bangladesh relations were discussed during last month’s meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The latter was reportedly supportive of the NDA government’s move to pass the India-Bangladesh Land Border Agreement (LBA) Bill. She was also positive on the Teesta water sharing pact. Modi is keen to settle both issues before he visits Bangladesh this year.
Sikkim, meanwhile, has placed its bets on building a slew of dams on the Teesta to generate 1,200 MW of hydropower. Water diversion at the Gazaldoba barrage remains a concern. Modi has been persuading Pawan Chamling, chief minister of Sikkim, where Teesta originates, to release more water to Bangladesh and West Bengal.
Bangladesh has pro-actively responded to India’s request for curbing cross-border violence. The Burdwan blast and the arrest of JMB terrorists in Assam highlight the importance of such cooperation. India’s recent proposal for a counter-terrorism pact builds on past achievements. However, human rights groups in Bangladesh report that dozens of people have been gunned down by the BSF. A joint patrol along the international border will help to address this and combat smuggling.
The Confederation of Indian Industry has identified potential sectors for Indian investment in Bangladesh, including electrical machinery, agro processing, automobiles, textiles and organic chemicals. Despite such potential less than 3% of India’s total outward FDI flow was to Bangladesh in 2013.
Indian investment in Bangladesh during January-September 2014 was only $54 million — lagging behind eight countries, including Pakistan. India and Bangladesh need to exploit untapped potential by improving connectivity and removing trade barriers. The cross-border Akhaura-Agartala railway link, strengthening connectivity between India’s North-East and Bangladesh, can be a good start.
Given the congenial atmosphere prevailing in both New Delhi and Dhaka, it is time to transform Indian assurances into actions. Bangladesh also needs to actively facilitate increased Indian investment. Good economics leads to good politics and ultimately helps build strong ties between the neighbours.
The writer, Mr. Syed Munir Khasru is Chairman of a Bangladesh based international think tank – the Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG).