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Post-Modi visit, India, Bangladesh focus on forging “youth maitri bridge”

Shweta Aggarwal

Director (Communications),

India Writes Network

Building on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Bangladesh nearly a fortnight ago, India and Bangladesh have accelerated efforts to forge a robust youth friendship bridge and enhance cooperation in the Indio-Pacific.

At a webinar organized by India Writes Network and India and The World magazine on April 8, eminent diplomats, experts and politicians from India and Bangladesh have pitched for roping in the next generation of both countries to propel India-Bangladesh ties to new heights. 


 

In his keynote address, India’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami underlined the need for greater involvement of young people in taking India-Bangladesh relationship to the next level. “India and Bangladesh are among the youngest countries in the world in terms of youth profile and profile of the population,” he said in his Keynote Address at a webinar organised by India Writes Network and India and The World magazine on April 8.  

“Bringing the new generation of future leaders of Bangladesh and India into a new interpretation and understanding of the relationship is going to be critical for moving the relationship forward,” he said.

The Indian envoy underscored the imperative of shaping the bilateral relationship in such a manner that is relevant to the next generation of Indians and Bangladeshis in areas such as technology, trade, travel and the ease of doing business.  

Eminent diplomats and experts spoke at the webinar, including Mr Shahidul Haque, Bangladesh’s former foreign secretary, Mr Nahim Razzaq, a Member of Parliament from the ruling Bangladesh Awami league, Amb. Veena Sikri, India’s former High Commissioner to Bangladesh; Amb. Anil Wadhwa, Former Secretary (East), India’s Ministry of External Affairs; Dr Amena Mohsin, Professor, Dhaka University; and Dr Prabir De, Professor, RIS.

In a similar vein, Nahim Razzaq, a Member of Parliament from the ruling Bangladesh Awami league, spoke about the need for creating an ecosystem where India and Bangladesh can connect the youth of these countries. “The young generation want to see and learn and collaborate together in creating their own business connectivity. We have to create an ecosystem where we share the emerging ideas that bond us together,” said the 41-year-old Mr Razzaq, a youth icon in Bangladesh.

“As a regional powerhouse, we look up to India in terms of taking the lead in terms of bonding this relationship. The young generation are very much connected in areas such as education and health sector,” he said. “We need to be more kind of proactive in terms of disseminating these ideas across the board,” he stressed.

New Vistas

“PM Modi’s historic visit has raised the bar and opened new vistas in this multi-layered partnership such as forging youth connectivity, start-ups and emerging technologies,” said Manish Chand, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network and India and The World magazine.

“Based on the December 2020 digital summit and PM’s March 26-27 visit, the only way India-Bangladesh relations can go is up and up – climbing new peaks, setting new benchmarks,” said Mr Chand, also president of Centre for Global India Insights (CGII), an emerging think tank.

During his visit to Bangladesh, PM Modi announced India-Bangladesh partnership in start-ups and invited 50 entrepreneurs from Bangladesh to visit India to join the country's start-up and innovation ecosystem and meet India's venture capitalists. He also announced 1000 Swarna Jayanti scholarship for youths of Bangladesh.

“India is central to Bangladesh in every sense of the word. It is not only within the bilateral, but also within the regional and international framework,” said Mr Shahidul Haque, Bangladesh’s longest-serving foreign secretary, who retired last year. The veteran diplomat underlined the imperative of building a positive narrative of India-Bangladesh relations and cautioned against vested interests who are trying to inject negativity into the relationship.

Mr Haque also exhorted the two sides to move beyond the shadow of the unresolved Teesta river water-sharing issue and focus on areas such as water resources development. “Time has come when Bangladesh and India should look at water resources development and governance rather than just looking at the Teesta issue,” he said, while suggesting the need for setting up a think tank focused on these issues.

Responding to a question on rising fundamentalism and radicalism in Bangladesh, Dr Mohsin stressed on drawing a distinction between violent extremism which is religious centric and the use of politics in the domestic arena.  “I don’t think it will have any major impact in its relations with India because we have seen the rise of religious nationalism in our neighborhood also but that has not affected the foreign policy aspects or bilateral relations between countries,” she said.

Indo-Pacific Connect

Amb. Wadhwa- highlighted the importance of Bangladesh for India’s Indo-Pacific policy and Act East strategy and highlighted that Bangladesh can gain substantively from connectivity, infrastructure and trade which is a primary Indian agenda in the Indo-Pacific.

Mr Wadhwa, however, rejected rivalry with China and underscored that India should focus on its own model of engagement with Bangladesh. “We should concentrate on what are the best forms of collaboration between India and Bangladesh and leave others to do what they are doing,” he said.

Looking ahead, Amb. Veena Sikri outlined emerging areas of cooperation between India and Bangladesh such as the blue economy. “Bangladesh and Bay of Bengal are very vital for the success of peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific. Information and Communication Technology and Financial connectivity are two important projects for the future,” she said.

“Bangladesh is very much part and parcel of India’s Act East policy. Bangladesh is planning to do several bilateral FTAs with ASEAN countries. This will help both India and Bangladesh to strengthen the value chain bilaterally and for third country market like ASEAN,” said Prof. Prabir De.

Some more quotes and remarks for news stories

Mr Vikram Doraiswami

In response to a question on the vaccine supply to Bangladesh, Mr Vikram Doraiswami said: “there is a comprehensive effort underway in India to look at the totality of obligations in terms of contracts that have been signed by the Serum Institute and the Bharat biotech for recipient countries. Of 60 million vaccines that have been given out, almost 25% has gone to Bangladesh so far.” 

When asked about steps taken to stop border killings, Mr Vikram Doraiswami said: “There is a need for a comprehensive effort to tackle the problem at its root which is – deprivation in certain districts, lack of economic activity at both sides which is leading to pressure of illegal economic activity on the border.”

“When those illicit economic activities are constrained by BSF, that leads to localized conflicts, some of which escalates into violent incidents. This is necessary to tackle through comprehensive management at the border to much greater security between the border security agencies to prevent people from crossing to awareness building campaigns.”

On Modi-Sheikh Hasina chemistry: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Modi have shared a very warm and personal equation over the last few years. They have met several times, both physically in each other’s capitals and they have met on the side-lines of multi-lateral conferences in New York and they have interacted by a video conference. There is comfort and a candour and a sense of cooperation that exists in the relationship. They are able to say, pretty much, what they like to each other, there is great comfort in understanding how the other person thinks.”

Amb. Anil Wadhwa – On Indo-Pacific, & competition with China

Bangladesh is a very important link in India’s Indo-Pacific policy and Act East strategy, India’s neighborhood ad connectivity to north eastern states of India with the outside world. The development of Northeast is very crucial so that it does not become the recipient of cheap goods and can also export to improve livelihood of its own people.  Access to the Bay of Bengal and the rest of India with Bangladesh is also very essential for harnessing the unutilized economic capability in the north east states of India. We have a number of connectivity projects including the Agartala-Akhaura rail link project, Padma bridge getting ready, construction of the Fenni bridge will all give a tremendous boost to connectivity.

Bangladesh should concentrate on the economic dimension rather than the security dimension in the ongoing issues with South China Sea, ASEAN etc. Bangladesh can gain substantively from connectivity, infrastructure and trade which is a primary Indian agenda in the Indo-pacific.

As far as China is concerned, we know that China is an important development partner of Bangladesh and it has promised to invest $24 billion dollars. Every country works towards development of its bilateral relationship and I think India is working on its own in partnership with Bangladesh. We should concentrate on what are the best forms of collaboration between India and Bangladesh and leave others to do what they are doing.

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