Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Bangladesh its possible impact on bilateral relations

by Barrister Harun ur Rashid | August 4, 2008 8:59 pm

We all welcome the visit of Rahul Gandhi,(38), India’s ruling Congress party leader and a member of Lok Sabha (MP). He arrived in Dhaka on Friday, 1st August afternoon on a five-day private visit to see a number of rural development projects.

Rahul, son of Congress party President Sonia Gandhi and slain Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was received at the Zia International Airport by Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, and officials of the Indian high commission.
He visited Bangladesh at the invitation of BRAC and Grameen Bank. A ten-member Indian security team, which arrived in Dhaka earlier, will be with him during the visit.

During his stay here, Rahul has visited a number of development projects undertaken by Grameen Bank and BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee).

The young member of parliament of the Indian Congress party visited BRAC projects on 3rd August and the Grameen Bank projects on 4th and 5th August.

In Kapasia of Gazipur district, he was able to see the activities of the BRAC programmes, including its micro-finance activities, pre-primary and primary schools, human rights and legal education training, neonatal care centre, community library at Lahri, Tarugaon and Rawnath villages in Kapashia and Dhirasram village in Rajendrapur. He also visited a BRAC-run teachers’ training centre at Ashkona in Dhaka on 2nd August..

On 3rd August, Rahul visited the Grameen Bank Singair branch in Manikganj district. Muhammad Yunus accompanied him on the visit to Singair where he saw micro-credit activities, talked to the bank’s borrowers, witnessed pre-school activities, health care centre, data-information centre and solar energy project run by the bank. He took part in an open discussion followed by an exclusive session with Muhammad Yunus before wrapping up his trip on 5th August in Bangladesh.

Impact on bilateral relations:

Many Indian people look up to Rahul as a future Prime Minister at some point of time if the Congress Party holds on power in New Delhi.

Rahul, as a politician, is mindful that the 21st century will be quite unlike that of the 20th century. New forces are emerging to shape the political and economic contours of global powers.

During the 21st century, Bangladesh and India have joined the parade of nations that seek to judge themselves according to standards of development compared quantitatively and qualitatively under the charter of eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Furthermore, the geo-political scene around South Asia is changing. Economic globalization has made it compelling that Bangladesh and India must seriously consider in putting their relations on a mature partnership on economic, social and political level. India needs Bangladesh as much as Bangladesh needs India in the current regional and global environment.

It is normal that neighbouring countries will have issues between them but what is imperative is to resolve them peacefully and within a time-bound framework. One of the stable relationships is the US-Canadian one, although they are not free from bilateral issues.

There is a perception in Bangladesh that India is more conscious of its position as a regional power than of her responsibilities to her neighbours including Bangladesh.

Rahul must be aware of the pending bilateral issues that have stood in the way in forging an ideal relationship between Bangladesh-India relations. What is missing in Indo-Bangladesh relations appears to be the mutual trust and confidence on each other.

Let me cite two examples:

Observers believe that border fencing by India across 4025 kilometres of Bangladesh border is most unhelpful to bilateral relations. It shows arrogance of India’s power and its insensitiveness to the sentiments to people of Bangladesh.

Although India claims some of the undesirable activities along the border have temporarily been halted, the human cost is incalculable. It is reported that human lives are lost at the border almost every week (it is reported that since January until 23 July of this year, BSF killed 78 Bangladeshi people including two BDR Jawans).

Furthermore, the damage caused to psyche of Bangladeshi is immeasurable and in the long run no fenced- border can achieve its purpose for which it has been erected.

Second, deficit of trade (about 2 billion dollars in formal trade) has added another political problem between the two countries. India is not seen as amenable to Bangladeshi request as it should be. India’s insistence on large percentage of value addition to rules of origin of Bangladeshi product makes some of the attractive offers for export to India meaningless.

For India, the economic cost is negligible if rules of origin are reduced because of its larger diversified economy. India’s GDP is the second largest among 147 developing countries. It is the seventh largest exporter of food grains in the world.

If economy of Bangladesh improves, it is better of India primarily for two reasons, Bangladesh middle class will provide a good market for India and secondly, both countries can gradually integrate their economies into each other during the days of economic globalization.

Observers acknowledge that Bangladesh reacts and has been unusually guarded against giving facilities or concessions to India because it is highly sensitive to the possibility of its yielding more to India than it perceives necessary under the existing political environment.

Bangladesh government perceives that it should carry people with it in giving facilities to India provided India resolves first some of its bilateral issues directly affecting its people, such as, water sharing and fixing riverine boundaries.

The bilateral irritants need to be resolved through meaningful dialogue. Both countries require in making the same political, bureaucratic, intellectual, educational, cultural and media effort on positive features of each other. Often some media in both countries highlight negative images of each other.

We hope that the visit of Rahul Gandhi will be a facilitator in ending the impasse created in some of the most pressing bilateral issues, such as, implementation of Sheikh Mujib-Indira Gandhi land border agreement of 1974, water sharing and management of common rivers, fixing boundaries of common rivers with geographical coordinates, and delimitation of maritime boundaries in the Bay of Bengal.

One of the meanings of the word Rahul is "conqueror of all miseries" and likewise let the visit of Rahul Gandhi to Bangladesh act as a catalyst to remove all the debris of bygone years and bring a breath of fresh air upon the bilateral relations for the greater benefit of peoples of both countries.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid

Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

Source URL: https://priyoaustralia.com.au/articles/2008/rahul-gandhiaes-visit-to-bangladesh-its-possible-impact-on-bilateral-relations/