During his visit to Bangladesh earlier this month Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed quite a few agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MOU). The subjects included trade, commerce, tariff, water distribution, educational and cultural exchange and border demarcation. One of the issues that really stood out was an agreement to build a rail link between Birol (Bangladesh) and Rohanpur (Nepal) passing through India.

Nepal is a landlocked country. Now all of its imports by sea come through the port of Calcutta and are then transported by land. Should there be a direct rail link between Bangladesh and Nepal; Nepal could make use of the Chittagong port. Transporting goods by train would be far cheaper than hauling by trucks. Politically speaking, Nepal has remained a bridge between China and India and Katmandu and is filled with operatives from both sides. A rail link between Nepal, India and Bangladesh can do all kind of good things for each country.

After overthrowing the monarchy, Nepal still does not have a stable democracy. Recently, a new government headed by Marxist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has taken oath after quite a bit of negotiations. However, the members of the Nepali Congress - even if they have reluctantly accepted the reality – are not very enthusiastic about the success of the new Government. Former Marxist soldiers are laying down their rifles. It would help the law and order in the country. Yet, getting out of poverty is Nepal’s biggest problem.

Bangladesh is making both political and economic progress under Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s assassinated founder. Because of her realistic attitude toward India it has been easy for both countries to come to agreements on several sticky issues. One of the major problems has been the use of water resources. Even if the country suffers from ravages of floods every year, many of its rivers dry up in the summer. The Ganges, which is known as Padma in Bangladesh, flows to the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh is trying to build projects upstream for electricity and irrigation. However, West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sees harm to her state through these projects. She is upset about the agreement concerning the use of water by Bangladesh. Making a treaty is the prerogative of the Union Government. Therefore, Mamata Banerjee could do little to undo the agreement other than making the life of the Manmohan Singh Government miserable. Both Nepal and Bangladesh, through the rail link could find an easy market in India for their raw material s and finished products. India’s growing middle class also needs all kinds of products from cooking gas to woolen sweaters. All around, there is a tendency of going green. Therefore, Bangladeshi jute and jute products could always find a reliable market in India. In the same way India could find a valuable market in its Eastern and Northern neighbors. The trading between Bangladesh and India at present has reached an annual rate of 5 billion dollars. With increased effort such transaction could go up many times. On the other hand, Nepal could substantially benefit by increased trade with India and Bangladesh. The people of the three countries are linked together culturally and emotionally as well as geographically. That is why a rail link between them stands to be mutually beneficial. It also makes a profound statement.

India is the biggest country of the three. Their linkage by train helps create economic expansion and builds trust. Like the Trans European Railway passing through various countries – from the UK to Turkey – a railway between Nepal and Bangladesh will help cement their emotional bond. There has been talk about building an Asian Highway all the way from Bangkok to Islamabad and Kabul. Should a railway link between Nepal and Bangladesh be materialized, its expansion toward Rangoon would not be a farfetched idea. It is very likely that Burma (presently Myanmar) whose aging military junta has remained a nuisance to its people as well as to the process of democratization of the country will have a civilian Government one day. The eclipse of the Junta will pave the way for economic uplifting of a vast area encompassing Burma, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. A good relationship with its neighbors such as an agreement with Bangladesh gives India much needed peace of mind. Trade and commerce aside, it helps reduce anxiety and encourages other neighbors such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan to look at India in a different way because of its stature as a trading partner for immediate neighbors.

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