Generosity towards Bangladesh

Calibrate that generosity

Kuldip Nayar writes that the outcome of the recent elections has created a window of opportunity for better relations with Bangladesh – citizens of that country widely admire India’s secular credentials which stand out in stark contrast to their own rapid descent into fundamentalist morass. To seize the moment, he advocates India adopt a generous and realistic policy towards Bangladesh.

“After many years the train has arrived,” said a senior Bangladesh minister. “If not boarded now, it would not come again.” We can prove to them that India is there to help that country in its progress and development. Why not allow Bangladeshi products to come into India duty-free? Today our official trade is worth $1 billion as against $1 million from their side. The non-official trade is said to be $2 billion in favour of India. If we could help give the Bangladeshis more purchasing power, trade would be proportionately higher. Illegal migration might stop, people would find work in their own country. Dhaka seems prepared for the gas-based joint industrial collaborations to set the ball rolling. Is South Block listening? My five-day stay in Dhaka has convinced me that a generous and realistic attitude towards Bangladesh can help us fight the anti-India feeling there. [Indian Express]

Generosity in principle seems like a good idea, so does the fact that as a bigger country, India must make the first overtures. However, as Nayar himself points out, even ‘pro-India’ leaders are not comfortable publicly championing the cause for better relations with India. That is cause for concern. Moreover, given the deep roots of corruption in Bangladesh’s politics (which is similar to that in parts of India) too generous a trade policy could well lead to its abuse. Generosity must be calibrated and progressively increased upon the achievement of milestones in bilateral relations.

Another reason for calibrating generosity would be to ensure that sinister elements like the Jamaat-i-Islami and other religious fundamentalist groups are not seen to be ‘rewarded’. It is both in the interests of both Bangladesh and India to keep these vile elements as far away from the corridors of power as possible.