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'It is important to filter political rhetoric from action on the ground'

  • Published at 05:59 pm October 9th, 2021
Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) lower their national flags during a parade Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami recently said on Twitter that he would discuss any issue. He showed he meant business in this extraordinary interview series with Adam Pitman, exclusively for Dhaka Tribune. We shall be running the series over the coming days

Not long ago, I read an article about India-Bangladesh relations and shared it on Twitter. 

The article was about a press conference Vikram Doraiswami, India’s high commissioner to Bangladesh, and his staff held for journalists in Dhaka. They explained the economic benefits of connectivity and trade between India and Bangladesh. 

The high commission said "we mean business" when they promoted it on social media.

That encouraged me. 

Also Read- 'We want more trade, travel, cooperation with Bangladesh, but ‘urban myths’ aren't helping'

The economic potential of the relationship is immense. Numerous studies have found that economic integration will create new jobs and income for people in both countries. Those opportunities will be life changing for many Bangladeshis and Indians that live near to Bangladesh. 

But not everyone on Twitter saw it the same way. Some said India couldn't be trusted.

Well, next thing I knew, the high commissioner himself was commenting on the Twitter thread. 

File photo of Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami Dhaka Tribune

His candor was refreshing. He told one critic he had, and would, discuss any issue. I thought he seemed like someone who really did mean business. 

So, I asked if he would do an email interview. No holds barred. He accepted. This interview series is the result.

DT: There is a lot of mistrust between Indians and Bangladeshis. Sometimes it is expressed by journalists in the media. Sometimes it is expressed by politicians during campaigns. And sometimes people take it too far. They use ignorant, racist, or hateful language. What do you say to Bangladeshis when they ask you about offensive language? 

Doraiswami: In all sincerity, I'd say that there is no justification for insulting or pejorative language in any circumstance, in any direction.  

There may be historical or sociological reasons to explain -- not justify -- the currency of such regrettable perspectives, but the short point is that developments in one country are a domestic matter for the other. 

Also Read - Doraiswami: Bangladesh will get remaining Covid vaccine as priority partner

The domestic implications of our bilateral relationship are an important aspect -- for better or for worse -- in both countries. 

In the case of India, I can say with some confidence that this phenomenon is perhaps relatively localized. Bangladesh is sometimes a domestic factor in India, depending on where, and when, in that order. In Bangladesh, to the extent I am aware, it is a bit less localized. It is, more often than not, the case that India is a domestic factor in Bangladesh.

Also Read- 'The nature of the incidents is very different from the popular narrative''

This adds to the complexity of our perspectives. In other words, for better or for worse, our ties have an impact, positively,but also occasionally negatively, on deeply-felt domestic issues. And so, issues in our relations are not merely foreign policy issues.

But I would also say that it is important, in the context of the point I just made, to filter political rhetoric from action on the ground. And if you "zoom out" and look at the relationship from a longer perspective, it is clear that there has been a pretty consistent effort in India -- which is bipartisan in political terms -- to increase trade, enhance movement of people, simplify regulatory environments and in short, to prioritize Bangladesh. 

Also Read- 'It is important for Bangladesh to engage with India at the state as well as central level'

This trend has actually been ramped up significantly in the past seven years.

So, rhetoric and reality, as evidenced by action on the ground, are often quite clearly divergent. 

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