The topic of Indo-Bangla relations usually has two fiercely opposing sides: One which vehemently looks at all the negatives, while the other, keeping the 1971 memory in mind, feels that, as a debt of gratitude, Bangladesh must always harbour affirmative notions about the neighbour.
Then there are others -- and this number is increasing -- who believe that, instead of taking any extreme positions, relations need to be balanced so that the interests of both sides are served.
The other day, while talking to a few student leaders at the campus, I came across a very sensible observation: Relations evolve, and therefore, accords and deals need to be made based on the current situations and sentiments.
Concessions must be made on both sides.
Otherwise, it’s just a party for one side and a tedious serving for the other.
Almost all of these young students looked at the proposed defence deal with India with askance.
If memory serves, there was a similar agreement made right after independence, which, according to the historical narrative, the Bangladesh Military Coup and the CIA Link, created misgivings among a large section of society.
Of course, both countries have come a long way after the tumultuous period of the 70s, though it won’t be incorrect to say that still there are many matters which make this sweet relation a little sour.
The stalled Teesta agreement is a stumbling block, but above all, the border killing issue has not seen any successful resolution as of yet.
BSF shooting down Bangladeshis appears regularly on the papers with no tangible efforts seen to deal with this cowboy-style border culture. In June 2016, Dhaka Tribune carried a report stating that, in the last 10 years, 591 Bangladeshis were killed by the BSF.
Many debate if this is the official number, the unofficial toll may be higher.
When the Indian PM came to Bangladesh, the need to broadcast Bangladeshi TV programs in West Bengal was raised since all Indian channels are shown here. Promises were made, but have we seen any progress as of yet?
Reportedly, on the Rohingya issue, at a recent UN meet, India refrained from voting against Myanmar, though the UNHCR spokesperson based in Cox’s Bazaar, overseeing the Kutupalong Refugee Camp, told BBC, unequivocally, that a genocide is being perpetrated against the Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar.
The practical point is that Bangladesh cannot but maintain a solid relation with her mighty neighbour, irrespective of which party is in power.
But, sometimes, India seems to be a vacillating friend, not taking into serious considerations as to what aggrieves Bangladeshis.
If Bangladesh needs her neighbour, then her neighbour also needs us, simply because of the vast growing market we have to offer.
And there is the unflinching support at international forums.
While we offer all to our neighbour, some of our major concerns need to be addressed, not with mere rhetoric but with concerted action
“A brother who is considerate rather than cavalier,” commented a student leader adding, “benevolence not bossiness.”
There have been strong calls from local drama and film-makers for quite some time to allow our products to be aired in West Bengal, where the language is Bengali.
Several noted filmmakers plus actors have raised this at talk shows and after listening to their exhortations, I decided to assiduously follow some local programs to get an idea about what we have to offer culturally.
I am not exaggerating when I say that, apart from a few silly serials, there is a wide variety of entertainment here which has the aesthetic ability to appeal to audiences on the other side.
Equal flow of cultural material -- I don’t think that’s too much to demand.
Going back in time, to the late 70s and 80s, the Farakka Barrage was often used by students as a protest against arbitrary actions by the neighbour.
In fact, there was a Farakka March organised in 1976, led by Maulana Bhashani, to express our dissatisfaction at what was perceived to be the controlling of water.
All that is water under the bridge now -- in global politics, it’s always prudent to let bygones be bygones.
Take the EU as an example, where, Germany, the instigator of two great wars, has become the saviour of fellow European nations, which they invaded and occupied not too long ago.
However, while we offer all to our neighbour, some of our major concerns need to be addressed, not with mere rhetoric but with concerted action.
At a recently held round-table discussion by a noted Bengali daily, speakers underlined a growing belief that, since Bangladesh bought two submarines from China, the idea of the defence deal with India was suddenly raised as an appeasement.
I cannot say to what extent that is true, but one can say this much, that, in the public sphere, there is a feeling that we often give more than what we get in return.
To end with Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, “it’s excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it’s tyrannous to use it like a giant.”
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.
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