One of the issues that Prime Minister rendra Modi intends to take up with Bangladesh on his impending visit to that country is better connectivity of the north-eastern States of India with the rest of the country. Ever since the partition of the country in 1947, the creation of East Pakistan had created a major communication problem for the people of the Northeast. It will be recalled that before the creation of East Pakistan, our rail link with Calcutta was via Parbatipur that is now in Bangladesh. It was an easy overnight journey after one crossed the Brahmaputra at Pandu and boarded the waiting train at Amingaon. The creation of East Pakistan and its subsequent liberation as Bangladesh in 1971 made train travel to the rest of the country quite a bit more tortuous and troublesome. But train journeys apart, the physical link of the Northeast with the rest of India through a 38 km-wide ‘chicken’s neck’ brought about even a psychological isolation of this region with mainland India. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that the NDA government should be thinking of an access to the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh for the north-eastern region. There is no gainsaying that having access to the Indian Ocean through a port in Bangladesh like Chittagong would make a tremendous difference to the accessibility to the Northeast. Bangladesh has indicated that it would have no serious problems about permitting India to use Chittagong as a port for the north-eastern region. There are quite a few landlocked countries in Europe that have made similar arrangements with countries that have a sea coast and ports. With the present-day modes of surveillance and monitoring, there should really be no problems for Bangladesh to let India use Chittagong as a port for easy access to the Northeast. All that Bangladesh has insisted on is that the modalities for the use of Chittagong as a port for India need to be filized before the arrangement can become operatiol. However, there are differences that make the proposition slightly more complicated than it need be for the purposes of trade, commerce and easier connectivity. Access to seaports through foreign countries for landlocked countries is free of problems only when the host country has no territorial ambitions in respect of the country seeking such access. But Bangladesh does have territorial ambitions about India’s Northeast that were clearly spelt out by intellectuals like Abdul Momin and Sadeq Khan in the 1990s. Besides, Pakistan has never forgiven India for having liberated East Pakistan and created Bangladesh. Islamabad is determined to pay back India in its own coin by liberating parts of India, and the first target region is the Northeast. And it would not be greatly surprising if Pakistan were to seek the assistance of Bangladesh in liberating India’s Northeast. As such, while the easier access of the Northeast to the Indian Ocean through the Chittagong port is a welcome proposition, one cannot help wondering whether the government of India or the State governments of the Northeast can cope with the increased hazards of illegal migration from Bangladesh that free access to Chittagong will give rise to. The modalities for the prevention of increased illegal immigration from Bangladesh to the Northeast will become far more vital than the modalities for free access to Chittagong that Bangladesh is currently worried about.
Better Links with the NE