Begin typing your search above and press return to search.

Perpetual imprisonment

Revival of a 55-year-old rail link between India and Bangladesh has brought a glimmer of hope for the North-eastern

Narendra Modi

Sentinel Digital Desk

Revival of a 55-year-old rail link between India and Bangladesh has brought a glimmer of hope for the North-eastern states of getting better access to sea routes and freedom from landlocked situation. It will also improve railway connectivity between the region and rest of the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated, during a virtual summit, the Haldibari-Chilahati rail route which was suspended in 1965 during the India-Pakistan war. The transborder rail route was part of the old Kolkata-Siliguri main route in undivided India and post partition, trains from erstwhile East Pakistan and Darjeeling used to operate on this line till 1965.The war cut off all railway links India and erstwhile East Pakistan had. The virtual Prime Minister-level bilateral summit was held a day after India and Bangladesh celebrated 50 years of India's victory over Pakistan in 1965 war and coincides with the celebration of the 'Mujib Borsho' to commemorate the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Initially, goods trains will run on the revived route while passenger trains will also operate subsequently after required amenities are created on both the sides. Revival of the fifth railway route between the two neighbouring countries will now put the spotlight on Agartala-Akhaura rail link between India and Bangladesh. The Agartala-Akhaura rail link is targeted to be operational in 2021. The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) has funded the laying of 5.46-km-long track on the Indian side and the Ministry of External Affairs has funded the laying of 10.6-km-long track on the Bangladesh side of the Rs. 965-crore rail link project. Agartala is only 72 km from Bangladesh's Chittagong port and once the rail link is restored it will provide direct access to the Chittagong port. Restoration of the connectivity to the sea route from the region though Bangladesh will attract investments to flow into the North-eastern states. The local entrepreneurs and manufacturing units of the region will also find a bigger market to export their products through the sea route and earn higher profits. This will help them to expand their business and attract more youth to become entrepreneurs and set up new production and marketing units. It will generate new employment avenues and strengthen the local economy. Restoration of the suspended surface routes has been possible only because of deepening relations between India and Bangladesh. Modi reiterates India's commitment to this deepening ties and said in his speech at the summit that Bangladesh continues to one of the significant pillars in India's "Neighbourhood First" policy. Sheikh Hasina also described India to be 'true friend' of Bangladesh and thanked India for supporting Bangladesh's liberation in 1971. India's victory over Pakistan in 1971 led to birth of Bangladesh. The hard reality before the two nations is that even though deepening bilateral engagement has helped improve connectivity and people-to-people connectivity, the protracted problem of migration of refugees from Bangladesh to North-eastern states as well as West Bengal remained unresolved since then. India's domestic politics over this protracted issue has the potential to adversely affect the bilateral engagement. The issues of implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 and publication of the National Register of Citizens in Assam as well as in rest of India triggering reactions in Bangladesh will keep reminding both the countries that deepening bilateral ties may become fragile if domestic politics and external affairs are not carefully balanced. For the North-eastern states, the improved relationship between the two countries is vital for ending the landlocked situation so that it can catch up with the rest of the country. Simultaneously, migration from Bangladesh posing grave existential threat to indigenous communities, the states in the region cannot ignore the consequences of India's domestic policies over the illegal migrants' issue. Increasing economic interdependence can help address such concern to a great extent if the benefit can be derived by people on both sides. If people in Bangladesh are not benefited by the revival of the trade and commerce routes, then migration threat will continue to loom large over the North-eastern states. Besides, even though the region may get freedom from landlocked situation, it may perpetually be imprisoned in the politics of migration. People in the region will remain watchful if deepening India and Bangladesh ties will also lead to permanent solutions to the demographic threat. The ambiguity brought by India not putting the issue of illegal migrants on the table for resolution will make people in the region to remain sceptical over sustainability of the restored trade and commerce routes. It is not yet known if Bangladesh will accept any illegal post-1971 illegal migrant from Assam if identified and liable to be expelled in accordance with the Assam Accord. India can help bring clarity by raising it in the next bilateral summit.

Next Story