Aizawal city, Mizoram
In today's stable environment, India’s North-East oil pipeline and the electricity line have become important aspects of Bangladesh's rapidly growing economy. However, 10-12 years ago, the threat of violence from terrorist or separatist groups made the construction of the oil pipeline problematic because an attack on an oil pipeline would have disastrous consequences. Today, the gas pipeline from North-East India to Bangladesh is a reality, and terrorism and separatism are things of the past.
The Bangladeshi government has deported North-East Indian separatists who had been in Bangladesh for a long time. Furthermore, in the last ten years, there have been some tremendous changes in North-East India. Radical developments have taken place in road, rail, and air connectivity development. This has strengthened cultural and linguistic connections in North-East India and made interactions between different linguistic and cultural ethnic groups easier. These developments have created a new generation with an "India - one nation," mindset, leaving separatist mentalities behind.
Alongside, development has created many job sectors in North-East India, once an area of high unemployment.
The younger generation is getting more jobs in North-East India, as well as in other parts of India. The positive impact of jobs and development has resulted in a significant shift in people's lifestyles.
In Assam, the largest province in North-East India with a population of 30 million, at least 6-8 million people now use smartphones, a comparative rarity in the capital city of Guwahati a decade ago.
Moreover, North-East India is no longer a separatist or terrorist hotspot, and the chances of it recurring in that region are small. Meanwhile, Bangladesh has significantly improved its road connectivity over the last 14 years, facilitating easier connections with most of the border area of North-East India. Now is the time for entrepreneurs, local stakeholders and the two country’s governments to utilize this opportunity. There is considerable scope to make medical cities, education cities, tech cities, and garment cities in the border area. There is also a market for Bangladeshi garments in North-East India.
Another opportunity is to make use of Cox’s Bazar Sea Beach in Bangladesh. North-East India has 17 airports, and “budget air” operations are increasing daily. Budget air is used for people’s movement and has already been used to carry goods to other parts of India, and to other countries. Bangladeshi and Indian entrepreneurs should consider starting budget airlines gradually from North-East India to Cox’s Bazar, which can be a new business avenue for both countries. It is more than a probability that budget air will be one of the leading mediums of connectivity in the future.
The landlocked region of North-East India has always needed port facilities and Bangladesh's ports have been a major help in this regard. The only other nearby port is Sittwe port of Myanmar which may be one of the closest seaports for North-East India. North-East India has already started to use Chittagong port and carry their goods by road to Tripura and other states. Due to the Padma Bridge, North-East India will also get the facilities of Bangladesh’s Mongla and Payra ports. Finally, North-East India will get a large port facility from Bangladesh after the completion of the Matarbari Deep Seaport in Chittagong, which is now under construction by Japan, and the operation starting time is in 2027. It will be a game changer for the economy of this region.
As these seaports of Bangladesh are in the Bay of Bengal, a peaceful Bay of Bengal is in the obvious interest of Bangladesh and North-East India. But it is seen as likely that the possibility of the next power game will happen in the sea rather than on land. And that power conflict is growing because now the world is a “Thucydides trap.”
In such a situation, a new power rises, and the existing old power falls in conflict with the new power. Before the Second World War, in most cases, two powers engaged in war, and the old power lost; but in the Second World War the old power made an alliance and ultimately won. So, the traditional concept of the “Thucydides’ Trap” did not come true. Now, a new power is rising in an Asian country. Before the new power flourished, the old had already made a QUAD alliance. On the other hand, the new power’s strategy is different now. Like in the past, it is somewhat less likely to involve a military war by the new power; they are more interested more in creating economic and political emperors.
Even against the new growing power in Asia, Japan is the vital creator of the QUAD. And the QUAD is not only a military ally but also an economic ally. One of its many primary duties is peace in the Pacific Ocean. Thinking of a tranquil Bay of Bengal is unrealistic without a peaceful Indo-Pacific Ocean.
On this point, the position of Bangladesh is clear. As a chief guest, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh clearly expressed Bangladesh’s position in a seminar held on 10th November 2019 in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Regarding the Indian Ocean, she said, “About one-third (around 35 percent) of the global population surrounds the Indian Ocean. So, we want a peaceful Indian Ocean Region.”
The QUAD is active in accommodating more countries. QUAD members are increasing their military budgets to ensure a peaceful Indo-Pacific region, but it will be more realistic if the present QUAD can extend its members and create a situation that will make China rational regarding the South China Sea and the Pacific. Then the Indo-Pacific zone will be peaceful, and that will make a peaceful Bay of Bengal region.
In the current global political scenario, Japan is a major player in Asia in promoting peace and stability. Additionally, Japan is a trusted friend of both Bangladesh and India. From the birth of Bangladesh, Japan has been the leading development partner of this country.
And, similarly, India too. When India allows only Japan as a foreign country to invest in a sensitive area sandwiched by the three countries of the Indian North-East region, then there is no need to reiterate how high the trust is between Japan and India. So, in the future, more investment from Japan will be more helpful for developing the partnership between North-East India and Bangladesh.
In conclusion, it may be mentioned that any sustainable relationship depends on the mindset of the people. This mindset has to be developed by politicians, state policies, social forums, and by the mainstream media of North East India and Bangladesh. Despite some reverses in the last 10 years, India has built up an infrastructure for the economy that can help to make a sustainable partnership with Bangladesh.
Alongside, however, attitudes and perceptions about Bangladesh among the people of North-East India must transform too. Many still see Bangladesh only in terms of being a Muslim country. On the other hand, some anti-Indian sentiments in Bangladesh need to be addressed. Both countries must work to counter these shadows on the relationship to ensure a peaceful coexistence that will permanently reach the hearts of the people. Improving connectivity will help to remove all the remaining barriers and create a good environment for the involvement of Japan's investment.
(Exclusive to NatStrat)