| by Swadesh Roy

( May 12, 2014, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is a big question, is India even a country? Winston Churchill said, “It is no more a single country than the Equator.” Recently the founder of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew said, “India is not a real country.

Instead, it is thirty- two separate nations that happens to be arrayed along the British rail line.” The expression of Lee Kuan is a partial echo of Karl Marx. Lee Kuan is also visionary man but he sees most of the things by the eye of economy. So he has seen India with a partial eye of Karl Marx but Churchill was not only a statesman but he was also a dreamer and philosopher, he could see India through his imagination. We know that the line of imagination is a big thing; it has no boundary, it is infinite. India is country of 35 states and union territories. 

The new India or the present is standing upon an interesting diversity. This is because, the people of India want and believe upon a strong united India while simultaneously regional identities are
graving the Indian politics. These regional identities are not in conflict with the spirit of the united India. So, it is not the rail, not any other hard power, it is many other things, which is the power for a united India. It is very soft power, it has no line, no boundary – it is in the heart of the people even in the heart of the nature of their land. It is the spaces for imagination that people can only listen from their heart; people can see with their eyes closed, which is the bond of the people of 1.3 billions of people. Some of their fore fathers came here an ancient era, some of thousands of years ago, but they have made a human sea and its wave is common.

Bangladesh and the other independent country Pakistan were also part of India when Emperor Babur and the former Prime Minister of Great Britain Winston Churchill could imagine the bondof India. Now the characteristics of independent Bangladesh are very different from India. Bangladesh is a homogeneous country; its unity depends on a single language and unitary culture on the other hand, India has a multi ethnic, multi linguistic and multi religious society.

So, how we will make people-to-people bond between these two countries, whose characters are not same? But, we have a bond, once we were part of this common wave of the sea, even we could have been. With this objects, these two countries are not only neighbor but also they are more than that. That is why historically and geographically these two countries are mostly indifferent. So, we have an age old people to people relation. But we are here for searching more people-to people relations that is very much functional in our present daily life with these states of India, which is our close- neighbor.

Indian’s seven beautiful states which are also rich in natural resources - Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram is our neighbor on the other hand once West Bengal and Bangladesh was a same land now West Bengal is a state of India and we are an independent country. These seven sisters are the North East states of India and West Bengal is the Eastern state of India. We maintain with these neighbor states a 4053 km land border. It is the
third highest land border in the world. We have many problem with these land borders but simultaneously we have many beauties with these land borders. We got the picture of Falani in this land border, and yet we get regularly the picture where huge crowd in the two side of the thorn
fence they are exchanging greetings and views. When we got the dead body of the Falani upon the thorny fence then we thought- it was like the border of Palestine and Israel. When we got the dead body of a cow smuggler, we thought same. Conversely, when we see crowds for New Years, Puja and Eidgreetings-on the two sides of the thorn fence then we can recall the Berlin Wall before it fell or we can now call it the New Berlin wall.

Why is this New Berlin-Wall? If it is discussed here, discussions will
be turned away. So, by passing discussion on regarding this New-
Berlin wall, we have to agree for demolishing the New Berlin wall
which is in our mind. Last time when I visited Assam, in Guwahati
press club, Deepika, a young reporter of Seven Sister Post asked me,
regarding the regular migration from Bangladesh to Assam. I told Deepika, why Bangladeshi people would migrate to Assam. The GDP of of Assam was not more than 4%, on the other hand in Bangladesh it was 6.5 %. Why would a person migrate where the GDP was lower. I categorically mentioned that, the people of Dhaka would not migrate to Assam or Guwahati or Karimgang,
mostly the people of Sylhet could be migrated in those place but at
Sylhet a riksa puller earns at least one thousand takaevery day, so
why would he come to Guwahati? After that, I discussed the matter with
chief minister of Assam and many respectable people of the civil
society of Assam. Discussing with them my realization was that, chief
minister and his congress party are not keen on this issue, voice of BJP was very high regarding the Muslim migration but they are in favor regarding Hindu migration. But it was the main issue of
Mammata’s TMC and Assam GanaParishad. This type of politics is very
much known to us; we have seen it from 1947. For the election
purpose, in Pakistan era, we have seen Muslim league, Jammat-E- Islami
and others they would create an Indian ghost and they would push the
people to fight against the Indian ghost. Now it is the same thing we are observe
in Bangladesh; Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with other
Islamic fundamentalist parties create an Indian ghost and showing the
shadow of the Indian ghost they aggravate the people to fight
against India. 

When the people get excited; then they are told their
opponent is the agent of India, so to defeat India they cast their vote
against Indian agent. In Assam out of 23 district 5 district have
Muslim majority besides more or less every district have Muslim
population. Most of them are migrated people, but they did not migrate
recently. It has an historical cause. During 1901, British pushedMuslim peasants (most of the from the then Mymenshing district) migrate for cultivating Jute, rice and others. This type of migrations
happened in British era; from India to Singapore, Marishas, Fiji and
other countries for cultivating sugarcane. That was overseas
migrations and it was inland migration, the then time. That migrated
people are now in Assam. Initial stage they were a few but now they
are more than 10 percent of the total population of Assam. Now they
are not only the escape goat of the bad politics but also the some
educated mind too. One of the researchers of India told me that in a
planned way, Bangladeshi Muslims were migrating to Assam because last
census they got increase of Muslim population ratio is higher than
others, basically from the ratio of Hindus. I asked him, why he was
thinking in that way, why he was not thinking that Muslims were giving
birth more, they are more illiterate then Hindus so they used less
contraception. It was the failure of the government and the every
enlightened person of the Muslim society; they could not create
inspiration by the knowledge in the entirely Muslim society that they
have to break the so-called rule, which was in the name of religion.
They have failed to understand them for taking contraception for a
better life, it was the demand of the modern era. Now bad politics are
using this backward people as an escape goat. What is the result of it
in Assam that we have seen last year? The Boro people of Assam created
a mass killing of Muslim. However, that is Indian internal matter, but
it is matter of the human right of the world.

However, I have seen in Assam people of all ethnic group have a great
interest regarding Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi leader Sheikh
Hasina. The common people and the civil society wanted to know, how
economy of Bangladesh was growing so fast and they wanted to know
about the charismatic leadership of Sheikh Hasina. My reading is that
in Assam Sheikh Hasina is more popular than any other leaders of
Assam. The civil society and the responsible politicians of Assam fell
what Sheikh Hasina has done for Assam no leader of India did it.They believe not only Assam but also Sheikh Hasina has given them peace from the terrorism the entire seven sisters.
We all know that, once seven sisters were terrible states of India, from the early sixties china and the then Pakistan were helping the all the dissident group of from Nagaland to Tripura. We know about the
theMizo leader, before going England he was in the then East
Pakistan, it was his head quarter; and Pakistani Inter service of
Intelligence (ISI) would give them all type of assistants. At the end,
in the era of Indira Gandhi, Mizo leader fizo could understand and he
came under the constitutional politics. This could only happen because Bangladesh was independent. Details are not necessary here. However, after the
assassination of the father of the nation of Bangladesh, Bangladesh
became a prototype Pakistan, and ISI took control here, then all
the dissident groups of seven sisters took shelter here. As we know,
Tripura Tiger and the United liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) were the
strongest of them.

One of the senior journalists of Assam Nava Thakuriatold me, once
in Assam there was an apple of ULFA in the young of the Assameas. But
they gradually lost it, because when the people of Assam came to know
that ULFA is guided by the ISI then the young Ahamias withdrew their
support. Nava’s opinion was that, any citizen of India liked to fight
any time if he felt he was discriminated by the central government,
but it was his own fight. If he came to know that, Pakistan was
helping him or it was a game of Pakistan, he must pull out him from
this fight or game. It has happened in the case of ULFA. ULFA gradually lost its
support from the people of Assam, when the people of Assam
came to know that ULFA were guided by Pakistani intelligence ISI. It
was also the opinion of many responsible representatives of the civil
society of Assam. ULFA understood it very shortly. Then they took
another path by the help of ISI and the then Bangladesh government.
They tried to make the situation in Assam, Tripura, Nagaland and
others more chaotic through terrorism. The then Bangladesh government gave
shelter terrorists of ULFA and other dissident organization of seven
sister and they weretrained by the direct supervision of the ISI. During that time another polarization happened, gradually ISI made a bridge with the dissident groups of seven sisters and the Islamic
fundamentalist. It took a highest shape at the time Jammat- BNP regime
from 2001 to 2006. Then the dissident groups of seven sisters turned into a
large international terrorist organization; with the help of the
highest body of the then Bangladesh government and the Islamic
terrorist groups based on Pakistan. They started all the activities of
the international terrorist organization, like arms, drug smuggling
even human trafficking. The situation went the worst position on the
then time in Bangladesh and the North East India. After coming power
Sheikh Hasina, the leader of Bangladesh wiped out this situation
trough her bold political actions. She has shown this region and the
world how to control terrorism. One-day history will recognize her
as one of the bold and greatest fighters against the terrorism. Even
the present world should recognize her contribution against terrorism
but one of the most sufferers’ west did not show that posture at the
time of 5 January 2014 election, when she and her country were
ruthlessly attacked by the rest of the terrorist of Bangladesh under
the leadership of Kaleda Zia.

However, now Sheikh Hasina is in power in Bangladesh, and it has
proved that, if she and her government continue at least ten years in
Bangladesh, this region will be fully terrorism free and it will help
the west for dismantling terrorists too. So the political will of this
region and the west should work in this way. What Sheikh Hasina has
done that has been seen already, one of the ULFA leaders of Assam has
participated in the general election of India in Assam. No doubt, the
transformation of ULFA Leader indicates that this region has entered
in a peaceful age. That is why, now it is the time to build up a permanent
peace in this region and it depends entirely on the political will of
the two countries, but a little add must be needed here that China and
Myanmar have to come forward on this issue; and their attitudes tell us that
they will do it.

To sum it up, now we can find how Bangladesh and its neighbor states
of India, North East India and the eastern Indian state West Bengal
can build up a permanent peace or a good relation. This peace or good
relation must be build by the soft powers. So, the two countries have to
identify which soft powers are suitable and applicable in these areas.
Politicians are the right people- they can find out all the soft
powers time to time for building a deep relation between two countries
and the neighbor Indian states with Bangladesh. but it may be said
that culture and economy are the main soft powers to build up it.

Bengali Culture

Bangladesh is homogeneous; one linguistic and unitary cultural country. Of these eight states of India, only west Bengal is like us. We are completely common but the political environment have changed the mental perceptions. Bangladesh is a sovereign country ; it enjoys its sovereignty for the last 43 years, so now most of the population of Bangladesh are new generation, they have no
mental bond with West Bengal; the same thing is in west Bengal. The
partition was made 67 years. So, now the most of the population of
West Bengal are new generation, they feel themselves to be more they are Indian than
Bengali. Besides, in Tripura 69% of population is Bengali
and inShilchar one of the districts of Assam- the population is 90%
Bengali. They alsohave a close ties with Bangladesh but there the new
generations feelingsare not different from West Bengal’s. So, now the new
generation of Bangladesh is hundred percent Bangladeshi and the new
generation of West Bengal, Tripura and Shilchar are hundred percent
Indian. In spite of that, we have common music, literature, foods,
and traditions so it is easy to maintain good bonds through
the culture. Literature, music even the foods will be a little bit
different in future, but I think the literature and music will not
change like American and British literature and music. This is
because; America is a multi-ethnic while British are not On the
other hand, Bengalis of India and Bangladesh are of same ethnicity. But by
the influence of greater India- a change will be coming in the Bengali
literature and music of India basically in west Bengal. It will hit
Tripura and Shilchar later. So after these changes and diversities, a
bridge has to make between Bangladesh and West Bengal, Tripura and
Shilchar. That toowill help to make good relation. Then it will become
easy because a change will come on the Bangladeshi literature and
music by the influence of world and India. A close cultural
relation will continue but the actual relations will be depended on
practically joint economic activities and political wills. We know the
political will is the main aspects of the all components of good
relations between two countries. In thelast five years Sheikh Hasina’s
political will has done a historic job for India which will not be
forgotten by Indian history.But for the lack of political will of
Mrs. Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, the relation between India and Bangladesh could not develop more smoothly. Only for the lack of political will of Mamata, India and Bangladesh could not make the Teasta River treaty. The Teasta River treaty is legal matter, as a lower ripe country Bangladesh will get its legal share of water, Indian central
government agreed to give it but only the illegal egoistic decision of
Mamata has made barrier of it. A huge number of people of West Bengal did
not agree with it; but Mamata has motivated a huge group of people in favor of
her decision. As a result, by the decision of Mamata encourage those
people who are in favor of terrorism. We saw a group of people made processions in Calcutta in the favor of the war criminals of Bangladesh. Besides Calcutta this only
happened in Pakistan in this sub continent. So it was a shame for the
progressive Bengali majority and the civilized city like Calcutta. On
the other hand, Sheikh Hasina’s political will has helped to make Palatona
electricity plant in Tripura and now Bangladesh is buying electricity
from it and will buy more in near future.

Except, West Bengal, Tripura and some of the districts of Assam, Bengali population are very less in the other provinces of North East India. Shilong represent-a somewhat Bengali culture because the
British regime but all the other area of Assam represent Boro and
mainly Ahamia besides that in Tripura 31% are indigenous people,
Meghalaya, Arunachal, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram are same. But they
are gradually coming into main stream India. I gota chance to
discuss with some educated young people of Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram , they
had some disagreement with the central decision of India but they felt
proud as an Indian and they wanted a united India. They had some
disagreement with the development policy of central India, they
wanted development of their area. So, they wanted connectivity through
Bangladesh with their main land of India.

To sum it up, it is clear that by real politics we will have to
make Bangladesh and North East India and West Bengal more
connected, which will not only help the macro economy of the two
countries, it will also help the day to day economy of the common people
of the two countries. Then the people of two areas will get the direct
benefit and this benefit will help to make a close relation. These
economic activities will make Bangladesh a business, medical hub
even an educational hub in this area. On the other hand, North East
Indian resources will be explored day by day. No doubt, it will not happen overnight, it will gradually advance because firstly we have to continue a holy political will like Sheikh Hasina and we have
to break our mental Berlin wall. After that, it has to be kept in mind
that, North East India’s majority people are indigenous, they are
coming out by the modern education, some change will happen by
the industrialization. But without making any damage for the nature
and motivating the mind of indigenous people, industrialization is not
so easy in North East but that does not mean it is impossible. It
needs a good policy -which will be nature friendly and which will help
to motivate the indigenous people to come willingly into a modern
industrialized life. Education and opportunity of a more well off
life can play a vital role here. On the other hand, in Bangladesh,
there are some typical Muslim minds which has been nourished since
1947- that is also a mental Berlin Wall, which is an anti Indian
mentality, we have to dismantle it through the proper education, a
healthy political culture, and economic activities, which will give
more modern and prosperous life.

Swadesh Roy, Executive Editor, The Daily Janakantha, Dhaka, Bangladesh he can be reached swadeshroy@gmail.com 

( This article was presented at the seminar of Relations between North-East and Eastern India and Bangladesh organized by Ithihas Sommelony (Conference of History).