India&’s Look East Policy, now called Act East, with its emphasis on connectivity with neighbours, especially Bangladesh, has got a major boost after the coming of the Narendra Modi government, said Bangladesh High Commissioner to India, Syed Muazzem Ali.
Addressing a book release event on Thursday evening, the Bangladesh envoy said that border connectivity is now being viewed in economic terms and as a win-win situation for both sides.
“Connectivity under Prime Minister Narendra Modi&’s government has been taken to a new platform, especially with the BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) sub-regional grouping. It will ensure free movement of trucks through the new connectivity routes,” Ali said at the release of the book ‘Agartala Doctrine: A Proactive Northeast in Indian Foreign Policy’, edited by journalist Subir Bhaumik.
Ali said that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina “is very committed” to boosting connectivity with India, and that the railway links between the two countries that existed prior to 1965 would be restored first. The old road connectivity links would also be restored in time, while the steamer links that existed earlier would be looked into.
“There is no lack of sincerity on our part. We want to ensure connectivity,” Ali said at the event organised by think-tank Society For Policy Studies (SPS) in association with Oxford University Press, publishers of the book, at the India International Centre.
He also said the two bus services launched during PM Modi&’s visit to Bangladesh in June last year, the Agartala-Dhaka-Kolkata and the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati services would be made into twice or three -times a week services. He said his government is trying to liberalise the visa regime for the purpose. It has upgraded its diplomatic mission in Agartala and is to also open a new mission in Guwahati.
The people of India&’s Northeast have close links with Bangladesh but only 10 per cent of the residents there have passports, Ali said, adding that he has been assured by chief ministers of the Northeast that the new passport scanning machines would be installed there soon.
Air connectivity between both sides is to be given a push, with Guwahati–Dhaka and Shillong-Dhaka flights being planned, he said.
Connectivity is the new buzzword in India&’s links with its neighbours, said former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, speaking on the occasion.
Saran, who is chairperson of the think-tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), said that earlier borders would be thought of in terms of “out posts”, but now they are being looked at as economic corridors.
He said it was essential to see how the Northeast can be better connected with the rest of India. Saran said that the Siliguri Corridor, also called Chicken&’s Neck, is wide enough to put in more transport infrastructure to boost connectivity to the Northeast. He said it was essential to boost connectivity within the northeastern states too as well as across the border with neighbours.
Bhaumik said that though Tripura is landlocked, it has taken leading steps to boost connectivity with Bangladesh. He said the state capital Agartala is now the third international Internet gateway of India, after Chennai and Mumbai, by being linked to a telecom cable company at Cox’s Bazar in south Bangladesh.
Well-known strategic expert Uday Bhaskar, director of SPS, said that though the Northeast is critical to India&’s foreign policy, yet it was getting scant attention.