India’s Northeast & Bangladesh : Problems & opportunities

Published May 2004

The Centre for North East Studies & Policy Research approached the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung with a proposal for a series of discussions and public lectures in the North East of India involving scholars and senior figures from Bangladesh. The goal was to develop an initiative that would help charge attitudes and perspectives on both sides. For the North East, the major issue at stake is the continued illegal migration of Bangladeshis who have moved and settled in other parts of India, changing the demographic profile of regions and leading to social tensions and confrontations over issues as diverse as culture, land, identity and. population patterns. There are also concerns that militant groups have bases in Bangladesh and this is a destabilizing factor in the North East.

To Bangladesh, the outflow is not an issue because it has hardly figured in public debates. The official position is that is this is not a problem. The North East is a low priority in terms of official economic cooperation. Few travelers visit each other’s lands. There is a wealth of ignorance and rigid attitudes. Yet, both sides are neighbors with a significant land border and a flourishing illegal trade in goods as varied as cattle, kerosene, sugar, bamboo, electronic goods, textiles and medicines.

They share one of the greatest natural resources in Asia-the Brahmaputra river. Yet, the transport of people or goods is minimal despite the fact that in earlier days this was one of the major highways for commerce. Tea, coal and other commodities were sent by the river.

In an effort to get an interactive exchange of views aimed at changing perspectives at the public level, C-NES suggested that the FES support a programme that would bring a group from Bangladesh, which would speak frankly and be prepared to listen to North Eastern concerns. FES agreed to support the project through a modest grant.

A request for such a visit had come from Mr. Farooq Sobhan, the former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, soon after the creation of CNES in 2000 by Mr. Sanjoy Hazarika.

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