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Dhaka Tribune

Saran: India’s Bangladesh policy not subject to change in government

Update : 07 Apr 2014, 10:26 PM

Indian policy towards Bangladesh would remain the same, irrespective of whether there was a change in government at New Delhi or in Dhaka, said Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Pankaj Saran yesterday.

“If our government changes after May 17 or the life of your current government expires, we are not going cut down power lines or shut down Moitree Express, say for example,” Saran said at a lecture titled “India and India-Bangladesh Relationship,” organised by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies in the capital.

“In my view, the relationship between two countries depends a great deal on what our mutual interests are and, I mean, interests really do not change with governments,” he said.

Claiming that substantial progress had been made through New Delhi’s interactions with several Bangladeshi governments over the past four decades, Saran said: “Our national interest would be to try and give it our best shot to deal with any government that is in Bangladesh at a given point in time.”

Asked about the popular perception that India gave preferential treatment to a specific group of people in Bangladesh, Saran said: “With regard to popular perception about India-Bangladesh relations and our assessment to that - we are doing our job. Now it is a judgement call.”

The Indian high commissioner candidly admitted that Dhaka and New Delhi knew each other, but did not understand each other.

He also suggested that the relationship should expand beyond governments and politics and reach out to all spheres of life.

Pankaj said big power rivalries in the region would not contribute to regional peace and stability. “It is up to you to choose a strategic partner. India has nothing to say in the matter,” he said.

The diplomat said India wanted to see a regional structure where all countries in the region contributed to an environment of peace, stability and prosperity. In that vein, India has taken an initiative to bring the region’s navies together for a forum – the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, he said.

Pankaj also admitted that the Indian security apparatus once treated Bangladesh in a similar way as it treated Pakistan, but added that this view was changing fast.

On a separate note, the Indian envoy expressed regret that agreements could not be reached over Teesta water-sharing and a ratification of the land boundary.

“We regret the fact that we are not being able to agree on Teesta sharing agreement and it is unfortunate that we are not being able to ratify the land boundary agreement,” he said.

About the prospect of ratifying the land boundary agreement in the post-election period in India, he said it was difficult to say. “I think we just have to wait and see,” he said.

The envoy admitted that a trade imbalance was a big problem in the trade relations between the two countries.

“You should target normal trade with Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad where the cash cows are and where the consumers live,” he said.

About duty-free access to India, Saran said a decision was made to open up the Indian market to all Bangladeshi products except 25 tariff lines, with an expectation that the opportunity would be grabbed by the Bangladesh business and industry.

“The process has begun and some are early starters and they are aggressively entering the Indian market,” he said. 

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