“People to People contact”:Indo-Bangladesh relations – By K.C.Reddy, Distinguished Fellow, Asian Confluence




Nadi Festival 2016

Indo -Bangladesh relations are of strategic importance to both the countries but their potential is yet to be realized fully. India and Bangladesh are politically, socially and economically integral part of South Asian subcontinent. Historically, some of the North Eastern states not only shared a physical border but also shared cultural, social and economic ties with Bangladesh on account of common language and heritage. Hence, in spite of foreign policy being a union subject, North Eastern states by virtue of their strategic location and bordering Bangladesh play a vital role in shaping of the relations between both countries.

Today, we are living in a global village with digital connectivity as envisaged by Alwin Toffler in his book “The Third wave “. Information technology and digital world brought a speedy communications link between people with different faiths and cultures but failed to bring international peace and tranquility. All these scientific advancements could bring speedy communication links between people but failed to create better understanding and good will among people. The cleavages /gaps in understanding among people on account different cultures, religions and political systems, had been effectively exploited by extremists, terrorists and non state actors from both sides of the border in furtherance of their vested interests. It is amazing to note how little people know about each other’s countries and their socio -cultural environments despite the fact they had been living side by side for hundreds of years. As part of their responsibility to protect sovereignty and protect lives and property of people , national governments initiate a number of measures by way of border controls , border fencing , border security deployment etc .While implementing these measures ,some of the over enthusiastic government machinery create more misunderstanding and ill will among the people on both sides of the international border .

Both India and Bangladesh share common historical and cultural values and social connect. There is a huge potential for the expansion of bilateral trade which, in turn, helps in peace and harmony on both sides of the border .No economic development, improvement of trade and politico-socio-cultural relations, is possible without peace and stability. With the objective of promoting better understanding among the people on both sides , national governments initiate a number of steps including high level state visits etc but the measures initiated by the government agencies awfully inadequate in achieving the objectives .Hence voluntary organizations and non-governmental organizations have an important role to play through their “people to people” contact programs in brining understanding and harmony among the people of both the countries .

The “people to people” contacts is the only way of helping change in the mind set of people and enhance better understanding and pave way for peace and stability. A better understanding among people will negate the misgivings arising out of different cultures, religions and social structure and promote peace and harmony which will in turn contribute to economic prosperity and well being of the people.

What exactly meant by “ people to people contact” and how it will achieve spectacular results in comparison with other forms of initiatives in the context of Indo-Bangladesh relations .The “People to people” contact means interaction between normal citizens of India and Bangladesh at various levels with least official interference and guidance .The role of the national governments is limited to issue of visas and travel documents and facilitate border crossings .It is the spirit of the people’s interaction and understanding which would shape up their ideas ,thoughts and responses .Such contacts can be better achieved through voluntary organizations and non-governmental organizations and professional bodies like chamber of commerce ,educational institutions ,bilateral visits of artists, musicians, singers ,sportspersons ,film personalities etc .Even the exchange of books ,publications ,TV programs etc will have an added value because of their impact on opinion making and in improving the understanding among people .While programs like cultural exchanges ,business delegations ,tourism etc fall within the purview of national government policies, but their success depends on voluntary organizations and nongovernmental organizations for both advocacy and implementation. .Over a period of time ,such interactions would help in building trust and deepen mutual understanding on both sides .”People to people cooperation” can be effectively used to counter inflammatory rhetoric, projection of false images and even rumors. The outcome of these interactions initially may look less spectacular than the well publicized protocols ,agreements and other deals but at the end of the day , these relations and outcomes mostly impact ordinary people ,their hopes , fears ,frustrations ,expectations ,day to day lives and plans for their future . Without involvement of the human factor, no projects and programs, however beneficial they may be, are likely to succeed.

The “People to people contact” programs form the corner stone in the overall Government of India’s policy of “ look East” and “Act East “ . With the historical and cultural ties between India and Bangladesh, there is a persistent and popular demand for improvement in the cross border connectivity as the people on both sides of the border continue to maintain strong ties of kinship.

Prime Minster Modi’s historic visit in June 2015 has elevated Indo-Bangladesh ties to new heights and opened new opportunities for enhanced cooperation in the areas of connectivity , culture ,tourism and education .In his inspiring speech in Dhaka, Prime Minster Modi said “India and Bangladesh are not just neighbors but Nations bound by threads of history ,religion, language ,culture ,kinship and passion for cricket “. The people to people contact program organized by the Asian Confluence, Shillong, Meghalaya, is only playing a catalytic role in realizing the Prime Minster Modi’s vision.