It has been a long wait, but hopefully it is now over. It should be possible soon for trade and travel to flow freely between India and Bangladesh. The two countries have reportedly finalized 13 routes for passenger travel between them. Several new entry and exit routes have also been identified for the transportation of goods. The decisions could actually free not only trade and travel but also other areas of bilateral engagement between India and Bangladesh. In other parts of the world, the free passage of people and trade across national borders is hardly a contentious issue. History and politics stood in the way of the opening up of India’s borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. Buses between Lahore and New Delhi and between Calcutta and Dhaka symbolized a new beginning. But the opening up of the borders has been slow and inadequate. The agreements on the new transport and trade routes between India and Bangladesh are thus a big leap forward. Both Bangladesh and India’s Northeast in particular can benefit immensely from a free flow of people and commerce across the borders. True, both sides need to improve roads and other areas of infrastructure to take full advantage of the opening up. But the lack of adequate facilities was never a good enough reason to justify the delay in opening up the borders.
However, there are several other issues that New Delhi and Dhaka need to resolve soon. The decision on the bus and trade routes is actually a follow-up of the agreement signed between the two countries during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka last year. Dhaka is anxious to see India deliver on its commitment on the sharing of the waters of the Teesta river. Mamata Banerjee may have her reasons for opposing the proposed agreement on the issue, but it is for New Delhi to sort it out with West Bengal’s chief minister. Ms Banerjee should be taken on board also on the exchange of enclaves between the two countries. The economies of both countries, particularly of the regions on the borders, suffered much from the slow progress in bilateral ties. New Delhi has often been lukewarm in its responses to Dhaka’s aspirations. Bangladesh’s domestic politics too has stopped it from doing enough to ease relations with India. It is time leaders of the two countries broke free from past prejudices and let new ideas flourish.