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Bangladesh Card for the Development of Tripura

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By: Samara Ashrat

Recently, while addressing an election rally in Tripura, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Bangladesh played an important role in the development of Tripura during the tenure of the BJP government. He also said that there has been a lot more activity and exchange between Northeast India than in the past. Road and rail connectivity with Bangladesh is gradually getting stronger. Tripura is becoming the “gateway” to Southeast Asia. Modi also mentioned that electricity is now being supplied to Bangladesh from Tripura.

There is a saying in the South Asian region that, If Bangladesh is India-locked, Tripura is Bangladesh-locked. So, the relationship between Bangladesh and Tripura is a long one; it is civilizational, historical, lingual, and cultural. From time immemorial, the people of Tripura and Bangladesh, have shared their problems and prosperity. Tripura and Bangladesh share a porous border, which stretches over 856-kilometer-long border, constituting 85 percent of Tripura’s border.

Historial Ties

Tripura and Bangladesh have a special history. During Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the people of Tripura welcomed more Bangladeshi refugees per capita into their homes than in any other civil war situation in history. When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Tripura, it was significant too. Since its inception in 1971, no Bangladeshi head of state or government has visited India’s Northeast. This visit rebalanced the relations between India and Bangladesh.

Existing projects

There are several existing infrastructural projects between Tripura and Bangladesh. The inauguration of Maitri Setu over the Feni River was one of those landmark projects between Tripura and Bangladesh. Tripura will emerge as the gateway to Southeast Asia once the Maitri bridge, linking Sabroom with Bangladesh’s Ramgarh, is thrown open for the public. This bridge is Located only 74 km away from Chittagong port.

Another project is The Agartala–Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway link. This railway is expected to be completed in June 2023. When it will be completed, it will connect Gangasagar in Bangladesh to Nischintapur in India (10.6 kilometers) and then connect Nischintapur to Agartala railway station (5.46 kilometers) in India. The scope of trade relations would open with the introduction of the Agartala-Akhaura railway line. Not only that, but India also plans to develop an integrated checkpost and cargo handling facility at Nischintapur, which is the junction point of the Agartala-Akhaura rail link at Tripura. This rail link will reduce the journey time between Agartala and Kolkata by passing through Dhaka instead of Guwahati. The travel time between Agartala and Kolkata will be reduced to 10 hours from the current 31 hours as it will travel a mere 550 km instead of 1,600. India and Bangladesh currently have four operational rail links between West Bengal and Western Bangladesh — Petrapole-Benapole, Gede-Darshana, Radhikapur-Biral, and Singhabad-Rohanpur. The last two are also notified of the use of Nepalese transit traffic. The present line will not only help people from Agartala but also those from Mizoram, which is 150 kilometers away.

With the completion of these two connectivity projects — the Feni bridge connecting Sabroom, Tripura with Chittagong, Bangladesh, and the Agartala–Akhaura rail line, Tripura would emerge as a well-connected state from a ‘landlocked’ one. In this way, Tripura will develop its connectivity and relations by connecting India, Myanmar, and Thailand through roadways.

Tripura’s Maharaja Bir Bikram airport would be the third international airport in the landlocked Northeastern region after its new terminal is completed by this year. After the completion of this airport, flights between Agartala and Dhaka, as well as other cities like Chittagong and Sylhet would be operated. Not only that, recently Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Pranay Verma has shown interest to invest in new airports in Bangladesh to facilitate the connectivity of northeastern states. Air connectivity will not only strengthen the connectivity between Bangladesh, the Indian mainland, and Tripura but also between India and ASEAN countries.

Tripura can be a reliable and strategic partner for Bangladesh. Tripura is an inspired partner for Bangladesh rather than West Bengal or Assam. There is a key cultural affinity that will surely make social and intellectual exchanges with Bangladesh more meaningful.  Both countries now have a mutual and abiding interest in ensuring that Tripura leads the India-Bangladesh relationship. For too long, Bangladesh has looked westwards to Assam and West Bengal to engage with India; it must now pivot and look east to Tripura and Mizoram. For Bangladesh too, Tripura can be the gateway to Myanmar and ASEAN, through Mizoram. As there is some reciprocal benefit, it is high time India should play its Bangladesh card for Tripura and initiated more trade, investments, and connectivity projects.

The writer is PhD Fellow, University of Bucharest.

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