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Riding on Sylhet-Silchar festival, Assam seeks 'better, lasting' ties with Bangladesh

By Mashrur Siddique Bhuiyan* 

A three-day 'Sylhet-Silchar festival' which took place in the town of Silchar in the northeastern Indian state of Assam has opened new doors of relations between Bangladesh and India. The festival began on the afternoon of December 2 at the police playground in Silchar town and ended on the afternoon of December 4.
Six ministers, twelve MPs, educationists, and industrialists of Bangladesh went Silchar under the leadership of Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen. A new horizon of friendship was created at this festival. Sylhet and the entire nation have improved relations because to this festival. India and Bangladesh will consequently both gain. The Assam government was a major participant in the event. Friends of Bangladesh worked together.
The programme was organized in the context of the historical relationship between Sylhet and the Barak Valley of South Assam. The Assam government hopes to create opportunities for business, cultural and historical exchanges through the festival.
The festival's goal was to explore the shared heritage and ideals of the twin cities and their inhabitants who are geographically apart. The city's celebration highlighted the local fare, artwork, crafts, culture, and agricultural products of the two regions, which have strong cultural ties.
Distinguished individuals from both sides talked about topics of common interest. Opportunities in the healthcare, tourist, and educational sectors were highlighted at the event. The Sylhet district in Assam, which had a large Muslim population, was divided into East Pakistan and Bangladesh during the split in 1947.
It was also a festival to "celebrate the age-old people to people connect" on both sides of the border, despite the fact that the tensions of those times are not something that can be simply forgotten.
Sylhet and Silchar have long had strong cultural relations, and this event only deepened such ties between the two neighbouring regions of the two countries.
The Chief Ministers of Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya as well as officials from Delhi's Central government attended this celebration. Others who were concerned added that this was the first step in reopening Dhaka's relationship with Assam.
Dignitaries from Sylhet arrived in India to take part in the three-day festival that was being hosted by the Bangladesh Foundation for Regional Studies and the India Foundation of New Delhi with funding from the Indian Ministry of Culture.
The Sylhet Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized the "Sylhet-Silchar Festival," which featured invitations to prominent locals like public figures, legislators, and journalists. The road border of Sylhet city allows for close connectivity with the Assamese city of Silchar.
The festival of friendship was being held to commemorate 50 years of independence for Bangladesh and 75 years of freedom for India. Both the indigenous cultures of the two regions was highlighted, and the conversation also included notable figures from the two nations. Business possibilities in the fields of tourism, education, health, and digital infrastructure was investigated.
Assam's Silchar Member of Parliament Dr Rajdeep Roy took the initiative to organize this festival. The festival sought to improve connections between Eastern and Southeastern Bangladesh, and India's northeastern area. Speed in trade and investment is expected to follow.
Matters of ties were discussed at courtesy meetings between at least three chief ministers and other ministers, including the foreign minister of Bangladesh, during the Sylhet-Silchar festival. Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh are the seven northeastern states.
Meghalaya and Assam have a lengthy border with the larger Sylhet division. Assam and Sylhet were merged before to 1947. After division, the two cities were split apart. The administrations of Dhaka and Delhi are currently working to expand connectivity between the two cities while also developing new commercial and investment opportunities.
A Bangladesh delegation led by Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen reached Silchar in Assam on Friday. On December 2, 'India-Bangla Sylhet Festival' was inaugurated at Silchar in South Assam's Barak Valley by India's Minister of Tourism, Culture and Development of Northeast Gangapuram Kishan Reddy and Bangladesh's Foreign Minister and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma.
After reaching India's Sutarkandi border on this day, the foreign minister said, "I feel fortunate to have crossed the Bangladesh-India border through Sheola-Sutarkandi after 50 years and we are satisfied with the cordial welcome they have given us".
Thanking the Indian authorities, Momen added, “They have treated us very friendly. We all felt at home. This is going to be a historic event. Because the two neighbors are going to unite in the midst of many hopes and desires.”
The foreign minister said, the 'Silchar-Sylhet Festival' will serve as an important platform to discuss our common culture, language, art and literature, mutual development progress. Inaugurating the festival, Momen highlighted the multi-dimensional relations between Bangladesh and the northeastern states of India.
According to him, due to the visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina and the effective implementation of her government's zero tolerance policy against terrorism, the Northeast region of India has contributed greatly to the overall stability and economic development. After the discussion phase of the opening ceremony, the cultural programme started. He also expressed his gratitude to Sutarkandi, India's Border Integrated Check station for their superb preparations.
Health, education, tourism, river, climate and other issues were discussed at the festival. The festival was an effort to strengthen bilateral ties between the two nations.
The festival highlighted tribal culture, cuisine, arts, crafts, and local produce, provide entertainment, and bring together eminent people from both sides to discuss and deliberate on issues of mutual growth and opportunity. All this was with the aim of revisiting the common values and shared heritage of the twin cities and their people separated by international borders.
The event offered venue for investigating cross-disciplinary business potential in industries like healthcare, tourism, education, and digital infrastructure. The festival served as the starting point for developing potential opportunities for everyone involved with the help of the Ministry of Culture, the Government of India, the Government of Assam, and in collaboration with the Bangladesh India Friendship Society and India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Several events, including a panel discussion on trade and commerce, a tribal and culinary festival, a panel discussion on "Our Rivers, Our Water, Our Climate," and a festival of language and literature, among others, were set for the second day of the festival.
Activities like the first Sylhet-Silchar Festival-2022 would strengthen Bangladesh's relations with India's north-east. The prime leaders of both nations stressed the importance of creating a shared framework for understanding and collaboration to further advance relations between Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh's peace and stability benefit the neighboring Indian states of Bangladesh.
For centuries, Sylhet and Silchar have had strong cultural relations. Momen and Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, India's minister of state for external affairs, met outside the event. They spoke about subjects of shared interest and praised the collaboration on planning the festival.
There were also lawmakers Iqbalur Rahim and Gazi Mohammad Shahnewaz, as well as Mustafizur Rahman, the high commissioner of Bangladesh to India, and Shamsher Mubin Chowdhury, the former secretary of state for foreign affairs.
---
*Development worker and independent researcher, Dhaka

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