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Why Indo-Bangladesh ties are crucial for India's North-Eastern connectivity

By Samara Ashrat* 
Recently, Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar stated that, if there is one border and one region of India which has dramatically improved in the last decade, it is eastern and northeastern India. And the reason for that is that India has vastly improved its relationship with Bangladesh.
Not only that, but recently India also has expressed interest in building and operating an airport in Bangladesh. India wants a piece of Bangladeshi land in Brahmanbaria to upgrade and expand the Agartala airport, which is set to become the third international airport in India’s northeastern region by the end of this year or early next year. Following the completion of the project, flights between Agartala and Dhaka, as well as other Bangladeshi cities like Chattogram and Sylhet, would be operated.
The main reason behind this is, Bangladesh is the trump card for India to implement its Act Fast for Northeast policy. And Chicken’s Neck or Siliguri Corridor created the importance of Bangladesh for India. This corridor is one of the most geographical compulsions for India. This narrow corridor separated the whole North Eastern region from the Indian Mainland.
Bangladesh creates a broader nexus between the Indian mainland and the North Eastern region. Because Agartala is 1,650km from Kolkata and 2,637km from New Delhi through Shillong and Guwahati. The journey between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh, on the other hand, is only about 550km. Furthermore, the average distance between Bangladesh's major cities and northeast India is 20km to 300km.
As a result, Bangladesh is always considered crucial for the North-Eastern region's connectivity with mainland India by rail, road, and river routes. Bangladesh played a major role and has immense potential for the development of Indian northeastern states. And among those states, Tripura and Assam are the prominent ones.

Bangladesh-‘locked’

Tripura is an important part of India’s northeastern states. It is considered India’s gateway to ASEAN countries. 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.
The Agartala–Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway link 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 will 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.
Bangladesh is situated in a crucial geostrategic, forming a key triangle around Assam along with Bhutan and Myanmar
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.

Key triangle

Bangladesh is situated in a crucial geostrategic location for Assam. Bangladesh forms a key triangle around Assam along with Bhutan and Myanmar. Because of its strategic location, there are several opportunities for trade, transportation, commerce, and connection between Bangladesh and Assam. Moreover, Bangladesh is India's bridge to South-East Asia. Bangladesh is a natural pillar of the Act East policy. It can act as a ‘bridge’ to economic and political linkages with South East Asia and beyond. Bangladesh is an important part of the regional cooperation forum (i.e., BBIN, BIMSTEC).
Bangladesh has many potential ways to increase commerce with Assam and subsequently open up access to the ASEAN nations because both India and Bangladesh have made progress in establishing connectivity through roads and railways. At present, Bangladesh also permits India to transfer commodities between different parts of India by using the Chattogram and Mongla ports, which lowers the cost and speed of shipping.
Not only these two states but also the other five states of the seven sister’s development is inextricably related to Bangladesh. That’s why India repeatedly acknowledges Bangladesh’s contribution to its Act Fast For Northeast policy.
---
*PhD fellow, University of Bucharest

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