CONTEMPORARY India is fortunate in many respects. It is a Muslim scientist who fabricated her atom bomb to make her a nuclear power. A communal party, like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), bent by A.P.J Abul Kalam's contribution, elected him President of the Republic of India. Dr. Manmohan Singh, a Sikh by faith, is now leading India as its Prime Minister displaying his full commitment and sincerity of purpose to lead the country towards greater economic successes and eminence as a rising global power.
Previously, as its Finance Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh shaped India's open-door economic policy on being sure that his country satisfied all the basic conditions with its strong industrial and manpower bases for competition globally. The Indian Tata buses and trucks and the Maruti cars, which now ply in our roads in plenty, were developed and made competitive during India's long close-door years of import substitution activities. Dr. Manmohan Singh was not alienated by the Indian military assault in 1984 on his religion's highest shrine, the Golden Temple, which left the Sikhs' highest religious Guru of the time dead along with many of his close followers on the precinct of the temple. He has recently sought apology on behalf of India to his own religious community for the military assault in 1984.
Dr. Manmohan leads India in consultation with Italy-born Catholic Christian Sonia Gandhi, the wife of slain Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In spite of being the leader of the Congress, the major partner of the ruling alliance, she could not be the Prime Minister as many Indian political leaders stood firm against her being the head of the government. They maligned her for her foreign origin. But Sonia still stands firm on the political stage of India as the leading light of the Nehru dynasty at the helm of Congress as a patriotic Indian. Neither could successive killing of a few Christian missionaries in India by some Hindu zealots alienate her. These three personalities have even dwarfed some of India's founding fathers with their secular attitude in reality. They are indeed far-sighted and patriots and have made their way to positions of distinction in India by their contributions to the country. By our example, they should have formed a Christian-Sikh-Muslim Oikya Parishad (Unity Council) to face the majority Hindus. Instead of adopting a divisible policy, they have put India's chauvinist section of the Hindus to shame by demonstrating that they are committed to India no less than any member of majority Hindus. Doubtless their policy has had a reconciling effect on the different segments of the Indian population.
The names of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh will enter the pages of the Indian history in golden letters. But this trio, particularly Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh, may acquire places of distinction in the collective history of South Asia as well - in the history of each of its nations. This they can ensure for themselves if they duly recognise that, being the largest nation, India has the central, the most decisive and the largest role to play in building a climate of enduring trust between the nations of the sub-continent. As long as the United Kingdom thought "fog in the channel, the continent has been isolated" or France looked across the English channel for determining the opportune time to attack the British isles, they were not on the road to peace. The United State also cares for the countries in its close vicinity -- Mexico and Canada, with which it has formed the North American Free Trade Area on an equitable basis.
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh recently made a very encouraging statement while he said, "one can't choose one's neighbours". It indicated that India under her current leadership, is ready to resolve all outstanding problems with her neighbours to herald an era of mutual trust and co-operation among the countries of the sub-continent, with all of which she has common borders. It will augur well for the nations of the region if the indication finds reflection in deeds.
While framing her policies towards the close neighbours, India will do well to reminds herself of what Canada's intellectual Prime Minister of 1970, Mr. Trudeau told US President Richard Nixon at a state banquet in Washington. He said, "Mr. President, living next to you is some way sleeping beside an elephant. No matter how even tempered or bad the elephant is, if I can call it that one is affected by every twist and grunt". India's arch-rival was Pakistan. When the two countries blasted the atom bombs, almost simultaneously, the balance of terror came into play to induce each country to reconcile with the other. The two are now negotiating to settle their outstanding issues. They will eventually reconcile. Besides Pakistan, the rest of India's neighbouring countries are small; though some of them would have perhaps been regional powers had they been located somewhere in Africa - only away from Egypt and South Africa.
This is the month of March, a time in 1971 when India came up with unfailing support to the cause of Bangladesh independence. None in this country has forgotten it or ever will. Yet Bangladesh-India relations have not been satisfactory for long. The unusual delay in implementing the Indo-Bangladesh land boundary agreement of 1974, which is still pending, has fuelled suspicion on this side of the border.
While dealing with Bangladesh, one thing should be clear like crystal: the people of this country did not break with Pakistan in 1971 to be a surrogate of any nation. They are fiercely independent and, in spite of their lapses, they are loyal to the country. Poet Shukanta Bhattachariya, who died young, a little less than at the age of 21, in 1947 as if to reassert "those whom God loves best die young", understood it more than many of us did before 1971. More than 25 years before the Bangladesh liberation war began, he delineated the border of Bangladesh and depicted the predominant character of its people. One of his poems begins thus, " From the Himalayas to the Shundarban, suddenly there emerges Bangladesh/Vibrant with the surges of the Padma". Mind that the Ganges becomes known as the Padma just on crossing into Bangladesh territory in our Rajshahi district. Then the poem at one stage says, "Bravo Bangladesh, this world/ Amazingly looks on: / Devastated on burning in blazes/ Yet she will not surrender". The translation is writer's own, and he apologises to the soul of the poet for having ventured to translate his forceful poem of a style, quite uncommon in Bangla literature.
The Indian High Commission in Dhaka said the other day that the implementation of the Indo-Bangladesh land boundary agreement of 1974 is pending because of Bangladesh's lack of adequate initiative to speed up the work of boundary demarcation by a joint team. Previously, New Delhi's contention was that India was unable to ratify the agreement because of a case with the Kolkata High Court, filed by an Indian citizen challenging its validity. Bangladesh ratified the agreement in 1974, immediately after signing it. Our foreign ministry should have come up with a statement clarifying the position. Otherwise, it would appear like a game of hide and seek to confound public confusion and fuel further distrust in this country.
Besides the non-implementation of land boundary agreement of 1974, occasional intrusion of members of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) into our territory and frequent killing of our citizens by them, the undeterred flow of phensidyl from across the border as if there is no drug administration authority in India to check its production or they are passive about it, which has created addiction to and already spoiled a large section of our people, particularly the young generation, unilateral construction of structures on common rivers affecting their flows and occasional Indian charges of Bangladesh hosting training camps for some Indian rebels, which Bangladesh firmly denies, are some of the major issues having adverse impact on Bangladesh-India relations. The non-tariff barriers, affecting Bangladesh's export to India, have also joined to inflate the list. The Indian charge of Bangladesh harbouring some Indian rebels defies the logic of the law proportion. Will Mexico ever conspire against the USA?
There are reports that transport link between the two countries could be high on the agenda of the impending meeting of their prime ministers in New Delhi. A new bus service on a new route and train communication between Dhaka and Kolkata may be discussed in the meeting. Even the question of transit and port facilities for India's northeastern states may come up in the discussion. But unless resolution of the long outstanding issues has generated substantial goodwill, no government in this country will be able to withstand possible adverse public reaction to offers of new concessions. May we capitalise on the wisdom and far-sight of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh?