Shri Ram Madhav’s keynote address at the inaugural session of the 7th India – Bangladesh Friendship Dialogue in Dhaka

India and Bangladesh are natural friends; natural allies. Our geography has made us inseparable. Our history has linked us. Our culture connects us and our language bonds us. In a sense we are two peoples with one civilization and culture; we can be called ‘cultural cousins’. Our destinies are interlinked.

Even cricket is a strong bond between our two countries. We in India love playing cricket with Bangladesh. In a couple of days our teams are going to face each other in the finals of the Asia Cup. Bangladesh players have really come up very well. They are challenging big and mighty teams in the world successfully. We enjoy playing the finals with them. Unlike with another neighbor it is not like a war; it is a joy to play against Bangladesh.

We are a big country in the neighborhood. We are a big country, but not a big brother. We are partners in growth. Prime Minister Modi has a doctrine for the neighborhood – ‘Together we Grow’. When he came to Dhaka last year he described it in a beautiful Hindi phrase – Pass pass Saath saath’; ‘We are close to each other, we grow hand-in-hand’. We are not competitors, nor rivals; we are partners; we compliment each other.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is marching forward in the path of peace, progress and prosperity. The key to success of any government lies in these three objectives. In India Prime Minister Modi has given a clarion call for ‘Sab ka Saath – Sab ka Vikas’; ‘United we achieve prosperity to all’.

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Our two countries are large democracies in the region. India with its 1.2 billion population is the world’s largest and mature democracy. Bangladesh too, with its 160 million population, is working hard towards strengthening democratic institutions. We face major challenges to democracy in our respective countries. In the name of freedom and liberty forces of anarchy are trying to destabilize our democratic institutions.

Bangladesh has returned to democracy and secularism after a great struggle. Bangabandhu’s dream of building a nation based on principles of pluralism, secularism and democracy needs to be protected at all costs. PM Sheikh Hasina is making laudable efforts in that direction. Freedom doesn’t mean destruction, violence, burning of buses and terrorizing civilians. Your freedom ends where my nose begins. Our freedoms are not absolute; they are restricted by our constitutional framework.

Constitutionalism and democracy must be protected zealously. They have answers to all sorts of problems. We support the efforts of the Bangladesh government under Sheik Hasina in this direction.

When Prime Minister Modi visited Dhaka in May last year both countries have signed an important MoU aptly titled ‘New Beginning – New Direction’ – ‘Nobor Projonmo – Nobo Disha’. India is committed to strengthening this bilateral relationship as a defining one in the region.

India and Bangladesh enjoy strong trade relations. We are aware of the balance of payment issues in the relationship and together we can address them. India can on its part do the needful to encourage more investments from Bangladesh. But I wish to reassure Bangladesh that India wouldn’t do anything to take advantage of the adverse BoP regime between our two countries. As I mentioned earlier our growth story should be complimentary.

There is great scope for enhancing our energy partnership. Bangladesh has set ambitious targets of 24000 MW power by 2020. India too has set great goals in power sector. PM Modi wants to electrify all the remaining 18000 villages in India by 2018. Our two countries, together with countries like Nepal and Bhutan which have great generation capacity, can cooperate and coordinate in this sector to achieve our targets. We already have two cross-border transmission routes for power between our countries and we can have more too.

Last year we have sealed the historic Land Border Agreement – LBA. It has been pending for 43 years. PM Modi’s statesmanship and determination together with the hard work put in by our MEA officials including current Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Mr. Shringla who was JS, BSM in MEA earlier, has resulted in this historic agreement. While the agreement has always had bipartisan support certain political and electoral compulsions have led to the inordinate delay in sealing it. But for PM Modi’s courage to put diplomacy and national interest ahead of political interest this wouldn’t have been possible.

With the signing of the LBA gates have opened for greater cooperation between the two countries in areas of security, terrorism, smuggling and illegal migration. We need to collaborate much more in these areas to achieve desired results in these areas.

The most important relationship between our two countries is people-to-people relationship. A number of initiatives have been taken on this front. But we need to do much more. We have a bus service connecting our cities like Kolkata, Guwahati, and Agartala with Dhaka. We have a train – Maitri Express – connecting Kolkata and Dhaka. We need to engage more. Transshipment is crucial for both countries especially after Chittagong port has developed into a major trade hub. Connectivity between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal – BBIN – will open great many avenues for our countries.

Overall, India – Bangladesh relationship is touching new heights under the leadership of PM Modi and PM Sheikh Hasina. India is solidly behind this relationship. Let us hope that this ‘New Beginning – New Direction’ will bring new light in the lives of the people of both the countries.

Thank you very much.

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