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Northeast India to Southeast Asia: Tripura is the key

There is a saying in the South Asian region that if Bangladesh is India-locked, Tripura is Bangladesh-locked
Last Updated : 09 March 2023, 21:19 IST
Last Updated : 09 March 2023, 21:19 IST

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Recently, while addressing an election rally in Tripura, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Bangladesh played an important role in the development of Tripura during the tenure of the BJP government. 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—civilisational, historical, lingual, and cultural. From time immemorial, the people of Tripura and Bangladesh have shared their problems and prosperity. They share a porous border stretching over 856 kilometers, constituting 85% of Tripura’s border.

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. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Tripura in 2012 was also significant; since its inception in 1971, no Bangladeshi head of state or government had visited India’s northeast. This visit rebalanced relations between India and Bangladesh.

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 Ramgarh in Bangladesh, is thrown open for the public. This bridge is located only 74 km from Chittagong Port. Another project is the Agartala–Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway link, which once completed, will connect Gangasagar in Bangladesh to Nischintapur in India and then connect Nischintapur to Agartala railway station in India.

The scope of trade relations would expand with the introduction of the Agartala-Akhaura railway line. In addition, India also plans to develop an integrated checkpoint 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 km 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 will emerge as a well-connected state and will cease to be a ‘landlocked’ one as it is now. It will connect India, Myanmar, and Thailand through roadways and further trade relations.

Tripura’s Maharaja Bir Bikram airport, the third international airport in the landlocked northeastern region, will connect Agartala to Dhaka.

Recently, the Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka, Pranay Verma, has also expressed India’s interest in investing 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. It is a better partner for Bangladesh than West Bengal or Assam. There is a key cultural affinity that will 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 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. It is high time India initiated more trade, investments, and connectivity projects between Bangladesh and Tripura.

(The writer is a PhD Fellow, University of Bucharest.)

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Published 09 March 2023, 20:23 IST

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