Therefore, to create greater understanding between the civil societies of South Asia, we must encourage far more civil society interaction on B2B and people-to-people basis.
One of the enduring issues in South Asian diplomacy has been the tendency of our neighbours to look upon India as the Big Brother and expect us to accept asymmetry in our relationship with each of them, but not help to cease any developing animus towards India, particularly among sections of their populations. There is a continuing demand that India should "do more" without actually defining "more" while at the same time not acknowledging adequately, let alone expressing sincere gratitude, for what India has been able to do for them.
This syndrome is actually more widespread among their civil societies rather than governments, who are aware of what India precisely does for them, as most such largesse from our side is based on concrete requests from their governments, the results of which are often not accurately publicised by their media. Sometimes even those who call themselves the best of our friends are prone to this. Frequently, we are alerted that unless India continues to accede to every government or public demand, they will turn up their irritating activity, and play for their own selfish political aims and other geostrategic goals, not to the best of our interests.
We acknowledge that gratitude is a hard cross to bear, but our minimum expectation is that they will use the facilities and resources offered by India to their fullest potential as well as express their needs through proper diplomatic channels so that the feasibility of our acceptance and execution of their requests can be properly and thoroughly examined in the light of our own available resources and needs. It is hardly possible for a still developing nation like India to anticipate and accede to private civil society demands, even if they are expressed publicly through the media, as sovereign countries must not interfere with or intervene in matters of countries equally sovereign.
Therefore, to create greater understanding between the civil societies of South Asia, we must encourage far more civil society interaction on B2B and people-to-people basis. India has open borders for Nepali citizens, who may live, work and send remittances to Nepal as they please, except by joining the Indian diplomatic corps.
Bhutan also enjoys an open border arrangement. We have a liberalised e-visa regime with Sri Lanka and would love to have a similar arrangement with Bangladesh if we could both better coordinate to improve our border and security management.
As Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrives in New Delhi Sunday, both countries know that there are many measures that need to be taken to improve India-Bangladesh relations. Some of these include the agreement on mutual recognition of educational qualifications, such as that recently concluded between India and the UK; agreement on transfer of earned provident fund and other social security payments to facilitate the free movement of professionals between our countries; earliest conclusion of the proposed CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) between us, promotion of tourism particularly for medical and pilgrimage reasons, greater interactions between educational , social and medical service organisations, security and defence cooperation, expansion of bilateral trade, investment, telecommunication, air transport and financial services; on-board immigration and customs checks on surface transport, optimal utilisation of SEZs and port services to improve links with our northeastern region; joint efforts to maintain navigability of rivers; serious and rapid action for joint river basin management and sharing of lean season water resources, joint action to mitigate climate change; increasing coastal shipping; cooperation in the blue and green economies and many more.
The subcontinent needs to live at peace with itself to work together for common prosperity and greater happiness, health and wealth. This is to be the 'Asian Century'. It is to be hoped that its leaders will confer sincerely and take wise, courageous and path-breaking decisions for the welfare and prosperity of both our peoples.
The hand of the Big Brother on his smaller siblings must be the hand of benediction and not of admonishment. It should hold their hand and lift up our smaller neighbours so that we are equal and sovereign and treat each other with mutual respect dignity, support and courtesy; becoming the envy of the global community.
Let our minds be free and let us not be fragmented by narrow domestic walls. Our destinies are interlinked; what happens in one nation affects the other. We must maintain harmony and peace among ourselves lest the lack of it affect our brethren and sisters across the border.
(The author is a former Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Bangladesh. Views are personal)