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Those who hail from Chittagong, on either side of the Indo-Bangladesh border, are very protective of their insular dialect. A port of significance since the 9th century, Chittagong, however, was never a closed culture. In fact, it was a melting pot. It rose to India's national consciousness very prominently twice in the last century: first, with the Chittagong Uprising in 1930; second, as the place where Bangladesh's independence was declared in 1971, which thereafter suffered naval blockades. The geopolitical advantages of Chittagong, as a gateway to Southeast Asia and the Far East, could never be understated.
Today, Chittagong is one of the fastest-growing urban zones in the world, and Bangladesh an emerging economy. India, therefore, should be very happy with the grant of access to the historic port, itself being developed and expanded. But New Delhi must deliver on the bilateral relationship recast after Sheikh Hasina assumed charge in Dhaka. The Chittagong port is crucial to the economic development of India's landlocked Northeast. Together with Myanmar's Sitwe port, Chittagong is the Northeast's maritime gateway. With Nepal and Bhutan also likely to get access to Chittagong, Bangladesh's second-largest city and its busiest seaport can be the core of the eastern subcontinent's economic integration, and its global outreach. A parallel need would be the upgrade and integration of road and railway infrastructure to expedite the movement of goods and people.
The time is ripe for a bold bilateral agenda. Therefore, a lot has to be put in the works before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Dhaka visit in September. It's just as well many high-level Indian visits are regaining a little of the lost momentum. Delhi needs to look at Chittagong not as a one-off achievement, but the key to a re-invented eastern subcontinent.
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