Rapprochement express

The cultural and economic synergies between West Bengal and Bangladesh can usher in a new chapter in relations between the latter and all of India.

Though Southasia has a shared history and numerous cultural synergies, in the modern era ultra-nationalism, jingoism and religious radicalism have almost obliterated this legacy. The violence of Partition ensured that there was only limited space for moderate voices that believed in treating borders as mere national boundaries rather than zones of conflict. Political disputes and acrimony resulted in the creation of impermeable barriers, first between India and Pakistan and then between India and Bangladesh. The Punjab, which shared a common culture and heritage and was also a cohesive economic unit prior to Partition, was divided into two adversarial camps thereafter. Similar, though less extreme, was the fate of Bengal.

In the case of the Punjab, this began to change in the late 1990s when the two Punjabi prime ministers of India and Pakistan at the time, I K Gujral and Nawaz Sharif, attempted to forge a harmonious relationship between India and Pakistan. From 2003, cultural exchanges between the two Punjabs began to increase, visits by Sikh pilgrims to Punjab province became more frequent, and limited trade between the two also began. This process has continued since that time despite the continuing mutual mistrust maintained by incidents such as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

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Himal Southasian