People to People Relation
Dr. Banshidhar Mishra
People to people contact is one of the major dimensions in any bilateral relationship. It is argued that better people to people contacts translate into better state to state relations. Thus, it can be said that promoting Nepal – Bangladesh relations means promoting cooperation at people-to-people level. It increases mutual understanding and knowledge which facilitates bilateral relations to a larger extent. Though Bangladesh and Nepal belong to the same Geo-cultural region sharing same cultural values people of the countries have very little knowledge towards each other and limited scale of people to people contact.
Nepal’s relationship with Bangladesh is unique. Since the very beginning of the establishment of diplomatic relations, Bangladesh -Nepal relations were characterized by ties at the people’s level. Bangladesh and Nepal are close and friendly neighbors, and that the two countries have forged a relationship of mutual respect and trust, equality and cooperation. Bangladesh and Nepal, with different conditions, social systems and historical and cultural backgrounds, have witnessed sound and smooth progress of their bilateral relations. Bangladesh-Nepal bilateral relations, featuring equal and sincere treatment, mutual support and friendship for generations, can be an example for relations between two countries. Nepal is and will remain Bangladesh’s reliable friend, neighbor and partner despite changes in international and regional situations. Governments of both countries are committed to continuously enhance people-to-people contacts and expand cooperative spheres with Bangladesh.
People to people relation goes long back in the history when this area now Bangladesh was part of the Bengal region of India ruled by the same empires that ruled central India, from the Maurya (321–184 BCE) to the Mughal (1526–1858 CE). When the British took control of the region and created their Raj in India (1858–1947), including this part the relation continued in business and travelling for religious and other purpose. There are about 1,000 Nepali origin families with 7,000 people in Bangladesh. These are primarily the decedents of the Gorkhali Soldiers who were brought in by East India Company in 1874 and some were those migrated from Meghalaya, Sikkim and Assam of India.
Dhaka has become the name of the pattern a fabric itself super versatile and can be used to make various types of clothing and accessories. Dhaka cap is included in the national dress for males of Nepal.There is a conception about the origin of Dhaka Fabric in Nepal coming from the name of the place Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh, a place renowned for its textile production, several hundred years ago. This is the same technology as of Jamdani in Bangladesh very famous hand-woven fabric. Palpa and Tehrathum districts of Nepal are still the two most popular places where they are woven, however there are many places around Nepal that makes Dhaka fabric today.
Interaction during liberation war
Solidarity in the war of liberation of Bangladesh
In the time of liberation war 1971 Nepal was under autocratic regime of King Mahendra who had dismissed the first elected parliament and the multi-party parliamentary system in 1960 and imposed ban on all political parties, imprisoned political leaders. Democracy was fully compromised in Nepal and leaders and cadres of the prodemocratic political parties were jailed, tortured and even killed. Hence majority of people were against this regime and major political parties (Nepali Congress and Nepal Communist Party) were fighting against the autocratic King’s regime in underground way and had collected some arms and ammunitions in planning to start an armed struggle against the autocracy in the name of party less Panchayat System.
Meeting between Hon. P.M. Sekh Hasina Bangladesh & Hon. P.M. K.P. Oli Nepal.
The then Nepal’s’ ruler King’s stand about the war of liberation in Bangladesh was to remain neutral while majority people and political parties were in full support of Bangladeshi people who were being brutally killed. Then political parties postponed their internal struggle and decided to support their Bandhus the Freedom Fighters of Bangladesh (Mukti Jodhas) with arms and provided trainings near north west border of Bangladesh. Few Nepalese came to fight shoulder to shoulder with Mukti Jodhas against the then repressing forces. The victory day 16th December 1971 was celebrated with equal joy in people level all over Nepal. The then king delayed recognition for some time but seeing people’s wish and mood then His Majesty’s Government recognized Bangladesh in the first week of January 2072.
Nepal earthquake April 25, 2015.
High Level Visits:
The exchange of visits at various levels and on different occasions has strengthened the cordial relations between the two countries at both Government and people level. Highest and the most important in this series is the official goodwill visit of H. E. Mr. Md. Abdul Hamid, Hon. President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, to Nepal on November 12 to 15, 2019.
Similarly Rt. Hon. President of Nepal H.E. Bidya Devi Bhandari of Nepal paid two days state visit of Bangladesh on March 21 to 22, 2021 on the auspicious occasion of Golden jubilee 50 years of Independence and the Birth Centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangbandhu Sekh Mujibur Rahman”.
The frequency and level of visits have been significantly enhanced in recent years despite the pandemic covid 19 many ways affecting the momentum. In the series, visit of the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs H.E. Upendra Yadav to Dhaka Bangladesh on December 14-15, 2019, Visit of H.E. Mr. Nasrul Hamid, Hon State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources of PR Bangladesh to participate in the Power Summit organized in Kathmandu Nepal on November 21-22, 2019 and visit of H.E. Mr. Zahid Hasan Russel Hon. Minister for Youth and Sports to participate in the Inaugural Ceremony of South Asian Games in Kathmandu Nepal on December 1, 2019 are very significant besides Commerce secretary level meetings and joint technical committee meetings regularly taking place in both countries turn by turn. Official visit of The Army Chief of Nepal General Purna Chandra Thapa on January 12 to15, 2020 to Bangladesh reciprocated by the visit of the Army Chief of Bangladesh General Ajij Ahmed to Nepal on February 11 to 15, 2020 was highly important and strengthened our relations in Defense cooperation also.
Three days visit of Foreign Minister of Nepal Hon. Pradip Kumar Gyawali to Bangladesh (February 17 to 19, 2020) was historical and very significant, after 20 years of any Foreign Minister of Nepal visiting Bangladesh.
Mutual assistance in the time of disaster:
“Friends in need are friends indeed” Bangladesh and Nepal have proven this saying true. Back in the past when Bangladesh suffered a big hurricane with immense flood claiming tens of thousands of lives, Nepal Government and people came to stand side by side with Bangladesh with all possible means (10000 Metric Tons of rice and medical teams etc) to help to overcome the sufferings. In 2015 April 25 when a huge devastating earth quake claiming more than 9000 lives and 21000 injured, occurred Bangladesh Government and People became first to initiate rescue, medical assistance and 20000 Metric tons of rice. Lot of funds were raised and sent on people and organizational levels from Bangladesh to Nepal.
Area to enhance People to People relations between Nepal and Bangladesh:
1. Health and Education
1.1 Health Sector:
Health systems in Bangladesh are relatively well developed and quality services are accessible. Highly prestigious Medical Universities and Colleges in both public and private sectors produce high caliber human resources and thus availing quality health services to the people. Pharmaceuticals, Immunology and Biotech sectors are also well developed in Bangladesh. It is one of the largest exporters of medicines, which was also evident from the recent incidence of huge production and export of medicines for COVID-19 prevention and treatment. Nepal, therefore, undoubtedly can benefit from the sharing and exchanges of health manpower, technologies and knowledge development.
Cooperation between Nepal Medical Council and Nepal Health Research Council with the respective counterparts in Bangladesh should be emphasized. Likewise, sisterhood relations between Nepali Medical Universities and those in Bangladesh as well as periodic regular bilateral exchanges of health sector professionals, etc. can immensely be beneficial for Nepal in order to share the already existing systems, technologies and knowledge in the benefit of people of both countries.
Another feather in the cap could be attracting private sector pharmaceutical and biotech companies for initiating joint ventures in Nepal, which will contribute towards the self-sufficiency of Nepal in production of medicines and also initiating the production of various immunological vacancies, while Bangladeshi private companies in the sector will gain of additional domestic market in Nepal as well as in the export markets.
Nepal has developed relatively better facilities in Eye health care including production of eye lenses to manage cataract a compulsory condition in the old age needing lens replacement by Eye surgery to avoid blindness. The lenses produced in Nepal are exported in 70 countries. Hundreds of thousands of Indian citizens of border area are benefitted annually by consulting in Nepal’s Eye Hospitals situated in many places in Terai part of Nepal from east to west, very much approachable for common Bangladeshi citizens of Rangpur and Rajshahi divisions if the visa issue for India is resolved and BBIN passenger motor vehicle agreement (as it is in final stage) is concluded. Bangladeshi citizens of Panchgadh and nearby districts can go and return back their homes in the same day with BBIN vehicle facilities.
1.2 Education Sector:
Almost 4,000 plus Nepali students are currently studying in Bangladesh, mainly, Medical and allied Health Sciences followed by Engineering, Agriculture, Management, ICT, etc. Some of these students come under the scholarship quota awarded by Bangladesh Government to Nepal, while others come privately on their own. Bangladesh has eased the visa process of Nepali students by issuing multiple entry student visas for the whole study period. Access to and availability of high-quality education at prestigious and renowned universities and colleges of Bangladesh at relatively affordable prices have been the attraction of Nepali students over the years. And, this trend is likely to increasingly continue in a foreseeable future thus enhancing people level contacts.
In view of the above it is highly imperative that Bangladesh and Nepal should also focus on strengthening the ties in the education sector. It is highly desirable that Nepali universities and colleges explore the potential of establishing bilateral relations with their Bangladeshi counterparts for both academic exchanges and affiliations.
Accredited affiliation of Nepali educational institutions allows implementing the Bangladeshi course and curriculum in Nepal under the same name, banner and brand image of affiliation providing institution. This would be a win-win situation for both institutions since Nepali students will study the same degree but at less cost in Nepal, while Bangladeshi institutions will benefit out of the affiliation and/or franchise fees. The number of Scholarships provided for Nepal by Bangladesh should be increased and Nepal should also increase the number of SAARC Scholarship quota in Postgraduate Medicine for Bangladesh.
2.The Green Gold - Argo-Horticulture
Both Bangladesh and Nepal are agricultural country accounting for a significant contribution to national income. Dairy and Non-Timber Forest Products in Nepal are also important contributors to national economy with huge export potential, while fisheries (both fresh water and deep sea) is one of the main backbone of Bangladeshi economy with significant export income earnings
Bangladesh with populations of 165 million provides a huge market for Nepal to stimulate expand and increase exports of agriculture, horticulture, livestock and non-timber forest products to Bangladesh. The ago-based export products of Nepal to Bangladesh traditionally have been Lentils, Wheat, Vegetable Seeds and Large Cardamom. Now, huge potential exists for export production diversification with Ginger, Fresh vegetables, Fruits (Apple, Oranges, Mandarin etc.), Tea, Coffee, various NTFPs, mainly the herbs (e.g. Large Cardamom, Turmeric, Timur, etc.) and Dairy products (like Cow and Goat Cheese, Churpis - the Dog Chew, etc.). The perishable export products are first to be concentrated form Eastern Nepal by targeting to the neighboring Regional Markets of Bangladesh like Rangpur and Rajshahi, thereby, gradually expanding to bigger markets of Dhaka,Chittagong, Sylhet, Mymensingh, Borishal, Khulna, etc.
Bangladesh hosts the Country Office of International Research Institute (IRI), SAARC Agricultural Centre, Head Office of BIMSTEC, etc. These institutions avail improved agricultural technologies; seed varieties etc. from evidence-based research. Nepal, therefore, should focus on capitalizing the knowledge, technologies and competencies of these institutions.
Institutionalization of knowledge acquisition largely depends upon culminating, and harnessing the bilateral relations of the entities involved. Therefore, such institutions as Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), Nepal Agricultural Input Corporation, (NAIC) Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), Rampur agricultural University, etc. should be facilitated and encouraged to establish sisterhood relations with their respective counterparts in Bangladesh. The proven 100 Innovative Agricultural Technologies of Bangladesh can accordingly serve as the resource to Nepal.
Some positive developments have, however, taken place; for example, Nepal has officially pledged its interest to import rice seeds of an improved variety, which allows three harvests annually. NAIC and its counterpart in Bangladesh have recently initiated collaboration in importing fertilizer from Bangladesh. Nepal should consciously, sincerely and systematically focus on the opportunities of similar collaborations between institutions in both public and private sectors in the days ahead (e.g. Joint Venture in Fertilizer Industry) for augmenting the Green Gold export income.
3. Sports, Arts, Culture, and Literature
Both Bangladesh and Nepal share historical ties in terms of sports, arts, culture, and literature. These are the corner stones of strengthening the People to People Contact in both minds and hearts.
The South Asian Games under the framework of SAARC is one of the events periodically organized in both countries. Some friendly Football and Cricket matches are also held occasionally in both countries. A few literary events e.g. art exhibition, joint cultural programs have also occurred now and then in both countries. There is a close cultural tie between Nepali people and the people of Bangladesh and, likewise, in the art. A focused and systematic effort is however lacking in strengthening these corner stones of people to people contact.
Nepali girls in the dancing dress
Fortunately, in a significant development, MoU to enhance cultural ties and joint programs has been signed between Nepal and Bangladesh during the visit of Rt. Honorable President of Nepal Mrs. Bidya Devi Bhandari to Bangladesh on 21 March 2021 raising hope of strengthening people relation through cultural exchange.
MoU Ensuring an enabling ecosystem by Bangladesh and Nepal for flourishing sports, arts, culture and literature is the recipe for strengthening people to people relation. Facilitating, establishing, nurturing and harnessing the institutional relations between the entities in the two countries undoubtedly accords priority. For example, institutions like Nepal Sports Council (NSC), Nepal Academy (literature), Nepal Art Council, Lalitkala Academy of Arts and Dance, Rastriya Nach Ghar (Performance Arts) and those operating as the civil society organizations in the sector must be encouraged to establish institutional relationships with their respective counterparts in Bangladesh like Shlpkala Academy of Bangladesh. Such endeveours bring depth and meaning to the people to people contact and thereby enriches the bilateral relationship between the nations.
4. Business-to-Business (B2B) Relation
This is another important pillar of strengthening the bilateral relationship between Nepal and Bangladesh at people level too. Trade, commerce, industry business, finance, insurance and ICT are the sectors where private sectors of both countries play prominent role as they bring in their investments. Governments create and facilitate an enabling ecosystem with appropriate and practical policies, laws and regulations.
The B2B linkages and relations between the two countries are thus instrumental in expanding economic ties. Institutions like Federation of Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) and its relation with the counterpart in Bangladesh as well as individual sector-specific business should further explore and strengthen the relationship for reaping the benefits of huge and booming market of Bangladesh.
Events like organizing trade fairs periodically, business sector specific exchange visits have significance in building trusts, confidence and strengthening the bilateral relationship between the businesses of two countries.
5. Government-to-Government (G2G) Relation
The G2G relationship is, undoubtedly, the foremost crux of the matter between the two nation states. A cordial, congeal, friendly relationship founded on the basis of mutual respect and trust with common vision, values and principles is a necessary condition for the benefit of the people of two nation states. The relationship of Nepal and Bangladesh is exemplary.
Further harnessing of such an excellent relation for the benefit of the people of both countries, it is mandatory that appropriate consultative and steering systems and mechanism are put in place. The Joint Economic Commission formed by Bangladesh and Nepal is one example. UN, NAM, BIMSTEC and SAARC are other international and regional platforms where the bilateral, regional and international issues are deliberated in the sidelines for strengthening the bilateral relations.
It is also imperative that occasional high-level visits of the Head of the State and/or Government and Ministers also add value to glorify the existing bilateral relationship.
At the operational level the Embassy of Nepal in Bangladesh and of Bangladesh in Nepal are the connecting dots in augmenting the relationship between the countries. The Vision and Leadership of the respective Ambassadors undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in the whole spectrum of the bilateral relations of the countries.
6. Summary and Conclusion
A wide ranging deeply rooted, multifaceted and diversified People to People contact must be strengthened and further nurtured, in order to ensure that both heart and minds speak, and accordingly, demand for the betterment of the living conditions with self-pride, self-assertion and dignity. Thus, people to people contact between the two neighboring close friends Nepal and Bangladesh must be further nurtured, promoted, appreciated and safeguarded. At the other end of the spectrum is the need for facilitating, encouraging and establishing between the different segments of the populations in the countries. There are host of potential opportunities for such endeavors as follows:
Institutional linkage and exchange visits between Members of the Constitutional Bodies, Parliamentarians, and Local Bodies;
Sisterhood relationship between Cities and Municipalities of the two countries.
Relationship between Nepal Press Council, Nepal Bar Association, Forum of Journalist (Print and Electronic), etc. with their respective counterparts in Bangladesh;
Institutional relationship and sharing and learning visits of Members of Civil Society Organizations, cooperatives.
Dr. Banshidhar Mishra, Ambassador of Nepal to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Earlier the Ambassador was the State Minister and Member of Parliament of Nepal.