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12 October 2017,

Discussing river preservation

Rivers bestow blessings and those thus blessed are duty-bound to nurture them in return – or face the catastrophes that climate change will bring

Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Programme

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Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House, delivered this speech at the ‘Nadi Festival’ 2nd Edition, Dhaka, on 8 October 2017

On behalf of the Asian Confluence, we rejoice that the government of Bangladesh and our friends in Bangladesh have chosen to organise the second edition of the ‘Nadi Festival’, which was launched in Shillong in July 2016. Its evocative, poetic message – ‘Listen to the dignity of the river’ – was composed by poet-diplomat and my dear friend, Suryakanthi Tripathi. Dhaka now witnesses the inauguration of the ‘Friendship Forum’ that aims to develop further the aptly chosen theme, ‘Celebrating the Riverine Heritage of the Bay of Bengal.’

All of us gathered here for the multi-faceted dialogue are deeply conscious of the vital importance of rivers as a source of sustenance, economic growth and cultural identity. Rivers bestow their blessings and benefits on peoples, but they expect something in return: to be nurtured by beneficiaries. When humankind fails in this duty, catastrophes caused by climate change strike us.

It is truly ironical that rivers, worshipped as ‘mothers’ in our South Asian cultures, are either dying or have the power to kill and destroy. Besides, the sad fact is that human neglect and rampant, unplanned development are contributing to their slow death.

Resuming the threads of dialogue held at Shillong, we now hope to craft the contours of a balanced and practical action plan of river development in our region. Rivers are a metaphor for connecting lands, peoples, cultures and traditions, spurring trade, growth and friendship. Let us focus on the only viable answer to the problems of water conflicts and issues constraining the region’s development: mutually beneficial cooperation among the trans-boundary Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river basin-sharing countries in the realm of water resources development and management.

An important facet of this cooperation will be enhancing riverine connectivity and other linkages through trade, tourism, culture and people-to-people exchanges, linking India’s North Eastern states, Bangladesh and other neighbours.

Since the stimulating deliberations that we last conducted here, H.E. Begum Sheikh Hasina Wazed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, paid a highly important and fruitful visit to India. India-Bangladesh bilateral relations are in a better state today than ever before. They have a promising future too – as long as our two nations and societies hold conversations with each other in a candid, constructive and cooperative manner, respecting each other’s core concerns and interests.

Our nations are committed to an early and effective rejuvenation of BIMSTEC. It should now be viewed as the premier grouping for regional cooperation and integration among its seven member-states. There is an urgent need to weave the issues of riverside connectivity and cooperation into the agenda of BIMSTEC as it prepares for its next summit to be held in Nepal, hopefully soon. Friends, the time has come to work towards crafting a dynamic ‘Bay of Bengal Community’ that aims to enhance security and development as well as peace and prosperity.

We take this opportunity to warmly thank all our collaborators, supporters, well-wishers and friends. Asian Confluence is determined to make the voice of the ‘Third Space’ heard in the corridors of power as well as boardrooms and seminar halls of universities and think tanks.

We shall persevere and we sincerely hope to prevail!

Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Gateway House

This speech was delivered at the 2nd Edition of the ‘Nadi Festival’ in Dhaka on 8 October 2017.

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