Published on 2015- 2016
West Bengal Would Benefit Immensely From Expanded Eurasian Connectivity
The Indian state of West Bengal has traditionally been neglected by New Delhi and has consequently been plagued by some of the subcontinent’s worst poverty, but the changing geo-economic relationships across Eurasia are opening up an unprecedented opportunity for its people to take charge of their destiny and enrich themselves as a result. Whether in coordination with the central Indian authorities or by means of a state-led initiative, West Bengal can prosper from its central location at the confluence of several developing trade routes. Each cardinal direction presents a new and exciting opportunity for the state and its people, but the first step in profiting from this advantageous economic geography is to become aware of its significance in the first place. This article will therefore detail the wealth of connectivity potential surrounding West Bengal in the hopes of inspiring its decision makers and entrepreneurs to take the lead in spearheading these new trade routes, with the northern vector of development being addressed first and the rest following in a clockwise fashion.
West Bengal has a very exciting opportunity to take part in two trans-Himalayan projects. The first one is the east-west railroad that India is helping to construct between the Nepali borderland zones of Mechi and Mahakali. Upon completion, it would be easier for West Bengal businessmen to conduct trade across the entire Terai, and an added benefit would be that this route could also open up a new avenue of interaction between the Bay of Bengal and Uttarakhand. The other project that the state stands to benefit from is the ambitious talked-about plans for a Chinese railroad under the Himalayas and to Nepal, where it could then intersect with the Mechi-Mahakali railroad and thereby connect West Bengal with Tibet, Xinjiang, and thenceforth to Russia and Europe by means of the Eurasian Land Bridge. As a result, Nepal could function as the crucial overland junction linking South Asia with the rest of the supercontinent, but provided of course that both the Chinese and Indian projects are completed and businessmen are savvy enough to take advantage of both routes.
East and Southeast Asia
The next cardinal direction of trade that will run through West Bengal comes from China and ASEAN. Pertaining to the former, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor seeks to connect these four countries and facilitate economic integration between the Chinese and Indian behemoths, and while the project currently seems to be stonewalled for various political reasons, it still holds out the promise of immensely benefiting West Bengal. This is because all overland trade with China along this route must in one way or another pass through the state en route to the rest of India’s peninsular marketplace. The same logic applies for the Trilateral ASEAN Highway between India, Myanmar, and Thailand, with the understanding being that West Bengal is the irreplaceable transit state for connecting the rest of India with ASEAN. There was recently talk that New Delhi is interested in expanding this route to the other countries of Indochina and thus incorporating Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam into the framework, which speaks to the geo-economic importance that India places in this project and bodes well for West Bengal’s future transregional connectivity prospects.
The Indian Ocean
West Bengal is blessed with the port city of Kolkata, which traditionally served as the state’s outlet to the rest of the global marketplace. This gateway has a heightened geo-economic function in the 21st century as India endeavors to construct the so-called “Cotton Route”, which is New Delhi’s response to China’s One Belt One Road (otherwise known as the New Silk Road). The author wrote an article for Sputnik about this last year in which it was forecast that the Cotton Route would logically incorporate a maritime focus on the Indonesian islands, seeing as how the archipelago’s closest islands of Sumatra and Java are their most populous and economically productive. Relevant to this present research, they’re also within close proximity to Kolkata, which can thus become a crucial node in enabling India’s access to the insular ASEAN marketplace. The long-term potential in all of this is that West Bengal could connect Indonesia and ASEAN with Russia and the Eurasian Union by means of China’s Himalayan Silk Road through Nepal and thenceforth across the Eurasian Land Bridge.
Lastly, West Bengal connects the Indian subcontinent with the Northeast Provinces and beyond, which will inevitably work to the state’s advantage in positioning itself as the crossroads of India’s new trade routes. The rest of the country contains the center of economic and demographic gravity that New Delhi wants to open up to its “Act East” partners, so it’s in West Bengal’s best interests to position itself as the most accessible gateway for facilitating this, especially as regards the further opening up of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Trilateral ASEAN Highway and Cotton Route maritime network therefore aren’t just for the state’s own economic benefit, but are important projects for increasing West Bengal’s importance relative to the rest of the country, thus turning what had hitherto been regarded as a neglected backwater region into the vanguard of India’s 21st-century future. By playing such a front and center role in one of the world’s largest economies, West Bengal could thus complete its revolutionary transformation by turning into one of the newest Asian epicenters of trade and investment.