Mind-sets in Indo-Bangladesh relations

More than three and half decades after the independence of Bangladesh, some quarters in this country are still convinced that our vast neighbour to the east, west and north, is not well disposed towards us. They see India as a typical aggressor nation bent on destroying the sovereignty or independence of Bangladesh.
It would not matter if they were restricted in their belief to themselves. But the problem is that such beliefs can become the dominant ideology of major political parties in this country. They can draw inspiration from it or base their politics on it. In that case, such phobias can indeed become detrimental to positive interactions in different fields between the two neighbouring countries for the benefit of both.
For example, successive governments in Bangladesh except for the government that ruled for a short period in the immediate post-independence period, took the posture of standing up to India on various issues. The governments and the political parties they represented behaved as if India was like a bully or like a Goliath and tiny Bangladesh heroically defended itself like a David against the evil Indian designs. Thus, a negative perception could develop in people’s mind in Bangladesh about India’s intentions in relation to this country. Some diehard elements even went so far as to spread apprehensions that India would some day gobble up Bangladesh like Sikkim.
If India had expansionist designs against Bangladesh, then the best time for it was after the independence of Bangladeshwhen its forces had invaded this country. Russian forces came into East European countries in the course of the Second World War but did not leave. The Russian forces remained stationed there for nearly four decades and ensured the total subservience of these countries to Moscow’s desires and needs. For all practical purposes, the East European countries only had a namesake independence and they were vassal entities of Moscow – politically, economically and strategically.
If India so desired, it could try for such a relationship with Bangladesh. Its armed forces would not be simply pulled out in 1972 . That these forces were pulled out soon after the independence ofBangladesh was the best proof that India truly wanted Bangladesh to develop as a sovereign and independent entity.
Notwithstanding propaganda that India exploits Bangladesh commercially and economically, the realities are far different. Bangladesh, no doubt, is an important destination for Indian exports. But Indian businesses have won market shares in Bangladesh by their own right as efficient producers and suppliers of goods. They are not necessarily bullying Bangladesh into buying their products. It is not that only India gains from such exports for Bangladesh also gains. The geographical nearness means that the freight costs or per unit costs of the delivery of an Indian product is cheaper for Bangladesh than from any other import source and also the quality of Indian products are found to be satisfactory. Bangladesh’s export oriented readymade garments (RMG) sector obtains a bulk of its raw materials or fabrics from India at costs cheaper than from China and other suppliers and the goods also arrive faster helping quicker production which in turn shortens the lead time for the local RMG exporters.
Bangladesh has for many years met a substantial part of its requirements of food grains from India. Cheap and reliable import of food grains fromIndia has helped food security in Bangladesh. Even this year when food grain production slumped round the world and India was also a part of this decline in food grain production, India has gone on to progressively keep its pledge to supply 0.5 million tons of rice to Bangladesh at a price which is notably lower than the prevailing international prices. Bangladesh has to import a large and wide range of products and importing these from India prove to be comparatively cheaper and reach this country faster in contrast to any other regional source. Even the sacrificial cows for the religious Eid-ul-Azha festival in Bangladesh come in great number from India. Without this trade, many persons in Bangladeshis would have to go without observing the religious rite of animal sacrifice.
If Bangladesh has not been exporting as much to India, the same can be traced to the fact that Indian producers of the goods that Bangladesh would likely export to India, they are more efficient producers in terms of quality and offer better competitive prices than the Bangladeshi ones. In many cases, Bangladeshi exporters cannot meet the quality certification requirements of that country. But in the media in Bangladesh, India is often blamed for keeping Bangladeshi products out of its market by setting non-tariff barriers.
How the Indo phobia works can be seen from the vitriolic reactions in some quarters to the recent suggestion from the Indian ambassador that Bangladesh should consider the Indian proposal for giving transit to his country through Bangladesh territories. No sooner this comment was made by the Indian diplomat that there was an outpouring of concern, anxiety and even spiteful remarks as if the government in Bangladesh has surrendered to India on an issue on which hinges the protection of the sovereignty of Bangladesh. The reactions were so conspicuous and loud that an Adviser on Foreign Affairs chose to give a clarification that government here has done nothing of the kind like agreeing to the full fledged transit proposal.
But the Adviser would do better to use the opportunity to rightly help public understanding of the issue by adding that the Indian proposal is nothing alarming or that India is not keen on pushing it down our threat against our will. It could be further clarified on the occasion that access to north-east India from rest of India poses a very formidable geographic problem for India for which reason it wants transit through Bangladesh. He could then go on to say that Bangladesh faces difficulties in entertaining the proposal right away because present road systems in Bangladesh would be severely stressed from allowing such transit and that road building must precede the acceptance of the proposal. Further it could be added that Bangladesh would have to consider political and security implications such as insurgents in north eastern Indian states interpreting Bangladesh’s acceptance of such a proposal as a step against them and in favour of Indian forces. This would make Bangladesh also a target of the insurgents and affect its security. The Adviser could go on and say that Bangladesh was not rejecting the proposal outright and welcomes it as a meritorious one but would take time to consider its various aspects before having further discussion with Indian authorities on the issue.
But instead of such an elaborate statement explaining the Bangladesh stand, the official response of Bangladesh to the transit proposal may have appeared to the Indian government as a curt one. In that case, it will serve neither diplomacy nor the cause of good relations or understanding between the neighbours.


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