Indian policies increased misgivings in Bangladesh: The Economist

Bangladesh is disturbed by the recent domestic Indian policies that are perceived to be “anti-Muslim”, The Economist has observed in its latest issue. The publication noted the increasing presence of China across various sectors of the eastern neighbour of India and Beijing gaining major infrastructure projects in the country.

“Bangladesh came into being thanks in part to India: in 1971 its army intervened on the side of separatists battling the Pakistani army in what was then East Pakistan. But many Bangladeshis have come to see India as a patronising and presumptuous ally. …The various anti-Muslim policies of the current Indian government have exacerbated misgivings in Bangladesh, which is 90% Muslim”, said The Economist.

India suddenly stopped export of onions to Bangladesh on September 14 but the order was partially revised on September 18, with the Directorate General of Foreign Trade allowing movement of the bulk that was already stuck in various land crossings on the border. However, the official news agency of Bangladesh reported that most of the supply was in fact prevented from entering Bangladesh.

Series of irritants

The issue is the latest in a series of irritants in the relationship that prompted India to send Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Dhaka in August 18-19, when he held talks with his counterpart as well as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The onion issue caused substantial public outcry that forced Dhaka to issue a diplomatic note of protest last week. This is the second such incident involving onion exports in two consecutive years.

The Economist took note of the overall downward trend in India-Bangladesh ties and the rise of Chinese influence in various sectors of Bangladesh, saying: “when the government awarded a $250 million contract in April to build a new airport terminal in the city (Sylhet), the Indian bidder lost out to a Chinese firm, the Beijing Urban Construction Group”.

The story drew the attention of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. He said, “Living in a neighbourhood with no friends is dangerous”.

Dhaka cautious

The publication noted that Bangladesh was cautious about avoiding a Chinese “debt trap” while engaging Beijing and had not yet snubbed India as it was aware of the importance of the two neighbours. China is clearly in advantage in the tug of war on the territory of Bangladesh. It has more projects in hand and has resources to wean Bangladesh away from India.

The Economist noted that Beijing stepped in to finance and build the bridge over the Padma river after Dhaka ended engagement with the World Bank over a dispute. China responded by being of use to Bangladesh avoiding sensitive issues. “As soon as COVID-19 arrived in Bangladesh, so did a team of Chinese doctors sent to help fight the epidemic”, said the magazine.

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