Right Word | After Maldives, ‘India Out’ Campaign in Bangladesh – News18

Written By: Arun Anand
Last Updated: February 26, 2024, 15:00 IST
New Delhi, India
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swift congratulations to Sheikh Hasina for the “successful conduct of elections”, in contrast to the reservations expressed by the West, seemed to have further aggravated anti-India sentiments. (Image: Reuters File)
Soon after Bangladesh conducted its ‘Jatiya Sangsad Election’, the country started witnessing the emergence of a new motivated campaign called the “India Out” campaign. This campaign is on the lines of a similar campaign carried out in Maldives in the latter half of 2021 and also during its election campaign last year by the then-Opposition (and present incumbent) Progressive Party of Maldives. It had opposed former President Solih’s “India First” foreign policy.
Feeding anti-India sentiments, especially among radical Islamists, seems to provide fuel for the India Out campaign in Bangladesh. The campaign, carried on social media, seeks to boycott Indian products sold in Bangladesh for “meddling” with Bangladesh’s national election that brought Sheikh Hasina to power for her fourth consecutive term. Anti-India sentiments have been there amongst the radicals in Bangladesh for quite some time. But these are being scaled up now, especially amongst radical Islamists and those in opposition to the Sheikh Hasina government.
Bangladesh’s main opposition party — Bangladesh National Party (BNP) — had boycotted the national election, as their demand for the election to be conducted under a caretaker government was not met. Allegations of possible election irregularities had been doing rounds prior to polls. BNP had given a call for an election boycott with some backing from Western countries.
India, however, maintained its consistent stand of looking at elections as a country’s internal matter. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swift congratulations to Sheikh Hasina and Bangladeshi people for the “successful conduct of elections”, in contrast to the reservations expressed by the West, seemed to have further aggravated anti-India sentiments. A reflection of that was seen during the India-Australia Cricket World Cup final match in November last year where some Bangladeshi youth were witnessed celebrating India’s loss.
The India Out campaign in Bangladesh seems to be orchestrated by Pinaki Bhattacharya, an exiled physician who left Bangladesh in 2018 following alleged harassment by government security forces. There are also voices on social media that the campaign is probably funded by Chinese agencies akin to one in Maldives since India and China are both involved closely with the present government, especially in infrastructure projects. As one can recall, in mid-January, soon after the election results, Bhattacharya launched the #BoycottIndia campaign on social media, urging his followers on Facebook to “shatter the chains that bind us”, which was responded favourably by many in Bangladesh.
The campaign backed by the Bangladeshi diaspora is further encouraged by Opposition parties, mainly exiled leaders in London, and radical forces who preserve the sentiment that the national election had foreign interference (from India) that played a major role in bringing Hasina regime back to power, a trend claimed to continue since 2014 national election. The unqualified support from India to the Awami League government raised suspicion among anti-Awami League factions about India’s role in compromising with Bangladesh’s democracy and sovereignty, which culminated in many natives joining the call for boycotting Indian products.
An Indian consumer goods giant, to its surprise, faced a cold reception in Dhaka’s Panthapath area where grocery shops refused to take new deliveries of Indian products that are otherwise received eagerly. This animosity is being propagated by creating a false bogey that India-Bangladesh bilateral relations seem to benefit India disproportionately. However, there is also a growing concern about whether this campaign could spell economic trouble for Bangladesh.
Dhaka’s heavy dependence on India for essential commodities makes New Delhi a key trading partner of Dhaka as its second-largest important source after China. India is also Bangladesh’s largest export destination in Asia. The improvements in bilateral trade witnessed since 2011 when India announced duty-free access to several Bangladeshi products and a new momentum since 2014 led to expansion and diversification of bilateral cooperation between the two countries, including successful resolving of long-pending disputes such as land boundary agreement and maritime dispute on territorial waters.
The conclusion of the historic water sharing agreement on the common river border Kushiyara following Sheikh Hasina’s India visit in September 2022, a first since the 1996 Ganges Water Treaty, and the successful conduct of a joint feasibility study on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), aimed at reduction of customs duties on traded goods and simplification of trade norms that would broaden socio-economic opportunities for both, further boosted bilateral trade cooperation.
New Delhi’s assistance to Dhaka during the Covid-19 pandemic was appreciated by one and all, mainly because of the connectivity initiatives linking Chattogram and Mongla Port to India’s Northeastern ports whereby India was able to supply 4,000 tons of liquid medical oxygen to Bangladesh. Bilateral commerce received a further boost with the cross-border trade settlement in the Indian rupee, concluded in July last year. This settlement, aimed to reduce reliance on the US dollar for foreign trade settlements, is believed to be beneficial for Dhaka, especially when it faced a crunch in its foreign reserve and depreciation of its currency (taka) in the context of the dollar crisis. Therefore, rupee initiation in trade settlements is to help optimise bilateral trade operations, eliminate currency hedging and ensure trade stability.
Further, talks of a free trade agreement initiated in October last year and the joint inauguration of three India-assisted development projects viz, Akhura-Agartala cross-border rail link, Khulna-Mongla port rail line extending to India and the Maitree super-thermal power project is attributed to strengthen bilateral ties and partnership between New Delhi and Dhaka.
In FY23 (until February), India’s exports to Bangladesh totalled about $10.63 billion (2.6 per cent of India’s total exports) while Bangladesh’s imports from India were about $1.86 billion (0.28 per cent of India’s overall imports). Bangladesh reached $1,900 million in its exports to India in 2021-22, whereas trade between both countries increased by 94 per cent. Moreover, recently Dhaka sought to buy 50,000 tons of onions and 100,000 tons of sugar from India before Ramadan which New Delhi pledged to export.
India-Bangladesh trade relations have undoubtedly reached new heights, coupled with the diversification of connectivity projects between the two.
The India Out campaign, therefore, is likely to act as a stumbling block in the joint economic cooperation between the two and would prove to be more detrimental for Dhaka, considering its high reliance on India for essential commodities and the ease of trade because of shared boundaries between the two. One can only hope that the true intention behind this campaign, which is to weaken political stability within Dhaka and in effect, bilateral cooperation between India and Bangladesh, gets exposed before Dhaka faces further economic turmoil in the face of growing inflation.
The writer is an author and columnist and has written several books. His X handle is @ArunAnandLive. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect News18’s views.


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