September 7, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether India should rethink its relations with Bangladesh. We also look at the healthcare situation in Mizoram, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Should India rethink its relations with Bangladesh?
One of the characteristics of the current government is its dogged pursuit of an independent foreign policy. It has been articulated by several officials, including Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, multiple times. That policy has come under scrutiny, most recently concerning India’s neutral stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
To be sure, India has to pursue its geopolitical goals. It has long-running and complicated relations with countries like Pakistan and China. One country that doesn’t get as much attention is Bangladesh. The country is in a precarious spot right now with the international community’s worry about its democracy. Given India’s proximity to Bangladesh and the shared history, what should India do?
2021 marked 50 years of India-Bangladesh relations. It was also the golden jubilee of the Bangladesh Liberation War. When they were fighting against the Pakistan army, India’s support of Bangladesh’s liberation was on a people-to-people level, not just diplomatic.
Along with Bhutan, India was among the first countries to recognise Bangladesh as a sovereign state in 1971. In the decades ahead, bilateral relations witnessed their ups and downs. One notable period was the decade-and-a-half of military rule following the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, in 1975.
It was only in the 1990s that relations began to show signs of life. Bangladesh’s democracy was restored and began to mature. So did its economy. At the same time, India’s economy was undergoing its own transformation.
Bangladesh has become one of India’s biggest trading partners in the subcontinent. In 2021-22, total trade turnover was $18.2 billion. In the past financial year, Bangladesh’s exports to India increased by 100%, valued at $2 billion. The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was crucial in furthering trade and commercial relations to create new jobs, raise living standards, and provide more significant economic benefits and opportunities to people from both countries.
The signal from both countries is that things are on the up. The country’s economic success story is based on its robust garment export industry. It has brought in a lot of money, increased women’s economic participation, and lifted millions out of poverty.
However, inside Bangladesh, there’s something brewing. The country’s multiparty democracy is being slowly dismantled. Members and leaders of the opposition parties have been forced to stand trial on vague and shoddy charges. All this comes just months before the country goes to the polls as the ruling Awami League looks to reign supreme. It’s happening under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s campaign for political consolidation.
In the nearly 15 years she has been Prime Minister, the courts, military, and police have been filled with loyalists. Apart from political leaders, those on her radar include notable artists, journalists and even Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.
As all this unfolds in India’s neighbour, should India continue its bilateral relations as is or begin to take a new stance?
VIEW: Important to grow
India-Bangladesh relations will not undergo any seismic shift anytime soon. Case in point, India has invited Prime Minister Hasina to the upcoming G20 meeting in New Delhi. This will be Bangaldesh’s first appearance at a G20. It’s also the only South Asian country to be invited. That’s significant. From India’s point of view, Bangladesh is a hub that connects Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China through land and sea.
There’s an imperative for India to make Bangladesh a centrepiece in its “neighbourhood first” policy. From a strategic point of view, investing in Bangladesh is key to regional resilience against China’s growing regional influence. It should be noted that Bangladesh is included in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In March, India and Bangladesh inaugurated a 130-km pipeline to carry diesel from West Bengal’s Siliguri to Parbatipur in northern Bangladesh. What’s upcoming? Both countries plan to set up 16 border haats to increase trade volumes. The construction of the Matabari Port in Bangladesh by 2027 is expected to ease the flow of goods further. At the recent defence dialogue in Dhaka, both countries committed to boosting defence ties.
COUNTERVIEW: Need to rethink things
Given the internal political dynamics in Bangladesh, India needs to take a careful approach and not be seen as interfering. While the international community puts the Hasina government under watch, there are signs of India’s strategy. In March, a BJP-led delegation met with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jatiyo Party. While it was declared as a regular outreach to all stakeholders, it was the first meeting between India and Bangladesh’s opposition parties in over a decade.
What does this mean for the upcoming elections in Bangladesh? It remains unclear. But what is somewhat clear is that, unlike the past, India isn’t betting it all on the Awami League. Given what’s happening inside and Hasina’s actions, there’s reason to think India isn’t turning a blind eye. A report stated the US and Indian security establishments have held meetings to form a consensus on the elections. That’s a far cry from 2018 when India quickly congratulated Hasina on her victory while the US expressed concern over pre-election violence and intimidation.
With all the talk of the Bangladeshi economy, it hasn’t delivered for all. Why else would it take a nearly $5 billion loan from the IMF? If India wants to reduce any anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, standing behind the Hasina government would be the wrong call. With the country seemingly careening toward a crisis, India shouldn’t be beholden to a possible future autocracy. If it wants to help restore democratic principles, it would find a viable partner in the BNP.
- 50 years of India–Bangladesh relations: Marking maturity – Observer Research Foundation
- India-Bangladesh relations: A robust history and optimistic future – WION
- What connects India and Bangladesh – The Indian Express
- Quietly Crushing a Democracy: Millions on Trial in Bangladesh – The New York Times
- Who’s on the guest list? India brings Bangladesh to the G20 – The Interpreter
- What Will India’s Changing Approach To Bangladesh’s National Elections Mean for the Hasina Government? – The Diplomat
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) India shouldn’t rethink relations with Bangladesh.
b) India should rethink relations with Bangladesh.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Defending Sanatan Dharma without acknowledging the horror of caste is moral duplicity
For the Left:
From St Stephen’s to Chhangamal—Make space for Bharat. Indian politics in a tectonic shift
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
PAU’s top honour (Punjab) – Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Ludhiana has been awarded the “Best All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) on Wheat and Barley Centre Award 2023.” This recognition was presented during the 62nd All India Wheat and Barley Research Worker’s Meet from August 28 to August 30, 2023.
Why it matters: The event was organized by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) – Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley, Karnal. This is the inaugural time ICAR has granted this specific award for wheat and barley research in India. The award to PAU underscores its significant contributions to agricultural research, particularly in wheat and barley.
Ambulance drivers’ strike (Rajasthan) – Ambulance drivers in Rajasthan have halted services, staging state-wide protests. Their primary demand is to be recognized as contract workers and to abolish the current tender-based system. The protests took place outside Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh Hospital.
Why it matters: Drivers expressed grievances about low salaries, with deductions for minor delays, and alleged exploitation by contract companies. They also claimed they were asked to show fake patient calls and were threatened with transfers if they didn’t comply. The ambulance drivers’ protest in Rajasthan highlights the challenges faced by essential service providers.
Lightning concern (Odisha) – Odisha has submitted a proposal to the Centre, urging that lightning strikes be declared as a ‘natural disaster’. The state cites over 4,000 deaths due to lightning in the past two decades. State revenue and disaster management minister, Pramila Mallik, mentioned that the Odisha government currently provides a compensation of ₹4 lakh to the families of lightning victims. If recognized as a natural disaster, the compensation could increase as per the provisions for natural disasters.
Why it matters: The proposal emphasizes the severe and recurrent threat lightning poses to Odisha’s residents. Recognizing it as a natural disaster would not only validate the gravity of the issue but also potentially provide greater financial relief to affected families.
Elder Line crisis (Kerala) – The Elder Line, a national helpline for the elderly in Kerala, is facing operational challenges less than two years after its launch. Managed by the state’s Social Justice department, the helpline is currently operating with less than a third of its original staff. The remaining staff, as well as those asked to refrain from work, have not received their salaries since April.
Why it matters: A communication from the National Institute of Social Defence revealed that the helpline would continue with minimal staff until the completion of the agreement renewal for 2023-25. The helpline is currently functioning with just five call officers, a team leader, and a security person, while 15 other staff members have been told to stay away. The delay in salaries and reduced staff strength can impact the quality and reach of the service.
Healthcare enrollment (Mizoram) – The Mizoram State Health Care Scheme (MSHCS) enrolled 26,569 citizens during the fiscal year 2023-24. However, the scheme currently has a debt of ₹63.88 crore. The Health Minister highlighted a collaboration between Mizoram and the World Bank on the “Mizoram Health System Strengthening Project,” with a budget allocation of $40 million. The state is also working on an AYUSH Development Centre and a State Resource Centre for HIV/AIDS.
Why it matters: Notably, Mizoram achieved the lowest infant mortality rate in the country, dropping from 15 in 2017 to 3 by 2020. The enrollment figures and initiatives under the MSHCS emphasize Mizoram’s commitment to enhancing its healthcare infrastructure and services.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
60% – According to a survey, 60% of NRIs from Australia, Canada, USA, Singapore and Canada consider settling in India post-retirement.