Is Bangladesh Caught In A Fish’s Net Between India And China? – OpEd


Some recent articles have compared Indian Prime Minister’s style of governance as comparable to China. This is concerning to the neighbours who consider India as the largest practicing democracy and Chinese as style as dictatorial. 

Such a conclusion is obvious to any layman who cares for the rights and privileges she/he enjoys in the country the person lives in. No one would like to live in fear of being whisked away at the dead of night for a “crime” he or she has not committed. One of the best selling authors in India Chetan Bhagat expressed his fear that “  Buddhist and Jain history will be reduced to margins, and Ashoka will simply disappear. So will be the Sikh history – Guru Nanak will be reduced to a minor saint of the Bhakti movement, Guru Gobind Singh will be mentioned as a disciple of Durga, and Ranjit Singh will just disappear altogether…

The constitution will be amended to designate that the ancestors of Muslims and Christians were Hindus who converted only a few centuries ago and that all the residents of the country, be they Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains etc., are culturally and nationally Hindus, whatever that might mean, and that the holy cow is the mother of all citizens. Every citizen will be made to sign a declaration to that effect whenever dealing with the state i.e. leaving or entering the country, applying for a government job, for driver’s license, for entering the election fray etc..   A special well-staffed department of “Ghar Wapsi” will be constituted to bring Christians and Muslims back into the Hindu fold. All the Muslims and Christians willing to do so will be given reservations in government jobs and tax breaks.   Muslim and Christian places of worship will have to enact high boundary walls to mark their boundaries unambiguously and to keep their celebrations to themselves. All open spaces of offering Islamic prayer, i.e. Eidgaah, will be confiscated by the state and will no longer be available for offering prayers.   The list could go on much further.   A Hindu Rashtra will be a disaster of epic proportions”.

The problem countries like Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country,  will face because it unlike Bhutan and Nepal ( Indo-Pakistan is a never ending saga where Pakistan is very much in the grip of China, both having no democracy. China ruled by an autocrat who possibly has amassed more power than Mao Tse tung and has elected hiself as President for life. Pakistan’s animosity with India begins with the withdrawal of the British from the sub-continent and Pakistan presenting herself as the abode of displaced Muslims from India. According to Yale Global Online i f current demographic trends continue, the ranks of religious believers in the world could rise through 2050, reports a Pew Research Report. Islam would show the fastest rate of growth, and the unaffiliated would decline in proportion to other religious categories.

Riaz Hassan, director of the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding at the University of South Australia, analyzes the data for India, along with the Sachar Committee report on the status of Muslims in Indian society and India’s 2011 census report. He points out that Muslims could represent nearly one out of five Indians by 2050 as compared with one out of seven today. “The population increase will present additional and more complex challenges for the nation’s democratic political system grounded in its secular constitution that envisions justice, liberty, equality and fraternity for all Indian citizens – but is increasingly contested,” he writes. India is poised to be the world’s most populous nation by 2050. Uneven opportunities for a major minority group increase the risks of resentment, instability and security threats. – YaleGlobal . The report adds “In the next three and half decades, the demography of world religions will change considerably with significant global consequences – political, social and economic. The proportions of the various religions in the world population will remain largely the same or decline, except for Islam. In South Asia, especially India, where tensions between majority Hindu and minority Muslims are on the rise such demographic change risks bringing upheavals.   

Worldwide Muslims have the highest fertility rate and the youngest average age, and their number is projected to increase from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.76 billion in 2050. For the first time in history, Muslims will nearly equal Christians, until now the world’s largest religious group in size. The number of Christians in the United States, Europe and Australia will decline significantly because of a larger increase in the number of those who identify as “unaffiliated,” perhaps denoting agnostic or atheist.

These changes will also have repercussions for relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims globally, especially in South Asia – exacerbating existing tensions or giving rise to new challenges for promoting harmonious interreligious group relations”.   Since neither Pakistan nor China can be an option for Bangladesh India remains our only hope both politically and economically. Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-kilometre-long (2,545 mi) international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, including 262 km (163 mi) in Assam, 856 km (532 mi) in Tripura , 318 km (198 mi) in Mizoram, 443 km (275 mi) in Meghalaya , and 2,217 km (1,378 mi) in West Bengal.  

Bangladesh shares the same language with West Bengal and the same history till 1947. But Bangladesh remains the only Muslim majority country in the region. If credence is to be given to Prem Shankar Jha personal lament (Hindutva’s Dead Hand in Destroying India’s Future: A Personal Lament) or fears expressed by others not easily dismissable (Will Modi’s Hindu Nationalist Agenda Tear India Apart? World PressReport March 5 2021), ( Sangeeta Barua’s CAB Represents RSS-BJP’s Successful Imposition of Hindutva Agenda in Assam  THE WIRE)  ( The Rape of India’s Soul Press Syndicate Dec 10, 2019 JAYATI GHOSH ) (The Triumph of Hindu Majoritarianism A Requiem for an Old Idea of India By Kanchan Chandra November 23, 2018    Foreign Affairs  in which he wrote –In 1997, the historian Sunil Khilnani described “the idea of India,” usually attributed to the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, as an imagined secular, pluralist, polity that belonged to all Indians and not to any one group. In particular, India did not belong to the Hindu majority, which constituted 80 percent of the country’s population according to the last official census. It was this secular idea that created India in 1947, not as the Hindu mirror of a Muslim Pakistan, but as the pluralist opposite of majoritarian nationalism “ );(India’s democracy in danger THE ECONOMIST Jan 24th 2020

By undermining the secular principles of the constitution, Indian government’s  latest initiatives threaten to do damage to India’s democracy that could last for decades. They are also likely to lead to bloodshed. The sad truth is that  the BJP are likely to benefit politically by creating divisions over religion and national identity. ). These are only some of the observations made by Indians themselves. Some of these may or may not represent the views of the majority. But these views should not be thrown out of the window lest the baby is also thrown out along with the towel.

Bangladeshis are concerned. As geography shows Bangladesh is surrounded on all sides by India. Economically Bangladesh is dependent on India for a host of commodities. More importantly Bangladesh has to to be politically aligned. U.S.-Chinese Rivalry Is a Battle Over Values Great-Power Competition Can’t Be Won on Interests Alone By Hal Brands and Zack Cooper March 16, 2021 in an article WASHINGTON POST is an important indicator of modern age. Values must prevail over material benefits.

For Bangladesh to prosper India must remain a democracy. Articles like India’s Foreign Policy Strategy Is Increasingly Resembling That of China Even as Narendra Modi aligns with the Quad to pressure Beijing, the BJP’s assertiveness beyond India’s boundaries and its conflation of regime interest with national interest mirror that of the Communist Party of China by Lenny BernsteinAriana Eunjung ChaBen Guarino and Isaac Stanley-Becker March 30, 2021; India’s Foreign Policy Strategy Is Increasingly Resembling That of China Even as Narendra Modi aligns with the Quad to pressure Beijing, the BJP’s assertiveness beyond India’s boundaries and its conflation of regime interest with national interest of China are not welcome in today’s world.

Bangladesh looks up to India to continue its lead as the largest practicing democracy in the world. A Chinese style of governance which is basically a plutocracy where ordinary people have no voice and hence does not effectively exist should not be the fate of millions of people who fought a bloody war against genocide let loose by occupying Pakistani army.

Beyond any doubt Bangladesh war of liberation was fought in the name of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the war was brought to a quick end due to the active diplomacy played by the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi  who went to different parts of the world pleading Bangladesh’s case and gave refuge to millions of Bengalis who fled to West Bengal to escape the barbarism of the occupying Pakistani army . Most importantly Mrs. Gandhi signed INDO-SOVIET TREATY OF FREINDSHIP AND COOPERATION with then Soviet Union who vetoed six times Security Council resolution brought by the US, China and other nations seeking a political solution of the problem which was an impossible proposal after the genocide let loose by Pakistan army on unarmed Bengali nation.

Fortunately both in the US and in England and many other nations people holding important positions voiced their criticism of the Pakistani barbarism. Some also e.g. Ted Kennedy visited refugee camps in West Bengal. The world first woke up to the grim tragedy by the reports of Anthony  Mascarenhas,  a reporter of a Pakistani news paper who was horrified to see first hand the unfolding tragedy and later wrote a book Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood. In an article Aasha Khosla writes that Pijnacker Hordijk, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India, was the first to raise an alarm over an impending humanitarian crisis in India on account of the military action in East Pakistan. On March 29, 1971, he sent a message to the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

As per the UNHCR ‘The State of the World Refugees-2000’ report, Hordijk told the world body that within a month, nearly one million refugees had entered India, fleeing the military repression in East Pakistan. “By the end of May, the average daily influx into India was over 100,000 and had reached a total of almost four million,” the report says. Indian official reports put the daily arrivals  at about 10,000-50,000 refugees.

Pushpesh Pant, historian and author, says that in 1971 India’s economy was at the verge of collapse due to the burden of the refugees. “In particular, the state of West Bengal, which had received the largest chunk of refugees, was under tremendous pressure.”

The government had to issue a special postal stamp to raise funds for the refugees. Pant, who was teaching in the Delhi university then, remembers how people called conjunctivitis the Bangladeshi eye disease, as it was first spotted in a refugee camp. “However, despite this and other social tensions, there was huge sympathy and goodwill for the refugees across India,” he recalls. 

Bangladesh recognises that Indira Gandhi’s repeated remark that “the refugees would be sent back to their homes” had contributed immensely to the consolidation of Bangladesh nationalism and become a rallying point for the nascent nation that was to emerge soon.

In conclusion as it is undeniable that the Bangladesh war of liberation was fought under the leadership of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman it is equally undeniable that the untiring efforts of then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi brought the liberation to a quick end. India, therefore, has a particular responsibility that  Bangladesh does not feel  to be placed in a position of choice between India and China.

(The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary in Bangladesh.)

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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