‘India Out’ Fizzles Out On Eid, Noboborsho – OpEd


“What India Out,” exclaims an angry Mir Mostaque Ahmed Robi, a former Bangladesh lawmaker. “In last 2 days, I have purchased leather goods worth 20000 Indian rupees, essential medicines worth quite as much for me and my ailing wife, and panjabi(kurta) worth 15000 rupees.” 

His angry outburst was in response to the “India Out” campaign launched in Bangladesh by few opposition bloggers and politicians, and which gained some traction when senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi set fire to his Kashmir shawl during a public protest against Indian goods, provoking PM Sheikh Hasina to dare him and his party colleagues to set fire to sarees in the wardrobes of their wives. 

Ruling Awami League figures like MP Tarana Halim have joined PM Hasina in challenging the “India Out” campaign. Halim argued in a recent article that Bangladeshis buy Indian goods because they are valued and varied. “I buy many sarees when in India not because we don’t produce good sarees but because Indian sarees are relatively cheaper and there is enormous variety on offer,” she told Federal. 

“And where outside Bangladesh can I buy sarees — China, US or UK?,” she asks sarcastically. “Last time I was in India, I bought a dozen sarees down South until I ran out of money.”

Halim also punches a hole in arguments put forward by opposition bloggers and YouTubers like Pinaki Bhattacharya who justify the boycott of Indian goods on grounds that India has helped Hasina “murder democracy.”

“India and China have both backed our government led by PM Hasina. If that is what is upsetting them, they should also start a China Out campaign and boycott China out campaign,” Halim told the Federal.

Robi backs sister-in-law Tarana Halim, a former information minister and before that a leading actress and lawyer.

“We are emotionally attached to India because it backed our Liberation War and stood by us through thick and thin. But when we buy Indian products it is not only because they are cheaper and good quality but we are traditionally used to it,” said Robi, who is a 1971 independence war hero when as a 18 year-old naval commando trained by Indian Navy, he single-handedly  blew up two Pakistani vessels in ports of Western Bangladesh. The Bengali naval commandos blew up 57 Pakistani vessels, ships big, medium and small in the week following Pakistani Independence Day on August 14, 1971. 

“That was the turning point of the Bengali armed struggle for independence,” says Robi.

Bangladeshis shopping at Calcutta's New Market. Photo Credit: Subir Bhaumik.
Bangladeshis shopping at Calcutta’s New Market. Photo Credit: Subir Bhaumik.

As the 72 year-old, three times Bangladesh parliament MP struggles through the rush of Calcutta’s New Market in sizzling heat to finish his Eid shopping, he points to thousands of his countrymen furiously shopping around in New Market area.

“I am Quddus from Jessore in Bangladesh and I am shopping here on Calcutta because it makes sense to my pocket. The sarees I bought here for 60000 rupees will cost me more than double in my country and I won’t get this variety,” says the 45 year-old small trader. 

His friend Mohammed Aklak claims the “India Out” campaign has actually boosted the rush to Calcutta by Bangladeshis this Eid season and the furious buying.

“If I want to buy Indian products which is the case, I have to come here in Calcutta which is same distance as Dhaka for me,” Aklak said, pointing to disruptions caused by the ‘India Out” campaign in the last two months. 

Manish Jhunjhunwala of a textile shop in Calcutta’s New Market claims his sales this Eid season is more than double last time on. 

“I don’t know whether the big Indian suppliers from western India have seen a drop in their exports because of the India Out campaign but we in Calcutta’s retail trade have certainly gained,” Jhunjhunwala told Federal. 

In January 2024, India exported $923M and imported $134M from Bangladesh, resulting in a positive trade balance of $790M. Between January 2023 and January 2024 the exports of India have increased by $122M (15.2%) from $802M to $923M, while imports decreased by $-31.3M (-18.9%) from $165M to $134M.

Paris-based YouTuber Pinaki Bhattacharya, the driving force of the India Out campaign will have you believe New Dellhi is panicking over the economic consequences of “India Out” campaign in Bangladesh. 

Indian diplomats laugh it off.

“Ask Pinaki to do a walkabout commentary from New Market in the week before Eid and say what he says always about boycotting Indian goods. He will be beaten by his own countrymen,” says former Indian deputy High commissioner Sarvajit Chakravarty.

Bangladesh’s lady entrepreneur Farjana Tisha, who designs exquisite panjabis (kurtas) and other textile products in the two garment factories she runs in Dhaka, says she is in Calcutta for dental treatment.

“The implants I got done for Rs 35000 would cost me at least one lakh in Dhaka,” said Tisha. “From medical treatment to retail buying we can’t do without India.” 

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC and Reuters correspondent and author of books on South Asian conflicts.

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