‘India-out’ -a futile strategy?


Published on April 3, 2024
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Within the realm of Bangladeshi politics, the utilization of the anti-India tactic has become widely recognized and frequently employed by the BNP and its allies. Originating from past grievances and strategic political considerations, this campaign has been employed to influence public sentiment and strengthen authority.

Political instability triggered by the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in post-1975 created avenues for the then-military government in Bangladesh to use anti-India sentiments. In the early 1990s, the BNP capitalized on these sentiments for electoral success. However, citizens eventually recognized the disparity between political promises and reality. Despite the past, India remains Bangladesh's closest neighbour and a crucial partner in economic, diplomatic, and security matters.

Although the BNP government made determined efforts to strengthen its relations with India, its involvement with Islamic political parties and insurgent organizations in India created tension and harmed bilateral relations. From 2001 to 2006 during the BNP rule, India accused the Bangladeshi government of allowing the Indian insurgent groups to use Bangladeshi soil for carrying arms and ammunition to create instability in seven sister states in India. This experience led to distrust between the two nations. Due to this mistrust, India hesitated to engage with the BNP and its allies, hindering substantial progress in their bilateral partnership.

Confronted with their failure to gain the trust and backing of the Indian government, the BNP turned to well-known strategies of criticizing India to gather domestic support. Before these elections, the BNP leadership expressed their strong criticisms against the Indian involvement in Bangladeshi politics, claiming that the Indian government was helping the Awami League to retain power, however, these criticisms were not supported by evidence.

Following their electoral loss, the BNP initiated the "India-Out" campaign, mirroring similar movements observed in the Maldives. The fundamental idea of this campaign is to encourage Bangladeshis to abstain from purchasing Indian products as a symbolic act of resistance against perceived Indian influence. However, the success of such a campaign is highly doubtful as Bangladesh is deeply reliant on India for the import of several commodities, including onion.

In a globally integrated world where trade and diplomacy are closely linked, the act of trying to cut off economic connections with a significant trading ally appears illogical. Bangladesh and India have a long history of maintaining relationships and a strong economic connection, with bilateral commerce playing a substantial role in both economies.

Moreover, the practicality of executing such a campaign is filled with difficulties. Contrary to political speeches, it is quite improbable that the typical customer in Bangladesh will completely abandon Indian goods. The low cost, easy availability, and widespread presence of Indian items in the Bangladeshi market make any attempt to boycott them extremely difficult and ultimately futile.

It is crucial to take into account the political and geographical consequences of adopting a hostile stance against India. Since Bangladesh holds a strategically important position in South Asia it is important to keep cordial relations with neighbouring countries to ensure regional stability and foster economic prosperity. Using aggressive language or actions against India could isolate Bangladesh and make it harder for the country to develop. For the sake of argument, if we agree to the fact that the BNP believes that India plays a critical role in deciding who will govern the country, they must try to improve their relationship with them. Instead, they are trying to antagonize the Indian government by trying to implement an “India-Out” campaign.

All political parties must understand that the citizens of Bangladesh hold the power to determine which political party will govern the country for a specific duration. Hence, all political parties must strive to gain the trust of the voters, who ultimately hold the power to decide. It is unwise for any political party to blame another country for their failure to keep power.

Ultimately, the "India-Out" campaign implemented by the BNP seems to be an imprudent and impractical undertaking. Instead of promoting national cohesion or furthering strategic objectives, it poses a risk of creating division, hindering economic development, and isolating Bangladesh on a regional level. Amidst many issues faced by the global community, practical diplomacy and positive engagement continue to be crucial factors for development. Thus, political parties have a responsibility to prioritize the nation's long-term interests above short-term political advantages. They should avoid using divisive techniques and instead adopt collaborative measures to achieve a successful future for all residents.

Writer: Dr Pranab Kumar Panday; Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.

Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune