Unequal Bangladesh-India relationship

Golam Mustafa | Published: 00:00, Mar 15,2020 | Updated: 16:53, Mar 17,2020


For the diplomatic relationships between the two countries to be considered as friendly and equal, any agreement should be negotiated on equal footing by both parties. That has not been the case of India and Bangladesh, writes Golam Mustafa

THE bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and India has been a cause of public concern, particularly among students. In 2020, a number of events have further stirred the debate including the escalation of border killings by the Indian Border Security Force (in January, at least 15 Bangladeshi citizens are killed), the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Registrar of Citizens and subsequent protest in India and finally, the government’s invitation to India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, defying public sentiment against him for birth centenary for the founding president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

For the diplomatic relationships between the two countries to be considered as friendly and equal, any agreement should be negotiated on equal footing by both parties. One country should not meddle in the neighbouring country’s policy and internal affairs. One country should not spread propaganda about the other nation. However, our relationship with India is mostly one-sided. Every bilateral agreement has mostly served the interests of India.

Nearly 50 years have passed after the independence but we are yet to get the fair share of water of the River Teesta. However, a few months ago, during the India tour of the prime minister, the government had signed a MoU allowing India to take 1.82 cusec water from the Feni River, but the issue of River Teesta’s water deal was not even on agenda of bilateral meeting. Why? There are plenty of examples which demonstrated how the Bangladeshi power quarters, for their partisan interest, compromised the national political and economic interest and served Indian interests. It is because of the India appeasement policy of the government, people of Bangladesh has been a victim of India’s aggression for a long time.

Bangladesh, as a state, has been failing over and over again to negotiate an equal and dignified relationship with India. India’s dominance over Bangladesh explicit in the unequal trade deals, cultural aggression, unjust intervention in Bangladeshi politics, border killings and the unresolved water share deal of 54 trans-border rivers. A major reason for these is the Bangladeshi power quarters’ tendency to appease India sacrificing the sovereign interest of the nation.

Whenever Indian power quarters pass controversial laws or policies that go against the public and face local and regional pressure, they start spreading propaganda against Bangladesh. Indian citizens are not even well informed about the border killings because of their corporate controlled media. Indian media pays biased attention to the story BSF presents.

India is currently facing severe job crisis. More people are unemployed than any time in their history. Their economy is at a dangerous juncture. One of the top banks of India is bankrupt. Many Indian economists say the lowest growth rate after 1978, in 2019, the government is engaged in the politics of polarisation. The Bharatiya Janata Party led government wants to return to power by hiding their failure. So, to secure their vote banks, the government passed the sectarian, which many termed as anti-Muslim and fundamentalist, laws like CAA-NRC.

A prime reason behind these laws is keeping Muslim as the second class citizens in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party, in order to remain in power, has resorted to communal hatred, anti-Muslim sentiments and communal violence. Religious sentiment and nationalism is being deliberately woven together for the propagation of the political agenda. Muslim citizen’s criticism of the government is portrayed as seditious, ‘anti-India’ or ‘anti-nationalist speech’.

BJP activists launched attacks on the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University and left over 30 union leaders and members, as well as teachers injured in January, 2020. A recent ruling bans foreign students from taking part in any political activities at any Indian university. A few days ago, a Bangladeshi student was rusticated for capturing photos. There is no scope for the foreign students to express their opinion.

Politics of identity, in the name of racial purity, is becoming part and parcel of populist politics not just in India, but globally. People with different ethnic or religious identity are deliberately made enemies of the majority. Hate crimes are committed with the backing of the state and political parties. Which court will roll trial of these hate crimes? This is called fascism. A world driven by money and power cannot create congenial and equal atmosphere for all.

However unpleasant it sounds, when India is going through oppressive system designed by the BJP government, Bangladesh is experiencing something similar — the rule of the Awami League led government. Student wings of these two parties — Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Bangladesh Chhatra League — resort to violence to maintain their dominance. We have seen how BCL launched attacks on the Dhaka University Central Students Union vice-president Nurul Hoque Nur, similarly, the ABVP’s masked activists left JNU VP Oishi Ghosh and her fellows injured.

A number of Indian states have recently experienced ‘communal’ violence where more than 50 people were killed. Why international quarters are silent at these grievous crimes of the Indian government? South Asian and world leaders should take necessary measures to stop the killings. Bangladesh government should protests at the killings and mobilse international support to pressure India to stop the attack on its citizens. Otherwise, as Bangladesh shares land border with India, effects of such violent and sectarian policies will come to our country.

Protests sparked across India against the CAA-NRC. I think that all the neighbouring countries will be affected by these. In the current context, if any Hindu becomes victim of any situation in this region, the BJP government would capitalise on it by spreading further communal hatred. Different quarters in Bangladesh would also capitalise on the situation. Meanwhile, after mosques were attacked in India, a Hindu temple was vandalised in Chittagong. In cases of violence on Hindu or ethnic minority communities in India, there are some Islamic political groups and parties in Bangladesh who would try to ‘retaliate’ and further this politics of hatred. From history, we know, communal violence has snow-ball effects and hatred begets more hatred. We should be deeply concerned, alarmed and act quickly to not fall in the ideological trap of BJP.  

Violating international water laws and trans-border river management policies, India had constructed damns such as Farakka, Teesta and Tipaimukhi damn and unfairly controlling the water flow. They keep the gates closed during winter and open them during monsoon creating draught and flood in Bangladesh. The unilateral control of the damns has been a major cause of distress for Bangladeshi farmers and ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, the government in Bangladesh sees India as friend.

The foreign policy of Bangladesh has allowed trade deficit with India, China and other states which should be reduced. Such deficit in trades between India and Bangladesh is in fact increasing and currently hovers between USD 8-10 billion. In the black market, this deficit is several times higher. Millions of Bangladeshis are unemployed while nearly half a million Indian’s are working in Bangladesh and a mere 10 per cent of them are legal. Man power exchange should be done protecting the interest of both the countries.  

Bangladesh signed an agreement with India allowing them to establish radar system in the Bay of Bengals to stop foreign invaders. Interestingly, Indian authorities will look after the system and they would ‘allow’ Bangladesh to have the information upon request. Now the question is we are surrounded by Indian land on three sides, so only intrusion we can expect is Indian intrusion. In this sense, allowing India to establish radar system to refrain them from entering Bangladesh exposes our weak-willed foreign policy.   

Bangladesh government seem unmoved by the rising number of border killings. In the January 2020 alone, BSF killed more than 15 Bangladeshi citizens and Bangladesh did not take any step. In the last decades, India’s border forces killed more than 1300 Bangladeshi citizens and no one has ever faced trial for the killings. Our state has failed to address this issue. Under such hostile scenarios, labelling India as friend is nothing but a mockery to the family of the victims.

Bangladesh power quarters prefer getting help from states like China, India, the USA, Russia or even Myanmar to secure their power, instead of creating a congenial democratic political atmosphere inside the country. To ensure the dignity of the citizens and sovereignty of the state, the power quarters should reduce their dependency on foreign government. The government is bound to build an equal relationship with India and the citizens should create pressure on the government to do so.

We can call India friend only when they stop all aggression on Bangladesh. All the border killings should see judicious trial and verdict. Water distribution of the 54 shared rivers should be resolved. Bangladesh should stop employing Indian citizens when local youths are unemployed. The government should ensure that we can form a relationship of dignity and equality with India where both the country’s interests are ensured.

Golam Mustafa is the president of Bangladesh Students Federation

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