India, Bangladesh must try to avoid adverse CAA effect

Last week, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 came into effect after heated debates in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, where some of our leaders made harsh comments about Bangladesh that can hurt our relations and trade prospects with an important neighbour.

Some leaders said Bangladesh was a theocratic state where minorities were being persecuted and tortured, which is not true. But for a brief period during the 1980s and some stray incidents thereafter, Bangladesh has been largely secular in its administration and treatment of minorities. Under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the country has been very friendly to India, taking a firm stand against terrorists and fundamentalists. So, the comments in Parliament by our senior leaders have not gone down well with Bangladesh. 

Also, a mob attacked a convoy of its Assistant High Commissioner in Guwahati and vandalised the signposts near its mission drawing protests from its Foreign Ministry. 

The immediate fallout was cancellation of their scheduled trips to India by Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan. Momen was scheduled to attend the Indian Ocean Dialogue and Delhi Dialogue XI at New Delhi and also meet our External Affairs Minister in the sidelines of the Indian Ocean Dialogue. Khan was to visit Meghalaya at the invitation of the chief minister of that state. The spokesman of our External Affairs Ministry said the cancellation of visits will not have any effect. Surely, Bangladesh and India have strong relations and leaders on both sides will try to contain any adverse fallout. But, it is also true some anti-India elements and religious fundamentalists in Bangladesh will feel strengthened by some of the statements of our parliamentarians portraying Bangladesh in poor light. Denying the allegation of torture, even Momen said the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 could weaken India’s historic position as a tolerant and secular country.

India exported goods worth about $9.2 billion to Bangladesh in 2018-19, which represents about 2.79 per cent of our total exports. Although this is only a small share of our total exports, only the US, China, the UAE, Hong Kong, and Singapore import more from India. Thus, it is the sixth biggest destination for our export cargo. The prospects for increase in trade with our most populous neighbour in the East are much greater because Bangladesh is growing at 8.1 per cent, as against our own growth rate of 4.5 per cent. Its per capita GDP at $1,788 is only slightly lower than India’s $2,010 and at the current growth rate may soon overtake India. Its human development index indicators are better than that of India. So, in the days ahead, the prospects of more exports to Bangladesh are bound to get better unless our leaders and media hurt the pride of our neighbours. Rash statements can have unforeseen economic and other consequences. 

Whatever the migrations in the past, as matters stand today, the people of Bangladesh have no economic reasons to move to India and especially our Northeastern states. They would rather jump into the ocean and swim to Italy than come to India, said the Bangladesh High Commissioner in New Delhi. Our leaders must also understand that China is trying to entice our neighbours with money. So, our own self interest demands more restraint from our leaders. 

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