On 15th October 2020, a report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shook the very foundation of India’s entire political and economic landscape. Not only did it induce severe outcry, angst and denial from the Indian political arena and media, it also showed a completely unprecedented reality altogether. The IMF report’s main summary was that Bangladesh would overtake India in terms of per capita GDP by the end of the fiscal year 2020, though not by a huge margin. The reaction and outcry by the Indian media only elucidated the fact that they are still not prepared to swallow their arrogant and foolish pride that even a David can overcome a Goliath in its day. Given the widespread economic recession caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic worldwide, it comes as a no brainer that even the mighty economies of the USA, China and EU etc. are struggling. And it is only natural that India also suffered the brunt of Covid-19 Pandemic since it is currently the 5th largest economy globally and has entered into numerous strategic partnerships with the USA and the EU countries geostrategic containment of China is concerned.
India is our next-door neighbour, both historically, economically and politically. Being the most dominant country in the South Asian region, it had established a strong de facto control over all its neighbours over the past seven decades of its existence. It is not surprising that India takes the largest “share of the pie” from any bilateral treaties signed with its neighbours, Bangladesh being the most obvious victim, being surrounded by India on three sides both geopolitically and economically.
My writing is not about Bangladesh being a victim of India’s foreign policy machinations. It had been the talk of the town ever since our existence in 1971. Rather, I would want to shift focus on the report of IMF, i.e. how did India lose its lead in per capita GDP over Bangladesh despite imposing numerous trade barriers and uneven trade over Bangladesh for the last five decades, even going as far as to take Myanmar’s side on the issue of Rohingya refugees against Bangladesh, Teesta Water Treaty still not being signed as a means of maintaining the “carrot and stick” policy over Bangladesh as well as India’s infamous anti-Muslim law, i.e. the Citizenship Amendment Bill designed to deny citizenship to any Muslims who had settled in India after 31st December 2014.
Indeed, our current leadership under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s able hands deserves credit for this unprecedented achievement. She has a clear vision for achieving “Sonar Bangla”, a lifelong dream of our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Hasina has ably led Awami League for the last decade, winning three terms in the office and implementing several game-changing economic and development policies that had sky-rocketed our per capita GDP. In contrast, our Nominal and Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) GDP had also improved drastically. To put facts into perspective, in the year 2010, our per capita GDP was only 781 USD while India was overwhelmingly ahead with 1,357.60 USD. But by the year 2020, the table had been completely turned around, as Bangladesh now has the potential to reach GDP of 1,888 USD with 4% increase from previous, while that of India could decline to 1,877 USD, as a sharp decrease by 10% from previous by the end of the disastrous fiscal year of 2020. Needless to say, in the times of Corona pandemic when everyone’s morale is an all-time low, Bangladesh’s small but significant economic victory over India despite its unfair treatment of us, as far of per capita GDP is concerned, is clearly a sign of moral victory for us, an indication of many wonderful things to come on our way to achieve Sonar Bangla.
Is our Moral victory the result of many brilliant economic policies taken by our current Awami League regime or the sheer folly of India’s current BJP government is a matter of an interesting debate. But there is a popular phrase that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t translate to hard work”, which had been India’s case that is allowing Bangladesh to overtake it so far.
India was born in 15th August 1947 with many anticipations that it would one day become the bastion of a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic country unified through strong nationalism and the peaceful “Ahimsa” ideology of the Indian National Congress Party. Even though Congress party was Hindu dominated, they all had the spirit of “Unity through Diversity”, showing no qualms of religious intolerance as seen by the ultra-nationalistic “Hindutva” ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) currently under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the 73 years of its existence, India experienced unprecedented growth in the economy and geopolitical power mostly under the 54-year rule of the Congress party. However, Narendra Modi’s persistence to “Hindutva” ideology has only managed to undo all the hard work done by the Congress party as far as economic growth is concerned and has further alienated countries away from the Indian sphere of influence towards China, most notably Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. China’s recent decision to give duty-free access to 97-98% of the goods and services from Bangladesh further explains the weakness and lack of farsightedness of India’s economic policies.
We must not forget that the present Indian political leaders and their ever-obedient media have made it a habit of magnifying their greatness by promoting the “Hindutva” ideology. Although, the widespread propaganda of the Indian media has only managed to act as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the political leaders and media portray India as doing very well against its arch-nemesis Pakistan and China. Its economic growth is better than Bangladesh and so forth. But in reality, they have only further exposed the country’s economic weakness by keeping the people in the dark. The Indian government spends more money on publicity (5000 crore rupees or 68 million dollars as in 2018) for publicity rather than for development agendas. It is no wonder that the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, has spent more money in changing the names of places in Uttar Pradesh having Islamic names and replacing those with Hindu names (1000 crore rupees was spent alone to change the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj in 2018) instead of pumping that money into the struggling economy of Uttar Pradesh. According to the IMF reports in 2020, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar alone constitute 35 crores, people, that is 1/4th the population of India, and yet its economic progress is stagnant at best and abysmal at worst.
The current regime of BJP Government is only interested in securing more power and promoting the Hindutva ideology. At the expanse of belittling its next-door neighbours, most notably Bangladesh. Several high-level spokespersons of BJP Government still give such derogatory speeches that give India a one-day annexe Bangladesh. Also, the ministers over the years have only made it a habit to chide Bangladesh at every opportunity they get and can’t even accept the facts that are as clear as day-light that Bangladesh is indeed performing better than India. Such un-sportsmanship and hegemonic behaviour only contributed to Nepal directly switching sides and Bhutan being more inclined towards China than ever before. Sri Lanka is on the verge of becoming a very strategic partner of China, even giving 99 years lease of Hambantota sea-port to China for that purpose (after falling prey to Chinese money-trap, which clearly indicates India’s lack of awareness). Bangladesh is the only country that had remained loyal to India despite many economic benefits offered to it by China. Now, if Indian leadership doesn’t learn from their follies and solidify the uniform relationship with Bangladesh, more economic victories for Bangladesh will follow, which in turn will definitely translate into moral victory for Bangladesh and its people.
Bangladesh has come a long way since its inception in 1971. Being labelled as a “basket case” by the Western media outlets at one point, it underwent vicissitudes of good economic policies followed by a string of political turmoil over the last five decades of its existence. Time and again, it fell victim to India’s underhanded geopolitical and economical tactics to put chains of dominance over our neck. But now, India is so busy with its impractical anti-Muslim agenda that it doesn’t even bats an eye to its own economic progress, which in itself is a blessing in disguise for Bangladesh. It will be exciting to see if our Government under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina garners more economic victories for Bangladesh in India’s coming years, especially in the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). As of 2020, PPP of Bangladesh is 5,450 USD, and that of India is 6,200 USD. In the uncertain period of Covid-19 Pandemic, Bangladesh could overtake India if our Government takes good economic decisions. I am not suggesting that Bangladesh should engage in the “War of Economies” with India, but rather go in a slow and steady pace that would not threaten Indiaandl ensure long-term development.