Monday, January 8, 2024

India's Malign Influence in Bangladesh

Shaikh Hasina has won a 5th term in yet another sham election which saw a mere 40% voter turnout. Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition party, boycotted the election. Months leading up to the elections saw protests in the country suffering from economic slowdown, human rights violations and a crackdown on the opposition parties. Her longevity in office is believed to be largely orchestrated by India. Her own Foreign Minister Abdul Momen acknowledged this fact when he made a trip to New Delhi in 2022 and said,  "I've requested Modi government to do whatever is necessary to sustain Sheikh Hasina's government". 

Bangladesh PM Shaikh Hasina (L) with Indian PM Narendra Modi

Upon her return from India in 2022, Sheikh Hasina told the news media in Dhaka, "They (India) have shown much sincerity and I have not returned empty handed". It has long been an open secret that Indian intelligence agency RAW helped install Shaikh Hasina as Prime Minister of Bangladesh, and her Awami League party relies on New Delhi's support to stay in power. Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Momen has described India-Bangladesh as one between husband and wife. In an interview with Indian newspaper 'Ajkal,' he said, "Relation between the both countries is very cordial. It's much like the relationship between husband and wife. Though some differences often arise, these are resolved quickly."  Both Bangladeshi and Indian officials have reportedly said that Sheikh Hasina "has built a house of cards". 

British Indian analyst Dr. Avinash Paliwal explains Shaikh Hasina's current dilemma as follows: "Politically reliant on New Delhi, she (Hasina) is finding it increasingly difficult to manage the ramifications of India's turn towards Hindu nationalism that misuses migration from Bangladesh and the Rohingya crisis for domestic electoral gain". Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, Bangladesh's former Chief Justice,  has said India is backing Sheikh Hasina's autocratic government for its own interest. Here's how prominent Indian journalist SNM Abdi explains Indian intelligence agency RAW's influence in Bangladesh: "India wields more influence in Bangladesh than the Security Council’s five permanent members put together. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is the most dreaded outfit in the neighboring country surpassing even the brutally unforgiving RAB (Rapid Action Battalion). Hasina lives in mortal fear of RAW. She knows that she will be toppled if she displeases India. So she has adopted the policy of pleasing India to retain power at any cost".

Bangladesh has received wide acclaim for its remarkable economic success under the authoritarian leadership of Shaikh Hasina over the last decade. She has jailed many of her political opponents and hanged others. She has tamed the country's judiciary and gagged Bangladeshi mainstream media. What has helped her retain power is the fact she has New Delhi's support and she has succeeded in delivering rapid economic growth that has helped improve the lives of ordinary Bangladeshis. However,  a combination of current global inflation and the resulting economic crisis is unravelling this formula. Ordinary Bangladeshis are being hit by high food and fuel prices. There is widespread discontent and anger among the people of Bangladesh against the Hasina government and its chief supporter India. 

Bangladesh's currency taka has depreciated by over 40% against the US dollar in the last two years, import bill has soared by nearly 44%, forex reserves have declined to $20 billion and the revenue from ready made garments export and remittances is not keeping pace with the fast rising imports. Bangladesh is receiving a $4.7 billion IMF bailout to cope with the situation. In addition, India has agreed to trade with Bangladesh in local currencies to reduce pressure on forex reserves. 

Falling Foreign Direct Investment in India. Source: NY Times

Bangladesh is not the only economy in trouble. The European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are also experiencing severe economic pain. India's forex reserves are falling and its current account deficit is rising as foreign direct investment declines. High energy prices and the strong US dollar are hurting most of the world economies. Food and energy prices have shot up due to the Russia-Ukraine war. The US currency driven by aggressive US Federal Reserve policy of rate hikes has reached new highs. A stronger dollar for the US means cheaper imports, a tailwind for efforts to contain inflation, and record relative purchasing power for Americans. But the rest of the world is straining under the dollar’s rise, according to the Wall Street Journal


Vineeth said...

Bangladesh is a country vital to India's security interests due to geographical reasons (Siliguri corridor aka "chicken's neck") and it is no secret that India prefers to have Sheikh Hasina's pro-India Awami League in power rather than Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP which had openly demonstrated anti-India leanings when they were in power. Moreover, India gave refuge to Sheikh Hasina after her father and family were murdered in a military coup in 1975. That said, in this respect India's influence in Bangladesh is no more "malign" than Pakistan's had been in Afghanistan or US's had been in Latin America. Every country does what it can to secure its national security interests in what it considers to be its "backyard", and India has been no exception (though one may be debate the ethics and morality of such interferences).

Besides, speaking of "malign" influences in Bangladesh, have you forgotten "Operation Searchlight" and the "Blood telegram"? Bangladeshis do owe a lot to India for saving them from genocide at the hands of West Pakistan's Army and its Islamist allies in 1971.

Having said that, I am surprised at your continuing "India obsession" that even appears to surpass the "Pakistan obsession" of Modi-bhakts on our side of the border. Pakistan has enough on its plate with a tottering economy and a sham minus-Imran election coming up (pre-rigged by you-know-who) and all you can speak of is India and its meddling in Bangladesh? Sir, you really should take a break from this irrational and non-sensical obsession with "India" (if at least for a few weeks) and take a look at the existential crisis Pakistan has been facing for the past several years. Believe me, India and its "malign" influence in Bangladesh is the least of Pakistan's worries at the moment.

"Bangladesh is not the only economy in trouble. The European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are also experiencing severe economic pain. India's forex reserves are falling and its current account deficit is rising as foreign direct investment declines."

Last I checked, India's forex reserves is at $623 billion, which more than sufficient for an economy of its size. Bangladesh has $19 bn, Nepal has $17 bn, Afghanistan has $9.4 bn, and Pakistan has $8.2 bn. Perhaps these numbers would give you a reality check of Pakistan's current situation.

Majumdar said...

Brofessor sb, excellent article as usual. However one thing is not factually correct. Indias forex reserves far from depleting are actually quite robust at US 620 BN, which is larger than Pakilands GDP. Regards

Riaz Haq said...

Majumdar: "Indias forex reserves far from depleting are actually quite robust at US 620 BN"

Indian forex reserves are lower than what they were back in 2021.

The accretion of foreign exchange reserves in the Reserve Bank of India's coffers came from overseas portfolio flows into the country rather than foreign direct investment, according to the central bank's data released on Thursday.
Copyright © NDTV Profit

As I point out in my post, India's FDI has been declining.

FDI into India declined 24 per cent to USD 20.48 billion in April-September 2023-24, dragged by lower inflows in computer hardware and software, telecom, auto and pharma.Dec 3, 2023

Riaz Haq said...

US says Bangladesh elections were not free and fair | Reuters

The United States shares the view that the weekend's elections in Bangladesh were not free and fair, the U.S. State Department said on Monday, adding that Washington was concerned by reports of vote irregularities and condemned violence that took place.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina swept to a fourth straight term in power, with her party winning almost 75% of the seats in Sunday's general election.

But the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the vote and turnout was low.

"The United States remains concerned by the arrests of thousands of political opposition members and by reports of irregularities on elections day," a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Monday.

"The United States shares the view with other observers that these elections were not free or fair and we regret that not all parties participated."

The ruling Awami League party won 222 seats out of 298, according to unofficial results released by the Election Commission. The election was Bangladesh's 12th since independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Rights groups have warned of a virtual one-party rule by Hasina's Awami League in the South Asian country of 170 million people.

The daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founding father of Bangladesh, Hasina, 76, first became prime minister in 1996.

Hasina played down the opposition's boycott and said her aim was to boost the economy.

Vineeth said...

All three sibling nations in the subcontinent face democratic challenges to varying degrees.

In India, though the elections have generally remained free and the BJP has won (and lost) state elections fairly, Modi and his party remains dominant at the national level due to a combination of factors - his personal popularity in the Hindi-belt states, ineptitude of Congress leadership, and disunity among the wider opposition (as many of them are bitter rivals are state levels). BJP is also accused of using Central agencies to harass opposition politicians selectively on graft charges, and of muzzling many of the national media houses through their ownership by corporate groups friendly to the government.

In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina's Awami League has maintained an iron hold on its politics through its relentless persecution of political rivals like BNP and JI. In this she is evidently using tactics similar to what Indira Gandhi used in India during the infamous Emergency years (1975-77).

In Pakistan, the story is an all too familiar one about the puppeteer and the puppets. When Nawaz Sharif ran afoul of the "establishment" (DAWN leaks), they got him disqualified in a judicial coup (overturned now), engineered the subsequent "minus-Nawaz" elections and foisted Imran Khan to the PM throne after cobbling together a coalition for him. When the "same page" between IK and his patrons finally tore, they pulled him down in a parliamentary coup (VoNC), and chose the younger Sharif brother instead to head a grand coalition. When IK fought back tooth and nail, they cleverly trapped him in the "May 9" riots and used that as a pretext to imprison him and dismantle his party. Subsequently we saw the sorry spectacle of PTI lawmakers parading before the media one after the other and repeating the script - denouncing May 9 events, blaming Imran Khan and parting ways with PTI. Those who refused to toe the line and read from the script were chased and arrested (and rearrested in front of courts once they got bail) - Fawad Chaudhry, SMQ, Sheikh Rasheed, Shireen Mazari... we saw them all. Journalists seen as friendly or sympathetic to Imran Khan were abducted and silenced. Media has been gagged from airing views of PTI, or even showing images of Imran Khan.

Which of the three countries is faring worst here? Take your pick.