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Boycott India: Inside Bangladesh’s ‘India Out’ Campaign

Boycott India: Inside Bangladesh’s ‘India Out’ Campaign

From the murder of BUET student Abrar Fahad to the indiscriminate shooting of Bangladeshi citizens at the India border and the recent elections, thousands of Bangladeshi citizens have raised their voices against India, initiating an ‘India Out Campaign’.

This campaign has gained momentum in Bangladesh, with social media urging citizens to boycott Indian products. The movement is a protest against India’s perceived interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. Interestingly, a similar ‘India Out’ campaign is also underway in the Maldives. These parallel campaigns reflect the frustration of neighboring countries towards India.

How India Out Movement Initiated In Bangladesh?

Prominent social media activist Pinaki Bhattacharya has fervently advocated for a wholesale boycott of Indian products, aiming to “punish India for allegedly supporting PM Hasina’s return to power through fraudulent means.”

Bhattacharya, a Bangladeshi Hindu Brahmin, honed his political acumen within the Communist Party and has consistently used his YouTube channel to call for the Awami League’s removal.

In his latest episode, Bhattacharya highlighted that Bangladesh now stands as India’s fourth largest trade partner, with the potential to ascend to third place. Consequently, boycotting Indian goods would significantly impact India, especially since its exports to Bangladesh are poised to surpass the $20 billion mark. Bhattacharya further urged Bangladeshis to refrain from all forms of tourism to India—be it medical, educational, or sightseeing. Notably, Bangladesh contributes the highest number of tourists to India, prompting Bhattacharya to advocate for a reciprocal approach akin to what India has done with the Maldives.

This sentiment resonates across various anti-Awami and anti-Indian social media channels. Slogans such as “India is not a friend of Bangladesh” and “India is destroying Bangladesh” have surfaced, with online activists attempting to stoke anti-India sentiments not only within Bangladesh but also extending their reach to Nepal through social media platforms.

Sukhoranjan Dasgupta, a keen observer of Bangladesh, aptly invoked an old Bengali proverb to capture the current situation: “India will lose both the mango and the sack.” His words resonate, especially given his authorship of “Midnight Massacre,” which delves into the tumultuous events surrounding the 1975 Bangladesh coup.

Dasgupta astutely points out that Modi’s neighborhood policy lies in tatters across South Asia—from the Maldives to Nepal and Sri Lanka—and soon, Bangladesh will follow suit. The irony lies in the fact that even the Opposition refrains from calling for a boycott of Chinese goods, despite Beijing staunchly defending Hasina’s return to power. Meanwhile, Bangladesh, grappling with loan repayment pressures, surging global energy prices, and extensive money laundering by Hasina’s associates, is poised to pivot toward China. Much like Pakistan, China will undoubtedly seek its share of influence in Bangladesh.

India faces a real double-whammy in Bangladesh—a complex geopolitical landscape where strategic choices have far-reaching consequences.

Meanwhile, the news of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s potential visit to China has caught India’s attention. The geopolitical dynamics in the region continue to evolve, and these events highlight the complexities of international relations.

External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar recently emphasized that every neighborhood faces challenges, but ultimately, mutual dependence prevails due to history and geography. These powerful forces bind nations together, making disengagement impossible.

Indeed, the Maldives and Bangladesh share historical and geographical ties with India. Consequently, the current ‘anti-India sentiment’ is unlikely to lead to significant unrest.

India’s ‘neighborhood’ policy

In his recent book titled ‘Why India Matters’, Jaishankar extensively discusses Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘neighborhood first’ policy. According to him, this policy, rooted in mutual cooperation and generosity, has proven effective. It aims to help neighboring countries recognize the benefits of maintaining close relations with India. However, the ‘India Out’ campaign has posed a challenge to this assertion.

Across India’s neighboring countries, there exists a pervasive sense of fear and hostility towards India. This sentiment has deep historical roots. Recent anti-India feelings manifest as resentment and opposition to India’s interference in neighboring countries’ internal affairs and diplomacy. Under the Modi government’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy, India has become more deeply entwined in the domestic and diplomatic affairs of its neighbors. The influence of various political parties and religious groups further shapes these dynamics within neighboring countries. 

Furthermore, India has propagated the concept of ‘Akhand Bharat’ (undivided India), encompassing all neighboring countries. While this notion may resonate with historical and cultural ties, it also raises concerns about India’s regional hegemony.

Ideologically driven foreign actions play a pivotal role. India’s political elite perceives South Asia as their ‘backyard’, and the Indian Ocean as their domain. They view the region through the lens of legacy and ethnicity, positioning themselves as the top ‘Brahmins’. Implicitly, they expect neighboring countries to adhere to their rule and political guidance.

Post-World War II, South Asian countries evolved into modern nation-states, deeply rooted in the concept of sovereignty. None willingly accept India’s influence. Neighboring political elites resist subordination to New Delhi. As Maldivian President Mohamed Muijou aptly stated, “We are not the backyard of any country.” The Indian Ocean transcends national boundaries.

Despite India’s distinct strength and geography compared to the United States, it aspires to follow a regional ‘Monroe Doctrine’. Notably, India’s influence in Bhutan surpasses that of Panama, a mere backyard country in the U.S. India’s leaders have consistently pursued two policies: preventing any major power from crossing the Himalayas and safeguarding exclusive control over the Indian Ocean. 

In South Asia and the Indian Ocean, countries that resist India’s hegemony are often perceived as adversaries. Historically, the United States challenged India’s territorial dominance, but today, China poses the most significant competition. India believes that China’s support emboldens South Asian nations to challenge its influence.

However, it’s essential to recognize that India’s territorial hegemony isn’t solely undermined by external forces. India’s own policies and mindset play a role. Raja Mohan, an Indian scholar, aptly points out that the notion of India monopolizing the subcontinent, akin to the British Raj, is illusory. Simultaneously, India cannot prevent the world’s second-largest economy and military (China) from engaging in regional power dynamics.

In the realm of diplomacy, India may find itself stretched both physically and mentally. The root cause lies in India’s perception of excessive hegemony within the region. To address this, India must shift its mindset, relinquishing the notion that South Asia and the Indian Ocean are exclusively its sphere of influence. Instead, fostering multilateral cooperation with neighboring countries will pave the way for effective diplomacy.

Lata Trivedi

Lata Trivedi

South Asian Correspondent

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