India’s prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh (6-7 June, 2015) was, indeed, important for both the countries, in areas such as trade, internal peace and communal harmony, investment and development. Modi went back to India realising ‘new horizon’ of corporate and political victory. Bangladesh fulfilled the wish list of corporate India.
Wish list and Modi’s success
India had a long, and vital, list of expectations to be materialized from Bangladesh; and Bangladesh too has long list of dues, appeals, objections, accusations for India. The wish list of India included the expansion of trade and investment in Bangladesh and confirmation of transit (or corridor) from one part of India to another through Bangladesh. The proposed transit arrangement will save, on average, 80 percent of time and 75 percent of cost of what it takes to ferry goods from one part of India to another using the old route. In several agreements and memorandum of understadings India won everything they wanted.
The wish list of the people of Bangladesh, on the other hand, includes the establishment of Bangladesh’s rights to common international rivers, access for Bangladeshi products to Indian market, the dismantling of the barbed-wire fencing laid out so far along 2654.5 kilometres of the total border length of 4326 kilometres, an end to border killing, and the cancellation of the coal fired Rampal power plant, which would prove disastrous for the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest of the world. These, however, remained unfulfilled.
Indian authorities were in an advantageous position as Bangladesh authorities seemed more willing to fulfill Indian agenda without propoer consultation with its own people, and shy about placing concerns and matter of interest of Bangladesh on the negotiation table. It appeared from the Bangladesh government briefing that they would be happy to hear verbal promises and rhetoric from Indian side. But that will not resolve the issues, and will not dispel the distrust of Bangladeshi people.
In addition to being elected to run the country and becoming the prime minister Modi has already shown many successes at home. Two of the achievements are worth mentioning: (1) the rationalisation of the aggressive neo-liberal development mode with hinduttabadi scarf, and (2) the cover up of heinous communal crimes against humanity in Gujarat in 2002 with the drumbeat of ‘development’. Now grabbing more authority over the submissive Bangladeshi counterpart, both in and outside the government, and making Bangladesh a very convenient, free profit making space for Indian big corporates will add more feathers to Modi’s cap in India.
Country of poverty and military power
India, being a huge country in the region, has accumulated authority to behave as a super power in South Asia. The state of India has also become a regional centre of global capitalism. The US administration has long been considering Indian State as their strong regional centre. With the so-called ‘economic reform’ projects sponsored by global agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the Asian Development Bank have opened the region for international capital. In regional strategy of the global capital, India emerges as a centre and the joint India-US-China collaboration in the region becomes much more powerful.
India has also become a strong partner of the global US ‘war on terror’ strategy for occupation and plunder. What has happened in India since India joined this war was brilliantly summarised by Arundhati Roy as ‘the decade of the War on Terror and India’s debut on the world’s stage as an economic and nuclear power. To some these years have brought undreamt of wealth and prosperity, to others such penury, such starvation, such despair as to render them barely human. To the Muslims of Gujarat they brought genocide. To the Muslims of India the spectre of Hindu fascism. To more than a hundred thousand farmers they brought suicide. To corporations, prospecting for profits, they brought unimaginable returns on investment. To the adivasis of Dantewada they brought enforced displacement and a brutal, government- sponsored civil war. To people in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland they brought continued military occupation elaborately dressed up as “normality”.’ (The Shape of the Beast: Conversation with Arundhati Roy, Penguin Books India, 2008).
South Asia, the most populous area of the globe, is resourceful in many ways. Yet this is the region with the highest concentration of poverty, alarming rise of religious fascists and expansion of militarism, intensification of religious, ethnic, caste and sectarian conflicts. More than 40 per cent of absolutely poor people in the world live in south Asia. Ironically India, the country of the highest number of poor in the world, also the super power in the region has the fourth largest army on its head; it is also the largest arms importer of the world. Pakistan, another poor-burdened country in the region, has the sixth largest army, so is their budget on defense. Both India and Pakistan together have the highest concentration of poverty in the region; yet the ruling classes are more keen on building war machines. The ruling classes opt for this priority setting because that helps them to perpetuate the system, divert peoples attention and accumulate private wealth.
We, people of South Asia, need to change this scenario. We need human progress; we need environment friendly development; and we need to work collectively to make a free and democratic South Asia. Indian hegemony is an obstacle to the democratisation and real development of South Asia. In this region, any anti-imperialist struggle cannot develop without struggle against Indian economic, political and cultural hegemony. Any struggle against Indian hegemony without linking it to anti-imperialist struggle would also turn out to be blind and misleading.
Everybody who strives for a change would certainly agree that because of geographical location, common colonial experience, regional common tread in environment and livelihood, interdependence of peoples’ struggle the democratic forces have no other way but to think and act on regional basis with mutual respect and cooperation.
Because of the position of India in the region, the role of Indian left and democratic forces is crucial. However, in order to take things forward, we should not suppress our feelings as well as experience in this regard. That is, unfortunately, not very optimistic. The left in India, in general, has played much less than what has been required. In many cases, on part of the Indian left, nationalistic and chauvinistic attitudes towards smaller countries reduced many of them to be the leftist partners of the ruling classes. There are revolutionaries in India who have long tradition of glorious struggles but have little attention to the people’s struggle in neighboring countries. This indifference not only affects people’s struggle in other countries but it also badly affects even ongoing struggles within India.
We should change the course, come closer to know each other, to talk, to debate and to work collectively. I would suggest certain important areas to exploration and immediate initiatives at regional level:
1. We need to work to build a model of the best use of regional energy, water, forest, and human resources on regional basis to maximise benefit for the people in the region as a whole. It would be an alternative to the model being developed by the global agencies and corporate bodies and supported by local rent seekers to maximise profit at the cost of people and nature, affecting sustainable resource management.
2. We need to develop our ideas and coordinate our struggle against discrimination in religious, caste, and class, regional, gender, as well as imperialism and fascist rules.
3. We need to develop a vision of free democratic South Asia in line with a free democratic world.
At the moment, people in Bangladesh are struggling to save Sundarbans, which is under attack by India’s NTPC. We hope that people of India will work against it, will actively mobilize opinions to scrap the project and to save the Sundarbans. That has the potential to set an example for a new level of people-to-people solidarity for democracy, humanity and development in the region.
(Published in the countercurrents.org on 07 June 2015)