Three centuries ago, the area now comprising Bangladesh was renowned as the breadbasket of India, multiple increases in population later, Kissinger called Bangladesh an “international basket-case” in the 1970s. Starting from the 1942 food famine, this has been a sorry litany of natural and man-made disasters, the poor Bangladeshis have been on the receiving end.
At this time Bangladesh is a small country hemmed in by artificial borders and prone to disasters of various dimensions and magnitude. If it is not floods, it is drought, if not drought, then cyclones and so on, the greatest problem is overpopulation, too little land space for too many people. The leadership is able to cope today, what about the future?
It is a losing battle, fully 40% of the Bangladeshi population is less than 10 years old. During the past 9 years, President Ershad has brought many structural changes in Bangladesh across a wide spectrum of national life.
Starting from the 1942 food famine, this has been a sorry litany of natural and man-made disasters, the poor Bangladeshis have been on the receiving end
He started with deliberate administrative reforms, the Gramsarkar formula was followed by his Upazilla concept, this brought government down to the doorstep of the masses by creating 460 sub-districts (UPAZILLAs), not an easy task given the density of population mass and the deep-rooted reluctance of the administrative machinery to reforms of any kind, particularly if it involved decentralization of bureaucracy away from Dhaka.
He then began the systematic dismantling of the nationalization affected by the first Awami League government which had brought Bangladesh, already on an economic fine-line, to virtual ruination. Gen Ershad has been on a massive privatization effort, starting from the financial institutions and going onto insurance companies, heavy and medium industries and so on.
The result is that despite the various handicaps, Bangladesh is keeping ahead of the population clock at this time. That is no mean achievement and the leadership is to be commended. If Bangladesh’s problems were confined to over-population and natural disasters that retard economic growth, it would be bad enough, the problem is that Bangladesh has the world’s only predator nation, India, on its doorstep.
Instead of helping to alleviate the miseries of its poor neighbor, desperately keeping its head (literally) above the rising waters, Indian machinations in Bangladesh know no end. More than anything else, India’s undue interference has contributed to increasing the poverty and suffering of the Bangladeshi people.
Two decades into existence as an independent nation, Bangladesh still finds itself insecure, until and unless Indian designs of regional hegemony are frustrated, this Sword of Damocles will stay over the heads of 100 million people. Recently the Indian High Commissioner expressed “concern” over Gen Ershad’s concern for the Kashmiris.
In essence, the Indians are at the present criminally involved, clockwise starting from the South-western corner of Bangladesh, in
(1) forcibly occupying newly emerging islands e.g. South Palpatty in the Bay of Bengal in the mouth of the delta lands of Bangladesh
(2) large scale smuggling of
(a) raw jute to feed the enormous jute industry in the port city of Calcutta and
(b) of agriculture produce to feed West Bengal and Assam.
Gen Ershad has been on a massive privatisation effort, starting from the financial institutions and going onto insurance companies, heavy and medium industries and so on
(3) by the help of Farakkha Barrage and 6 other catchment dams in the Himalayas diverting water
(a) away from Bangladesh during the winter season, thereby causing drought, in the winter season
(b) in the summer season, the Indians flood the delta lands of this unfortunate country thereby aggravating the situation
(4) supporting terrorist movements (Kader Bahini) in the North like that of the infamous Kader Siddiqui by providing logistics support sanctuaries
(5) pushing of Muslims from Assam into Bangladesh calling them illegal immigrants and (6) total control of and support on the eastern/south-eastern side for Shanti Bahini, a guerilla movement among the previously peaceful hill tribes (mainly Chakmas) of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, etc, etc. The question arises why are the Indians so interested in pulverizing an already hapless and impoverished people?
After the shunting aside by the machinations and intrigues of Gandhi and Nehru of Subash Chandra Bose (activist Indian Congress President till the late 30s, who then formed the Indian National Army (INA) during World War II to support Japan in an attempt to win independence from Great Britain), Indian political leadership has never allowed anyone from Bihar eastwards to ever enter the national scene after 1947, Suhrawardy and FazlulHaq having opted for Pakistan.
The result is that all eastern areas are in effect Provincial Satrapies, ruled from Delhi, real India starting inclusive Behar westwards. India wants Bangladesh to be a similar vassal state, not to take territorial possession of, because that would entail taking on the problems thereof, but to control the commerce, to keep the region non-industrialised, a source of raw material only, as is the state of all Indian possessions except for West Bengal, which in any case was the first Indian province to be industrialized in the 19th century.
West Bengal is run by a Marxist Government for nearly two decades and in grip of debilitating economic turmoil and recession, suiting the Indian hierarchy just fine. The pattern of Indian leadership is obvious, despite its secular trappings, the Prime Minister must be Hindu and from the Hindu heartland, UP, while as a sop they keep the figurehead Presidentship rotating among the others, having had Southerners, a Muslim, a Sikh, etc, for the politically ineffective post.
They don’t even bother with that for the Bengalis. The term Bangladesh means land of the Bengalis, Muslims and Hindus included. Given the major ports of Calcutta, Chalna and Chittagong, this area by itself can exist as an effervescent economic region without facing chronic shortages of food and other necessities.
India’s undue interference has contributed to increasing the poverty and sufferings of the Bangladeshi people
However, looking at historical and ethnic realities existing in the area, one finds that there exists many nation-states, West Bengal, Bangladesh, Gurkhaland, Sikkim, Bhutan, Meghalaya, Bodoland, Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, Tripura, etc, all fiercely independent in their outlook. Even the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal would cease to be endlessly land-locked by India (geographically and economically) and be a willing member of an Association of Eastern States of South Asia (AESSA).
Instead of being ruled by remote control from New Delhi, these are effective geographical and economic units that can have a form of a Common Market without anybody’s hegemony, of course, Bangladesh will be the dominant economic and sovereign entity in this region.
For its continued survival, Bangladesh needs to solve the problem of Farakkha Barrage and the six other catchment dams which form the Indian spigot to blackmail the delta areas of Bangladesh with. Given the Indian track record they will never come to an equitable arrangement about water, Bangladesh will have to force its rights, no help being possible or expected from the rest of the world.
One does not think that the Bangladeshi leadership is so callous as to accept the Indian-made calamities visited on their people year after year. While it may be considered blaise to remember this in the comforts of the city of Dhaka, people by the hundreds and thousands do die during periods of droughts and floods, aggravated criminally by the presence of these dams.
Ikram Sehgal, author of “Escape from Oblivion”, is Pakistani defence analyst and security expert. He is a regular contributor of articles in newspapers that include: The News and the Urdu daily Jang. The article was first published in Daily Times and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.