‘India Out’ campaigns flare up in Bangladesh amid election fallout | Business and economic news

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Amid allegations of Indian interference in the national elections, there is a call to boycott Indian goods in Bangladesh.

Last week, a supplier to Indian consumer goods giant Marico faced a cool reception in Dhaka’s Panthapath area. Grocery stores, usually eager to stock their shelves with hair oil, cooking oil, body lotion and other products, refused to take new shipments.

“Sales of parachute oil, one of Marico’s best-selling products, have dropped to almost zero in recent weeks,” said Amanullah, a local shop owner. “Indian products are not moving. We are stuck with unsold inventory and will not restock it.

Another shop owner, who requested to remain anonymous, revealed a deeper reason: “I don’t want to sell Indian products anymore.” He cited YouTube videos calling for a boycott of Indian goods, which he wholeheartedly supports.

Anti-India sentiment has risen in Bangladesh over the past decade, culminating in public displays such as celebrations in Dhaka last year after India’s loss in the Cricket World Cup final.

But after last month’s elections in Bangladesh, in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won a fourth term while the opposition boycotted the polls, a massive “India Out” campaign was launched, alleging Indian interference in Bangladeshi politics.

The Bangladeshi diaspora and opposition groups have fueled this anti-India movement and called for a boycott of Indian products. This movement reflects similar campaigns in the Maldives, where Mohamed Maazo participated It capitalized on anti-Indian sentiment To win the presidential elections.

In Dhaka, the campaign was launched against the backdrop of India’s traditionally strong relations with the Hasina government and its tense relationship with the opposition, which led many to believe that India preferred the status quo.

Exiled Bangladeshi doctor Pinaki Bhattacharya, who fled alleged government harassment in 2018, has emerged as a key figure in a burgeoning social media movement accusing India of interfering in Bangladesh’s recent elections to keep Hasina in power.

With more than two million followers across social media platforms, Bhattacharya launched the #BoycottIndia campaign in mid-January, urging them to join this “huge endeavour”. His call, which emphasized patriotism and the determination to break free from shackles, resonated with thousands.

The anti-India movement has surged online, Fueled by user generated content. Pictures of crossed-out Indian products such as amul butter and Dabur honey are being circulated, along with barcode identification advice to boycott these goods. One post highlighting the 890 prefix used in barcodes for Indian products garnered more than 1,000 shares, demonstrating the movement’s online reach.

Why did the campaign gain momentum?

The Indian High Commission in Dhaka rejected Al Jazeera’s request to comment on this anti-India campaign.

At a forum held in Mumbai on January 30 with Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, attendees raised concerns about India’s foreign policy amid notable shifts in regional dynamics, particularly the growing attraction of China’s main rival, China, over neighboring countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives. .

Jaishankar downplayed concerns about foreign policy shortcomings but acknowledged the competitive reality. He pointed out that China’s geographical proximity naturally gives it influence over neighboring countries such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

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A Facebook screenshot of online movements calling for a boycott of Indian products

Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting and MP from the ruling Awami League party, Mohammad Arafat, also dismissed these concerns, saying that Bangladesh had received global attention due to the unprecedented fact of a fourth term for the ruling government.

“If I had to talk about another country’s interest in our domestic politics, the first name I would mention is the United States, which even announced a visa restriction policy based on the Bangladesh elections. On the other hand, India has officially declared from the beginning that the Bangladesh elections are its internal affairs.” She has no opinion about it.”

Obaidul Quader, secretary general of the Awami League, told Al Jazeera that the “India Leave” campaign is being run by opposition parties that instead of participating in the elections blame “India for its misfortune.”

“They (opposition parties) have this trump card of attacking India if anything happens against them. I don’t think the common people of Bangladesh support this campaign. They know that the Awami League will never work against the interests of the people,” Qadir said.

Meanwhile, a burgeoning anti-India campaign is finding momentum within Bangladesh’s domestic political scene, raising concerns about potentially destabilizing Bangladesh’s economy and impacting regional relations.

The Juno Udaykar Parishad, a rising political force allied with the opposition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is promoting the BDS movement. Party leader Nurul Haq Nur declared at a recent rally in Dhaka that “we must all start an ‘India Get Out’ campaign” while alleging Indian interference in the recent elections.

Romin Farhana, BNP’s international affairs secretary, told Al Jazeera that the people of Bangladesh never liked India’s interference in Bangladesh politics. “It is now clear that India has done everything in its power to keep the regime in power since 2014,” she claimed.

Resentment against India reached a boiling point in Bangladesh after Hasina’s Awami League party won a resounding victory in the January 7 elections, winning 223 seats out of 300 in Parliament. Critics claimed that the process lacked legitimacy due to the opposition boycott and the presence of several independent candidates backed by the Awami League, raising questions about the integrity of the vote.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered quick congratulations to both Hasina and “the people of Bangladesh for successfully holding the elections,” endorsing the result. On the other hand, Western governments expressed their reservations, highlighting the boycott and the lack of a strong opposition presence.

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Screenshot from Facebook of calls to boycott Indian products in favor of Bangladeshi products

Farhana said the general anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh goes beyond politics. “The killings on the border, unresolved water sharing in 53 rivers including the Teesta, and the trade deficit all play roles in this,” she said.

About 1,276 Bangladeshis have been killed and 1,183 others injured by Indian border forces since 2010, according to the Udaykar Human Rights Organization. Then there are the decades-old water-sharing agreements for 53 transboundary rivers, as well as the massive trade deficit between Bangladesh and India, all of which have raised concerns about Bangladesh’s sovereignty and economic independence.

Ali Riaz, distinguished professor of politics and government at Illinois State University, told Al Jazeera that India’s unconditional support for the Awami League and Hasina during the 2024 elections has raised questions among many citizens about “whether it might jeopardize the country’s sovereignty.”

However, Sridha Datta, a professor at the Jindal School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India, refuted the claims of India’s “unconditional support” and said the Awami League was “creative in bypassing the polls even if India does not agree to it.” d) Recognizing the elections.”

“China and many other countries congratulated Prime Minister Hasina right after the elections, will it make any difference if India does not support her?” she asked.

Economic repercussions

Meanwhile, analysts pointed out that a boycott of Indian goods could have major repercussions on the economic relationship between the two countries.

India is a major exporter to Bangladesh, with annual trade volume historically exceeding $12 billion. In addition, Bangladesh is highly dependent on India for essential goods, and the two governments are currently in talks on an annual quota of Indian agricultural product imports.

Describing the anti-India campaign as a “political ploy,” Munshi Faiz Ahmed, former head of the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, a state-funded think tank, told Al Jazeera that the economic repercussions of boycotting Indian products would be more serious. For Bangladesh.

“I don’t think any sane Bangladeshi would choose to participate in this campaign. India is our neighboring country and we depend on it heavily for our basic daily needs like rice and onions. We depend because we get these products at the cheapest prices due to geographical proximity,” Ahmed said. Adding that obtaining these products from elsewhere will cost much more.

Jyoti Rahman, an economist based in Australia, told Al Jazeera that the “India Off” movement may be politically significant to the extent that it “sends a strong message to Indian policymakers” about growing discontent in Bangladesh, but “the economic implications are less clear.” Cuts”.

Rahman noted that despite being India’s fourth largest export destination, Bangladesh still accounts for about 3.5 per cent of India’s export market. “Even if all exports to Bangladesh stop, it will likely not significantly impact the Indian economy, as these products will find a market elsewhere,” Rahman said.

On the other hand, he said that one-fifth of Bangladesh’s imports come from India, including essentials such as cotton for the garment sector, grains and products such as onions. “(Considering) other sources of imports for these products could fuel inflation further,” Rahman said.

However, he highlighted the potential political effectiveness of boycotting non-essential goods such as tourism, cultural imports such as Bollywood films and consumer products, which he said could benefit local industries.

Bangladesh’s overwhelming dependence on India also means that “Indian companies are at risk if such a movement gains strength and support,” Riaz said.

Even if the economic impacts are limited or not immediate, he said, the boycott would contribute to public discourse about India’s role in Bangladeshi politics and highlight the unequal relationship. “This is no less important.”

Additional reporting by Abu Jakar

(Tags for translation)Economy

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