Callous rhetoric: Amit Shah’s ‘anti-Bangladeshi card’ can jeopardize ties
Describing cross-border infiltration as West Bengal’s biggest problem, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that the poor in Bangladesh still go hungry.
India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is yearning to capture power in the state and Shah, a former president of the party, is leading the front.
In an interview with Anandabazar Patrika on Tuesday, Shah said that only the BJP can stop infiltration in the state as the ruling Trinamool Congress patronizes it.
In response to a query referring to the economic development Bangladesh has witnessed in the last 10 to 15 years, Shah said there are two reasons for cross-border infiltration.
“One, the benefit of the development has not reached the marginalized people in the border areas. When a nation develops, the affluent at the centre gets the benefit first,” he told the newspaper.
The poor still go hungry and cross over the border, said Shah before adding: “And they are not just staying in Bengal. They are in different states, reaching as far as Jammu and Kashmir.”
According to Shah, the second reason is administrative problems, which he said the governments in West Bengal never dealt with.
In this interview, I believe that in the excitement of the election campaign, the home minister of the neighbouring country has forgotten the diplomatic etiquette and unknowingly misinterpreted the social and economic data on development.
What does data say?
India was slightly below Bangladesh in terms of per capita GDP in 2020.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bangladesh per capita GDP was likely to expand by 4% in 2020 to $1,888 while in case of India, it was expected to fall by 10.5% to $1,877. The GDP number for both countries was at current prices.
Bangladesh has been able to maintain positive growth even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Amit Shah claims the poor in Bangladesh “go hungry” but figures say otherwise.
India ranks 94 among 107 nations in Global Hunger Index 2020 below Bangladesh and Pakistan and falls under serious category. Bangladesh ranks 75, 13 notches up from the previous year.
The population living below the national upper poverty line in Bangladesh has declined to 20.5% in 2019 from 24.3% in 2016 while the population below the lower poverty line also fell to 10.5%.
Bangladesh has been able to meet the UN-determined per capita gross national income, human resource index and economic fragility index and is on track to become a developing nation by 2024.
According to the World Bank's 2016 classification, Bangladesh has reached lower-middle-income status from a lower-income nation.
It has become a habit of some Indian ruling party leaders to demean Bangladesh.
At the top is Amit Shah, who was the deputy home minister of Gujarat under the then-chief minister Narendra Modi during the 2002 riots and the home minister in Prime Minister Modi's cabinet during the 2020 Delhi riots.
About 2,000 people were killed in the Gujarat riots and 53 in Delhi, most of them were Muslims.
Shah has a long history of making hateful, insulting remarks about Bangladesh. On and off, he insults Bangladeshis going as far as describing them as “termites”.
On February 11, he said that when the BJP came to power in West Bengal, “stay away from the border - not a single bird will be able to enter.”
In a meeting with the BSF in November 2020, he said “voters from Bangladesh came to India to vote. The borders will be sealed so that even mosquitoes and flies cannot enter.”
In 2019, he said, “Bangladeshis will be expelled from West Bengal.”
Among his offensive remarks, the issue of Bangladeshis being called “termites” in 2016 was also criticized in India.
The BJP is yearning to rule West Bengal by ousting Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress.
And for geographical reasons, the most popular anti-Pakistan card does not work in this state, so the BJP resorted to the anti-Bangladesh campaign.
Why move to India to live as a third class citizen as a Muslim — is the biggest question. With the BJP in power, Muslims’ love-marriage with Hindus has become “forbidden” while there have been several incidents where Muslims have been killed over beef.
According to official data, some 2.2 million Bangladeshis visited India in 2017 as tourists. The United States is in second place.
Many businesses in Kolkata have been left high and dry as Bangladeshis have stopped going due to visa restrictions in the wake of the pandemic.
As a Gujarati, Shah is well aware of the role of Bangladeshi tourists in the economy of the state. Bangladeshis also top the list of foreigners visiting the country for medical reasons.
There’s no reason to believe that Shah does not understand any of these, but his political rhetoric based on unfounded remarks about Bangladesh can jeopardize ties between the countries.