Bangladesh could be more formidable opponent than Pakistan to India Part 2
In my last article, I did make the argument that Bangladesh could turn out to be a more formidable opponent for India in South Asia than Pakistan. Based upon responses from my readers, I want to maker
Sacrificing social and democratic progress for higher economic growth
The last few decades have seen Bangladesh posting so high GDP growth that even India, the regional hegemon has been overtaken. However in order to become the undisputed economic champion of the region, Bangladesh have had to pay the price of giving up the democratic space. Last two elections have been termed by many independent observers as examples of “electoral autocracies” and the country also struggles in the domain of independent journalism and freedom of press. Some Indian commentators actually explained the situation brilliantly “we know that Hasina is a dictator but at least she is our dictator”. For many Bangladeshis however export-driven economic growth models such as those championed by ASEAN countries like Singapore and Malaysia who also went through their period of authoritarianism driven economic prosperity seem to be their preferred option for modernity.
The fundamentals of secular Bangla nationalism
Bangladesh’s founding myth consisted of three important elements , a secular Bengali Nationalism, democracy and economic equality. Bangladesh’s rapid economic growth in last few years has endangered all these three pillars of Bangladesh’s founding narrative and thus only one strong external enemy can continue to justify this founding myth and that external enemy in Bangladesh’s case can only be India.
With the democratic element of the Muktijuddho largely discredited and consumed by the economic success story of Bangladesh, the consequent impact upon the secular Bangla nationalism is also considerable.
To understand the secular Bangla nationalism, we need to consider the three key elements of the Bangla nationalism which are Islam, Bangla language-based nationalism and a sense of Bangla civilization.
Islam in Bangladesh is of syncretic nature which came through Sufis moving into fertile lands of what were then 15-th century Bangla and providing new land-cultivation and water-conservation techniques to the natives downtrodden by caste-ridden societies. Islam came to these masses as a new way of life that will rid them of their erstwhile caste-based oppressors. This particular aspect of the Sufi-inspired Islam in Bangladesh is exemplified by one of the key aspects of the folk traditions in Bangladesh, which are folk tales that talk about fierce battles between Sufi saints and local upper caste tyrannical rulers who fight with each other using magical powers and the Sufi saint ultimately winning the battle between the two and the tyrant ultimately converting to the faith of the Sufi saint alongside all of his people. The common theme in these stories is a Sufi saint rebelling against an oppressive upper caste tyrant on behalf of a downtrodden lower caste people and conquering the tyrant in the end to his simple and liberating faith of Islam.
The Bangla nationalism of Bangladesh is also influenced by this Sufi-inspired Islam. This particular Bangla nationalism of Bangladesh is distinct from the traditional Bengali nationalism of West Bengal in the sense that like its Sufi predecessors, this Bangla nationalism talks in simple and common rural folk’s terms since it considers itself as representative of the common rural folk and takes up causes that often puts it against the traditional, elite, enlightened, aristocratic Bhodrolok leadership of Kolkata. For example, the earliest proponents of Bangla nationalism supported the Bengal partition of 1905 and then they were the driving force behind the creation of the Muslim League. This particular brand of Bangla nationalism is epitomized by the character of Fazlul Haq who was also known as Sher-e-Bangla or the Tiger of Bengal. He was the one who had introduced the Pakistan resolution for the first time during the 1940 Lahore conference and the legend is that when he entered the hall it was Mohammad Ali Jinnah who was speaking but after observing Sher-e-Bangla coming to the hall, he left the podium to Fazlul Haq with a caustic remark that “when the tiger has started roaring, it is time for the lamb to be silent”. This was a man who till his last breath had held the dream of an united Bengal i.e. a nation-state that comprised an undivided Bengal and large Bengali-dominated parts of current North-Eastern India. He believed that the rights of poor peasants of Bengal can only be protected in this way.
From the Bangla civilization perspective, the proponents consider themselves as the civilizational state of the Bangla people that is staring down the huge empire of India. Some quarters in Bangladesh consider themselves as successors of the North-Bengal based Buddhist and Pashtun dynasties of the ancient and middle ages when these North-Bengal based dynasties dominated a region that started from today’s Siliguri corridor to at the gates of what are now Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the West and Orissa in the East. Thus they believe that Bangladesh represents an unique civilization called the Bangla or Bongo civilization which is unique and separate from the Bharatiyo or Indic civilization. According to this particular perspective, the Bangla civilization is epitomized by the baro bhuinyas i.e. the twelve great Kings and Sultans who belonged to the Subah Bangla of Mughal dynasty and these were renowned for their hostility towards the central rule of Delhi during the time of Mughal dynasty.
From the viewpoint of all these critical aspects of Bangla nationalism of Bangladesh, thus after sacrificing the democratic and economic justice ideals of the muktijuddhyo for the higher economic aspirations of it’s ruling class, the secular Bangla nationalism needs an external enemy in order to justify its continuing relevance. That enemy could only be , India, since even to the proponents of Bangladeshi secular nationalism, India remains a strong, hostile civilization that is domineering over the South Asian region and is having predatory intentions towards Bangladesh. This view about India has been supported by the Indian conquest of regions of Kashmir and Sikkim in recent years. Hostility towards India is the only card now left for the supporters of muktijuddhyo in Bangladesh in order to justify the continuity of their ideology as well as to unify their people behind their continuing rule.
Therefore those in India who believe that Bangladeshis will always be grateful towards the Indian state for 1971, should be careful about their overly optimistic view towards Bangladesh.