Are Indian Intellectuals Unreasonably Biased Against Bangladesh?

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My impression about the many Indian academics and intellectuals I have met at various international conferences and seminars is not very good. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be unreasonably biased against Bangladesh. They do not seem to miss any opportunity to undermine and belittle our beloved country, Bangladesh. Perhaps, because of a well-organized anti-Bangladesh campaign orchestrated mainly by the Indian intelligentsia, many in the international world have wrong notions about Bangladesh.

Since Indian academics are big in number and have hugely influential and world famous individuals among them, they have a considerable advantage over their Bangladeshi counterparts who are small in number and comparatively less vocal. Needless to say, many of the bright minds of today’s Bangladesh who could tell the world our story most efficiently have sold their souls for petty, short-term selfish gains and for the fleeting cheers of ephemeral success.

Amartya Sen
Amartya Sen, Indian economist, philosopher, and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998, at a lecture in Cologne 2007.

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons

One great Indian intellectual of our time is the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Interestingly, his root traces back to Bangladesh as his ancestral home was in Dhaka. Despite this Bangladesh link and despite the noble ideas he expresses in his “Autobiography” which he wrote at the time of the Nobel award, it would be very unbecoming of him and sad for us if we find him no different from other Indian scholars I have described above. We earnestly hope that, this Santiniketan-born giant Bengali celebrity would demonstrate a fair mind with regard to Bangladesh-India relation.

Unfortunately, Amartya Sen’s successive visits to Bangladesh are occurring at a time when India is exploiting Bangladesh on all possible fronts. If his visits are driven by Delhi’s foreign policy objectives and aspirations regarding Bangladesh, then we will have very good reasons to have misgivings about the real intention of his frequent Dhaka trips.

While speaking at various discussion programmes arranged on the occasion of his tours, he gave many pieces of advice to Bangladesh most of which are highly abstract in nature. For example, recently he advised Bangladesh to take the leading role in protecting global environment. Such out-of-context advice may portray the country in a negative manner and may paint it as responsible for global environmental problems. I simply cannot bring myself to believe that Amartya Sen does not know that Bangladesh is a victim and not a perpetrator of global climate deterioration.

If Amartya Sen is genuinely interested in the well-being of Bangladesh, he should use his influence to stop the Indian government from pursuing its hostile and exploitative foreign policy towards Bangladesh. I was simply surprised that Amartya Sen did not say a single word in his successive Dhaka speeches about the ongoing killings of poor Bangladeshi nationals in the border regions by the Indian BSF on a regular basis. More surprising is his omission of any statement about the trade imbalance between India and Bangladesh.

He is first and foremost an economist and his Nobel award is for this particular aspect of his career. So it is difficult to believe that Amartya Sen is not aware of India’s double standard regarding the trade between the two neighbours. Perhaps, he knows more than many of us do how India has turned Bangladesh into its market for all sorts of goods including illegal phensidyl and how India has been using devious subterfuges to obstruct Bangladeshi products from entering its market.

Surprisingly, while giving Bangladesh advice on environment, Amartya Sen also tactfully evaded any mention of the Farakka and Tipaimukh dams. He has been totally indifferent to the environmental disasters that India has been causing to Bangladesh for a very long time. Many of Bangladesh’s vibrant rivers are now desert because of the Farakka barrage India established in 1975.

Shall we presume that Amartya Sen is unaware of the impact of the Farakka barrage on peak flow in the Ganges? The basin area of the Ganges River in Bangladesh is extremely dependent on a regular water supply from upstream in India to meet requirements for agriculture, fisheries, navigation, salinity control, and domestic and industrial sectors. So the Farakka dam has a tremendously negative impact on Bangladesh’s economy and environment. Now, India is building another dam, the Tipaimukh dam, which will equally affect Bangladesh’s vital fisheries, agriculture, environment and water supply. To our utter disappointment, Amartya Sen strategically remained tongue-tied regarding* *all these pressing issues.

If Amartya Sen’s visits to Bangladesh are intended to distract Bangladesh’s attention from India’s exploitation, we will understand that he is part of India’s foreign policy machines. All colonial powers of the present and past have needed such intellectuals to strengthen their imperialist grip. The sub-imperial power India and Amartya Sen are no exceptions. What is new is that, he is going against the interests of his ancestors’ homeland to look after those of his.