The majority of South Asia is still an agrarian society depending on agriculture for livelihood and survival. Approximately, 60% people in India and Bangladesh are involved in agricultural activities to earn their livelihood. Out of them, over 87% and 70% of rural people in Bangladesh and India respectively derive their income majorly from the agrarian sector. Therefore, it plays a crucial role in the economy of the developing countries.
Being the most prominent sector of the economy, bilateral cooperations in the agricultural sector can pave the way to overcome the current economic challenges in India and Bangladesh.
Challenges faced by India & Bangladesh in Agriculture
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the already agonized agriculture sectors in South Asia. With the spread of virus, disrupted labour and transportation during the lockdown, it is not an unknown fact that the agricultural sector has taken a hit.
Being neighbours and sharing one of the longest land borders with each other, India and Bangladesh faces similar kinds of challenges in agriculture. These are –
Around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on economies. Both India and Bangladesh are no exception to this. India’s GDP shrank 23.9% in the second quarter of 2020 even though the gross value added (GVA) from agriculture, forestry & fishing grew by 3.4% at constant prices in April-June 2020. Meanwhile, the agricultural sector in Bangladesh saw a decline to 3.11% in FY 2020 from 3.92% in FY 2019. These were the impact of the countrywide lockdown placed to reduce the spread of the Covid-19. Both of the countries being agrarian in nature, 60% of total population derives their livelihood from agriculture. Hence, it remains one of the most hit sectors in both the countries.
With the lockdown and restrictions in movement of goods and transport services, farmers struggled to harvest and sell their winter crops, hence facing widespread losses.
Mass Exodus of Migrant Workers
The workers of India and Bangladesh have faced double effects of the pandemic with the mass exodus of migrant workers and their humanitarian struggles. Millions of workers were forced to go back to their native places in both the countries due to lockdown. Many Bangladeshi workers who used to work in India also returned under the dire situation.
In India, when the lockdown announced in March 2020 put the migrant workers from rural areas in harm’s way both physically and economically. With factories and transportation shut down, and no mode for survival, migrant workers took to take long walks to their homes.
Bangladesh also witnessed a similar mass exodus of migrant workers from urban areas of Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayanganj,etc. A large number of Bangladeshi migrant workers also returned from abroad. These workers have lost their source of income and cannot return until the crisis brought by the Covid 19 could be handled. Even though the government of Bangladesh introduced various initiatives to reintegrate the migrant workers into the workforce, however, the stigmatization of Covid-19 being brought by outsiders still remains in Bangladesh.
With the mass migration, there are labour issues due to which there is farm labour scarcity in some areas and excess in others. In Bangladesh, for instance, farm wages have been rising steadily in the past decade but with migrants returning to their villages, wages have gone down. In the Indian state of Punjab, farmers are ferrying migrants who have gone to their native places in Bihar, UP, Madhya Pradesh back to Punjab to work on paddy farms. Since paddy sowing depends heavily on manual labour, the shortage due to the earlier exodus has led to a rise in wages, which will impact farmer’s profit margins.
On 20 May 2020, one of the dangerous cyclones, Cyclone Amphan hit the Bay of Bengal, affecting both India and Bangladesh. With a wind speed of 210 km/hr, it first hit the land of the Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal. In India, it affected more than 4 million people. Amphan hit particularly at the Sundarbans at the border of India-Bangladesh. Though the storm was weakened when it hit land in Bangladesh, it still impacted more than 55,600 homes and displaced over 100,000 people. Amphan was the most powerful cyclone ever to form in the Bay of Bengal, and though it weakened before making landfall, it caused widespread damage in both countries. Cyclone Amphan is considered to be the costliest disaster in the Bay of Bengal.
According to Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, Amphan destroyed over 28 percent of the Sundarbans, damaging a significant portion of the area’s mangrove forests. In addition to causing livelihood and human ramifications of the cyclone, it has also impacted the agriculture in both India and Bangladesh. There will be a long lasting impact on coastal communities’ livelihood. The storm has surged and salinized large portions of cropland making it unusable for yielding crops in the coming years.
In June 2020, the monsoon flooding added additional woes to the agricultural sectors of both India and Bangladesh. Both of the countries are still facing the effects of the pandemic, the migration, cyclone and a flood on top of that, just adds to the complexities.
The monsoon floods affected eight states in India. Odisha and Madhya Pradesh were the most affected states of India. There were 17 and 19 deaths recorded so far in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh respectively. There have been over 10,382 houses and 168,904 hectares of crop area affected due to these floods.
The excessive rains in Bangladesh has opened widespread havoc impacting food insecurity, livelihood and disruption of agricultural production. Around 7.53 million people were exposed to moderate flooding causing 700,000 households requiring food security and agricultural livelihoods support. There have been severe losses of crops, poultry, livestock and fisheries in 92 percent of the total affected unions. It is estimated that 125,459 ha of agricultural land require rehabilitation.
Bilateral Cooperations for Mutual Benefits for India and Bangladesh
The ongoing crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic and the additional challenges both countries face due to monsoon floods, mass exodus of migrants, cyclones are common to both the countries. As neighbouring countries with quite a close diplomatic relation and porous land border, the need for a bilateral cooperation could be stressed between India and Bangladesh.
In a webinar on ‘Regional Cooperation in Trade and Development of Agriculture: Perspectives from Bangladesh and India’, the executive director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), Selim Raihan said that bilateral cooperation and political willingness were most important in improving the trade in agriculture. The economic shutdown is hampering movement of products between the two countries and affecting farmers of the countries. With the opening up of the land ports, reviving the marketplaces along the borders of Bangladesh and North East India, can strengthen business-to-business communication. Hence, the enhanced cooperation will help farmers of both countries to market their agricultural products. This kind of cooperation can benefit farmers of both countries, increase regional trade and assist in export earning.
Human Development Index 2021–22 and India
The goal of the HDI is to provide a comprehensive assessment of a country’s development based on the individuals and their capabilities. The Human Development Index is a statistical measure that shows the average achievement in various key dimensions of human development. These include a long and healthy life, a good standard of living, and being knowledgeable. The three main dimensions of the HDI are health, education, and standard of living. The health dimension is based on the life expectancy at birth. The education dimension is calculated by the years of schooling that are expected for children entering school. The standard of living is computed by taking into account the country’s gross national income. The scores for these three dimensions are then computed and aggregated using a geometric mean.
The HDI can be used to analyze the various policy choices that governments make regarding human development. It can also help stimulate debate about the priorities of the government. Although the HDI provides a comprehensive view of human development, it does not take into account various factors such as poverty, human security, and inequality. The other composite indices that are used to measure human development, such as the Human Development Report, provide a more accurate and broader perspective.
India in HDI
The rapid growth of income, education, and life expectancy has become a major challenge for India. According to the Human Development Report 2021, which was released by the UNDP, the country’s global rankings have dropped from 130 in 2020 to 132 in 2021. This is not surprising since the growth in India’s Human Development Index has slowed down faster than that of the global index. In 2020, India’s HDI values had remained flat, but they fell significantly in 2021. This marked a sharp deterioration from the previous year, and it is expected to have a negative impact on the country’s medium and South Asian HDI economies. At the global level, the fall in the index was slightly less than in 2020, but it was still more than in the previous year.
The decline in the Human Development Index values in 2021 was mainly due to India’s poor performance. However, other regions such as East Asia and the Pacific and Europe and Central Asia showed some marginal growth. While the HDI values in Arab countries remained stable, they continued to fall in the Caribbean and Latin America.
India and its Trends in HDI
The positive trends in the HDI values were seen in different HDI groups in 2021. For instance, in very high and high human development countries, the trends improved significantly. However, in low human development countries, the trends remained negative. This was mainly due to the sharp decline in the growth of India’s HDI values.
Although the pandemic has resulted in a sharp decline in India’s HDI values, it is also worrying that the country’s global rankings have dropped significantly. In 2015, the previous government of the National Democratic Alliance assumed office, and the country’s ranking decreased by one rung. During this period, the HDI rankings for China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates improved significantly. However, India’s efforts to improve its human development indicators are still lagging behind. This is because the country’s rapid growth has been overshadowed by other countries’ achievements.
A closer look at the data shows that the decline in India’s Human Development Index (HDI) growth has been continuous for more than a decade. From an annual average rate of 1.2% during the 1990s to 1.6% during the 2000s, the country’s growth rate has slowed down to 0.9% during the 2010–21 period. Its neighbors, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, and China, did better than India. During the period under review, the HDI values of these countries improved by 1.64%, 1.25%, and 0.97%, respectively. The continuous decline in the growth of India’s Human Development Index can be considered as a destabilising factor. For instance, the country’s life expectancy rate, which had been at an annual rate of 0.7% during the 1990s to the 2000s, has remained flat since 2010.
In the first two years following the outbreak of the pandemic, life expectancy in India fell by 1.1% and 4.2%. However, in neighboring Bangladesh, life expectancy started to recover and reached 0.6% in the second year. The decline in the average annual growth of schooling in the country has also been continuous for more than a decade. From 0.4% in the 1990s to 0.5% in the 2000s, the annual average growth of schooling in India has dropped to 0.4%. Despite the improvement in the mean years of schooling that occurred during the past couple of decades, the growth in this area has stagnated during the pandemic. This is a negative factor for the country’s long-term growth.
The decline in the growth rates of the per capita national income and gender development index has also been disappointing. After reaching an annual average of 3.6% during the 1990s, the growth rate of India’s per capita gross national income has slowed down to 4.3% during the 2010–21 period, which is considered a contributing factor to the country’s current economic slowdown. Even after the various factors that have affected the country’s long-term growth, the per capita income of Bangladesh has maintained its steady increase during the past couple of years. It has also been able to prevent the decline in the gender development index from happening much faster than India. This demonstrates Bangladesh’s ability to sustain its rapid growth. The continuous decline in the growth of India’s Human Development Index and the steady decline in its ranking are two important indicators that should be taken into account. It is clear that the country’s economic growth can no longer be sustainable if it does not include higher human development. This is because a critical level of development is required for sustainable growth.
It is no surprise that the decline in India’s HDI values has been linked to the country’s economic slowdown. As a result, it is important that the government of India takes immediate action to boost the country’s Human Development Index and accelerate its growth. This can be done through the establishment of innovative policies and the establishment of a virtuous cycle of accelerated human development.
Although it is not always accurate to compare the rankings of different countries, it is still important to note that the data collected from the Human Development Index can provide more accurate and timely reports. In terms of its human development, India has declined on three different parameters. One of these is its life expectancy, which has decreased from 69.7 to 67.2 years. On the other hand, the country’s education system has shown an increase in the number of years that students are expected to complete schooling, though the school closure caused a drop in the expected years of education. Finally, the standard of living has also gone down. Around 90 percent of the countries in the world are currently experiencing this decline due to various crises, such as the pandemic, climate change, and the war. Although the pandemic is a contributing factor to the decline in human development, it is also important to note that other factors such as the displacement of people due to climate change are affecting the country. The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has shown that the world is constantly experiencing a crisis that is unprecedented. Because of this, it is not possible for humans to effectively resolve these crises. Despite the progress that has been made in narrowing the gender gap, there are still many challenges that remain. One of these is the low number of women participating in the labor force. Although the government has already launched various initiatives aimed at addressing these issues, more needs to be done to improve the situation of women. One of the most important factors that can be considered when it comes to addressing the issue of inequality is the strengthening of the social protection schemes. This will allow the country to include more vulnerable groups in its development. Besides this, other factors such as the availability of healthy populations are also important to improve the country’s human development.
The South Asian Triangle
Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) Jaishankar has been a particularly busy man for the last few days. Even by his own standards, the last few days have proved intense and hectic.
A passing glance at his schedule gives us a snapshot of the scope of India’s contemporary foreign policy. Tackling a whole host of multilateral, regional, trilateral and bilateral relationships in a span of ten days, he has signaled India’s dexterity to engage in diverse relationships and juggle multiple balls at the same time.
The key takeaways of the last few days have been reformed multilateralism at the UN, South-South cooperation within the CELAC, CARICOM and IBSA forum, rebalancing in the Indo-Pacific through the QUAD and regional trilaterals like the India-UAE-France, India-France-Australia and India-Australia-Indonesia.
Seen by some as an ineffective talk shop, the minister also didn’t shy away from the BRICS foreign ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA and demonstrated New Delhi’s willingness to balance ostensible contradictions with a straight face.
The minister’s visit also allowed India to undertake an honest stocktaking of its bilateral partnership with Washington. The press conference with Secretary of State Blinken captures the plethora of domains which have witnessed vigorous cooperation between the two partners over the last few years.
However, like mature states covering for their own interests, some disagreements naturally surfaced between them. Primary disagreements were over New Delhi’s oil imports from Russia and Washington’s sustenance of F-16s to Pakistan for supposed counter-terrorism purposes.
At a community gathering, Minister Jaishankar, referring to restarting of the maintenance of the F-16S for counter-terrorism, nippily quipped that the US was “not fooling anybody by saying these things” and questioned the merits of the US-Pakistan relationship. When the Americans were asked about it, the US tried to give New Delhi a taste of its own medicine.
Experts believe that if New Delhi wishes to demonstrate “strategic autonomy” by engaging multiple sides and maintain friends in all camps by engaging the QUAD, SCO and Russia at the same time, others might also seek to do the same. After all, whether one likes it or not, interests trump values.
It is no coincidence that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto also happens to be visiting Washington at the same time as his Indian counterpart. An urgent change in US-Pakistan ties is an important prospect from Rawalpindi’s point of view. In the short-medium term, Pakistan urgently seeks western assistance for rehabilitation due to the havoc caused by the recent floods. It also seeks to mend its crumbling economy when usual creditors like Beijing seem wary of lending.
Washington, perhaps, still feels that Pakistan’s geography doesn’t allow it to remain immaterial in its own strategic calculus. Pakistan shares close geographical proximity, and land borders in some cases, with Afghanistan, Iran, China and India. Washington also thinks that Pakistan could provide help in stabilizing Afghanistan while it remains preoccupied with Ukraine and China.
Coming back to US-India relations, some analysts believe that the bilateral relationship, despite all its progress over the last two decades, was witnessing signs of stress. They see minister Jaishankar’s visit as primarily aimed for damage control and corrective dialogue.
All said and done, the India-US partnership still remains one of the most consequential relationships of the century and holds immense potential in ensuring stability at a time when the global order is under a tumultuous flux.
BJP’s ‘Akhand Bharat’ Dream is Not Only Problematic, Fascist Also
On 7th September, Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma made a very controversial remark about ‘integrating Bangladesh and Pakistan’. Minister Sarma tried to counter Congress’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and remarked that “India is united. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Silchar to Saurashtra, we are one. Congress partitioned the country into India and Pakistan. Then Bangladesh was created. If Rahul Gandhi feels apologetic that my maternal grandfather [Jawaharlal Nehru] made mistakes, if he regrets it, then no point of ‘Bharat Jodo’ in Indian territory. Try to integrate Pakistan, Bangladesh and strive to create Akhand Bharat.” Minister Sarma made the remark at a time when the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina was officially visiting India, hence present in India.
Though it may seem that the BJP leader was trying to ‘tease’ Congress, his rhetoric is a part of BJP’s controversial ‘Akhand Bharat’ concept- a concept of unified India that covers whole South Asia and Myanmar. The concept is therefore quite alarming for the sovereignty of all other South Asian states.
‘Akhand Bharat’ is a concept associated with Hindutva ideology. The concept cherishes for a mythological India that dates back to state formation and pre-partition era. The concept takes ‘Hindu hegemony’ as granted. Hence, the majoritarian concept is supported by right-wing Hindu nationalist parties of India such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Shiv Sena, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) etc.
In the contemporary world, Akhand Bharat has a contrasting relation with Westphalian order. It tries to override the concept of sovereignty based on ‘so-called’ historical claim and calls for physical expansion- a fascist method to increase land boundary. Even though the concept was considered as radical in its early days, the prolonging BJP rule in the last decade has made it mainstream through like-minded media coverages.
While many cherishes this united India dream, the concept also faces ‘backlash’ from the progressive quarter of India. Unfortunately, the growing majoritarian trend since last decade in ‘World Largest Democracy’ is resulting in wider acceptance of the concept within India as BJP’s public support is skyrocketing. The promoters Hindutva is using India’s democratic culture and manipulating large population to achieve their dream. Assam CM’s latest remark mentioned in the beginning of the article while the PM of the particular country is present, also shows how mainstream the concept has become.
However, this fascist concept and Hindutva ideology is bringing adverse impact for India both internally and externally. Internally, it is contributing in the growth of right-wing politics in India. The radical interpretation of Hindu Supremacy is also dividing the population of India creating a ‘Us vs. Them’ narrative which is detrimental to India’s federation also. For instance, when the BJP government scrapped Article 370 for Kashmir revoking its semi-autonomy, the right-wing parties were quick to acknowledge it as a part of building Akhand Bharat. In the same way, when former Pakistani Cricketer Danish Keneria expressed his desire to visit ‘controversial’ Ram Mandir(Temple) in Ayoddhya, the temple trust’s chief also used the concept saying that “Pakistan is a part of Akhand Bharat and Hindus living there are our brothers. If he (Kaneria) wants to visit Ram Mandir and offer prayers, then he is most welcome,”
As India is a federal union among total 36 states and union entities, the Hindu Majoritarianism poses threat to its social harmony and makes other religions minority. It also poses a threat to its social harmony by fueling hate-speech, Islamophobia and misinformation- popularly known as ‘WhatsApp University’.
Externally, the concept creates fear over sovereignty for other states included in Akhand Bharat map. There is always a fear in the back of the mind that India may have a ‘Kautilya-like’ long-term strategy to annex them. The annexation of Sikkim serves as an example for their fear, even if the case may be different. It is also a disrespect to the idea of sovereignty and self-determination for most small South Asian states. The Spillover effect of growing hate-speech and Islamophobia in India also adversely affects South Asia’s communal harmonies.
Again, this fascist concept also keeps a fear of physical expansion alive in South Asia- an overall peaceful region. The concept is also problematic for small South Asian states who tries to maintain a warm and balancing relation with India for their strategic calculation.
However, the fear is also not irrational considering BJP leaders’ so-called master-plan. Last year, Tripura’s CM and BJP leader Biplab Deb created a controversy by revealing that BJP has plan to expand its footprint by establishing government in Nepal and Sri-Lanka. Such ‘expansionist dream’ is also contradicting to existing wisdom of international relations and law.
In conclusion, India is not only the world’s largest democracy but also has the role of ‘Powerhouse’ in South Asia. It’s ruling party’s such expansionist dream is a symptom of fascism and is only comparable to Mussolini’s great Roman empire and Hitler’s Lebensraum. Hence, the growing fear of physical expansion is rational. Therefore, Akhand Bharat and related speeches by top right-wing leaders are not only problematic, fascist also.
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