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C Raja Mohan outlines 5 implications of Bangladesh's economic success

  • Published at 07:03 pm October 22nd, 2020

Indian international affairs analyst C Raja Mohan highlights the importance of the issue in regional politics in a column titled 'Bangladesh’s rise is an opportunity for India, but is overshadowed by negative domestic politics' in The Indian Express

The International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook published last week caused quite a stir in India. The IMF's forecast said Bangladesh's per capita GDP could surpass that of India this year.

Indian international affairs analyst C Raja Mohan highlighted the importance of the issue in regional politics in a column titled “Bangladesh’s rise is an opportunity for India, but is overshadowed by negative domestic politics” in The Indian Express.

In his column, Mohan suggests that the real story which the Indian media is missing is the regional implications of Bangladesh's recent economic rise, and outlines five key take-aways.

A new South Asia

International development organizations are satisfied that Dhaka's experience is outstanding for the rest of the subcontinent and the world's developing countries. They have a lot to learn from Dhaka. It has been named as the “Bangladesh Model.”

According to Mohan, the world's perception of the subcontinent has begun to change because of Bangladesh. For the last five decades or so, the South Asian region has been mostly India and Pakistan. Other countries were commonly called the smallest states in the region.

But Bangladesh has never been really small. Bangladesh is the eighth largest country in the world in terms of population. But the issue has never been taken seriously and the world's attention has always been on Pakistan.

The world had a misconception about South Asia because of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the Kashmir issue, its hostility to India, its controversial role in Afghanistan and its proximity to international terrorism.

Mohan thinks that the economic rise of Bangladesh has started to change that perception of the world. Bangladesh is emerging with a positive image of the future of the subcontinent.

Geopolitical salience

In this context, Mohan in his column has highlighted the comparative statistics of the GDP of Bangladesh and Pakistan.

This year, Bangladesh's GDP is expected to reach about $320 billion. However, the IMF does not have the 2020 figures for Pakistan. But in 2019, Pakistan's economy was $265 billion.

And what is even more remarkable is that while Bangladesh continues to grow economically, the IMF says Pakistan's economy will shrink further this year.

But a decade ago, Pakistan’s economy was $60 billion larger than Bangladesh. Today, Bangladesh has become a bigger economy than Pakistan by the same margin. Mohan commented that Dhaka could control inflation but Islamabad could not.

Highlighting the issue of overpopulation, Mohan wrote that Bangladesh has been able to control the population but Pakistan has not.

Mohan thinks that Pakistan has a negative geopolitical image on the world stage. He blamed the country's military-led foreign policy for this.

On the other hand, the political analyst noted that Bangladesh does not have an atomic arsenal like Pakistan nor does it weaponize violent religious extremism; but its growing economic muscle will help Dhaka steadily accumulate geopolitical salience in the years ahead.

Regional integration

Mohan believes that Bangladesh's economic growth can accelerate regional integration in the eastern part of the subcontinent. The region's prospects for a collective economic advance are rather dim now.

Saarc, the main regional forum of the subcontinent, is currently ineffective due to the Pakistan-India inter-border conflict.

As a result of this rise of Bangladesh, India can now promote regionalism between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.

According to Mohan, this is the right time for Delhi and Dhaka to revitalize the BBIN sub-regional forum and focus on broadening the scope of its activities. And it is noteworthy that Bhutan and Nepal have a growing desire to build economic ties with Bangladesh.

New geopolitics of Indo-Pacific 

Many East Asian countries, including China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, have drawn attention to Bangladesh's economic success. The United States, which has traditionally focused on India and Pakistan for so long, is now waking up to the potential of Bangladesh. 

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun began his visit from Delhi last week. From there he reached Dhaka without going to Rawalpindi. Mohan sees the issue as an indication of Washington's changing South Asian policy.

Bangladesh does not want to involve itself in the battle between Beijing and Washington. But when the superpower begins to appease Dhaka, it will give impetus to the new geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region, which Mohan thinks is normal.

Development of eastern, northeastern Indian states

In the column published in the Indian Express, Mohan gave his views on how Bangladesh's economic success could play a role in India's domestic development.

The economic rise of Bangladesh may stimulate India's national plan for the economic development of the eastern and northeastern states of India. 

Bangladesh's economy is now one and a half times larger than West Bengal’s. Better integration between the two would provide a huge boost for eastern India. This will accelerate communication between landlocked north-east India and Bangladesh.

However, Mohan also feels that development relations with Bangladesh are being hampered by India’s negative domestic politics.

In this regard, he said, it is interesting to see greater cooperation between Delhi and Dhaka in eastern India; however, there is not much political enthusiasm in West Bengal. In Assam, the issue of immigration continues to create major political barriers.

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