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’India Out’ movement surfaces in Bangladesh: Echoes of Maldives

18 Feb 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

What is India's out campaign in Maldives? - QuoraDespite the geographical distance between the Maldives and Bangladesh, a shared narrative emerges through the 'India Out' campaign. This campaign, initiated by the main opposition party in Bangladesh following Sheikh Hasina's election victory, draws inspiration from a similar movement led by former Maldivian President Yameen and his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). The underlying factor linking these campaigns is China's influence.

The timing of the Bangladesh campaign, coinciding with President Muizzu's visit to China, suggests Beijing's involvement in destabilizing Bangladesh. Muizzu's focus on repatriating Indian military personnel from the Maldives and his subsequent proposal to share strategies with Bangladesh's opposition underscores China's role in this agenda. Consequently, the boycott of Indian goods has evolved into a dangerous symbol of external interference aimed at destabilizing Bangladesh.

Muizzu's proposition to Chinese President Xi Jinping to share tactics with Bangladesh's opposition further highlights China's hand in this endeavor. The immediate acceptance of this offer underscores the depth of China's involvement. This collaboration amplifies the threat posed by mischievous elements seeking to undermine Bangladesh's stability.

In Dhaka, the campaign unfolded amidst India's historically strong rapport with Sheikh Hasina's government and its strained relationship with the opposition, prompting suspicions that India favored maintaining the status quo. Exiled Bangladeshi physician Pinaki Bhattacharya, residing in Paris since fleeing alleged government harassment in 2018, has emerged as a central figure in this social media movement. Bhattacharya's activism accuses India of meddling in Bangladesh's recent elections to perpetuate Sheikh Hasina's rule.

Dr. Bhattacharya's LinkedIn profile identifies him as an "Expert in Sales and Medico-Marketing of Oncology & Chronic care medicines," with specialized experience in aiding start-ups and ailing companies. His personal website reveals his involvement in Bangladesh's Leftist movement during his student years and showcases his extensive literary contributions, encompassing over 19 books on the nation's political, social, and economic history.

With a significant online presence, including a YouTube channel boasting 1.2 million followers, Bhattacharya mirrors his campaign strategy deployed in the Maldives, leveraging various social media platforms. His #BoycottIndia campaign, launched in mid-January, garnered over two million followers, urging Bangladeshis to participate in what he termed "a monumental endeavor." Bhattacharya's message, rooted in patriotism and a desire to liberate Bangladesh from perceived constraints, has struck a chord with thousands of supporters.

Furthermore, Dr. Bhattacharya's activism extends to his involvement in the Leftist movement during his student years in Bangladesh. His dedication to understanding and documenting his country's political, social, and economic landscape is evident in his authorship of over 19 books on these subjects. Leveraging his significant online presence, which includes a YouTube channel boasting 1.2 million followers, Dr. Bhattacharya has initiated a campaign across various social media platforms. His #BoycottIndia movement, launched in mid-January, has gained substantial traction, with over two million online followers rallying behind his call to action.

The momentum of the boycott campaign accelerated when influential accounts affiliated with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), its media cell, and its magazine 'The Road to Democracy' joined forces. On January 18, following claims by the BNP's media cell asserting a rise in anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, a coordinated effort was launched. The party's media wing referenced a YouTube video alleging India's interference in Bangladeshi elections over the past 15 years, further fueling the campaign against Indian products.

According to a report by Eurasian Times, the 'India Out' movement in Bangladesh is allegedly orchestrated by Tarique Rahman, acting chairman of the BNP, residing in London. Rahman purportedly directed party members to emulate the anti-India movement seen in the Maldives, aiming to escalate anti-Indian sentiments in Bangladesh. Prominent figures driving the boycott campaign include Dr. Pinaki Bhattacharya, BNP youth wing leader Ershad Nabil Khan, BNP’s student wing for private universities named 'Voices For Democracy,' London-based activist Rupom Razzaque, and an account called Revolt, previously dedicated to soccer updates.

The BNP's cyber wing has initiated the dissemination of anti-India sentiment through social media, particularly on platforms like Twitter. This campaign is gaining traction on the ground, with reports indicating a significant impact on sales. Shopkeepers in Dhaka have reported a sharp decline in sales of Indian products such as Parachute oil, attributing it to YouTube videos advocating a boycott of Indian goods, often created by Dr. Bhattacharya and circulated online by the BNP.

Following Bangladesh's recent elections, where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina secured a fourth term, a widespread "India Out" campaign was launched, alleging Indian interference in Bangladeshi politics. The movement, fueled by the Bangladeshi diaspora and opposition groups, advocates for the boycott of Indian products. This echoes similar campaigns witnessed in the Maldives, where anti-India sentiment played a crucial role in Mohamed Muizzu's presidential victory.

In his latest statements, Dr. Bhattacharya emphasized Bangladesh's growing economic ties with India, positioning it as India's fourth-largest trade partner. He argued that boycotting Indian goods would inflict significant harm on India, as its exports to Bangladesh are poised to surpass the US$ 20 billion mark. Dr. Bhattacharya also urged Bangladeshis to refrain from visiting India for various purposes, citing the country as a significant source of tourism for India. He advocated for reciprocating India's actions towards the Maldives, aligning with the overarching goals of the 'India Out' movement.

The anti-India movement in Bangladesh has gained momentum online, fueled by user-generated content. According to India Today, social media surveys reveal images of crossed-out Indian products like Amul Butter and Dabur Honey circulating alongside tips on boycotting these goods through barcode identification. A post highlighting the 890 prefix used in Indian product barcodes has garnered over 1,000 shares. The Gono Odhikar Parishad, a rising political force aligned with the BNP, is actively promoting the boycott movement. Party leader Nurul Haque Nur declared at a recent rally in Dhaka the necessity of starting an 'India Out' campaign, alleging Indian interference in recent elections. Rumeen Farhana, international affairs secretary of the BNP, accused India of meddling in Bangladeshi politics since 2014, capitalizing on the opposition's boycott of elections and shifting blame for Hasina's return to power.

Boycotting Indian goods could impact the economic relationship between India and Bangladesh significantly. With India historically being a major exporter to Bangladesh, annual trade surpasses US$ 12 billion. In addition, Bangladesh heavily relies on India for essential commodities and discussions are ongoing regarding an annual quota of Indian farm product imports. Although the economic impact may be limited, the boycott will stimulate public discourse on India's role in Bangladeshi politics and underscore the unequal nature of the economic relationship. Despite China defending Sheikh Hasina's return to power, there is no call from the Bangladeshi Opposition to boycott Chinese goods. 

As Bangladesh turns more to China amid economic challenges, primarily loan repayment pressures and higher global energy prices, the dangers of Chinese initiatives to sideline India in South Asia are evident. This is exemplified by the 'India Out' campaign, seen initially in the Maldives and now in Bangladesh. While India has managed to restore its geopolitical influence in Sri Lanka, other nations like Nepal and Bhutan remain vulnerable to Chinese influence. Successfully navigating this path will require India to establish a clear connection with the opposition in Bangladesh, emphasizing its friendship with Dhaka.