Wednesday, September 16th, 2020
Onion more pungent as India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy stumbles
September 16th, 2020 at 2:12 pm
Onion more pungent as India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy stumbles

by Nazrul Islam in Dhaka,   

It happened once again! Bangladesh is witnessing onion market volatility for the second consecutive year. Thanks to India’s abrupt decision to slap a ban on the basic kitchen ingredient’s export.

With the decision published online by the Union Commerce Ministry, the authorities blocked hundreds of truckloads of onions destined for Bangladesh on the other side of the border. It created panic in the Bangladesh market, which is heavily dependent on import of Indian onion.

The decision came on at the almost same time when Bangladesh lifted ban on export of hilsha fish, a delicacy for Indian Bengalis, ahead of the India’s largest religious festival of Durga Puja. And, accordingly, India imported some 1,450 tonnes of hilsha, the national fish of Bangladesh.

Critics coined the Indian decision of restricting truckloads of onion to enter Bangladesh and then banning its export as a deviation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “neighbourhood first” policy.

It is apparently clear that New Delhi’s sudden decision has made Dhaka very unhappy as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during last year’s abrupt ban had requested for early information about such decisions.

Bangladesh’s market faced similar volatility in 2019 when India decided not to export onion citing production shortfall. The ban coincided with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi to attend the World Economic Forum conference. Surprised by the India’s decision, Hasina vented her discontents as she spoke in broken Hindi to a select audience going off the cuff from her originally scripted speech in English.

“We faced a little difficulty over onion ban. I don’t know why you stopped its exports. So what did I do, I asked my chef to stop using onions … Had you given a little notice, it would have been good as then we could have procured from elsewhere. As you suddenly stopped, it become a problem for us. In future, if you are doing something similar, do let us know early,” Hasina told Indian government.

But the India’s decision this time is not only limited to ban, but also extended to blocking of the trucks which were in the pipeline to bring onions to Bangladesh. Such decision by India reflects the media reports that Dhaka-Delhi relations were on the lower ebb despite  officials claiming all is well.

Onion

The blocking of hundreds of trucks carrying onions destined for Bangladesh has put traders from both sides of the border into trouble too, since a lengthy stay will result in the rot of these perishable on the border.

It is presumed the decision may trigger further anti-Indian sentiment as India, the largest South Asian country by size and population, has always been accused of doing dadagiri with its small neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. And with Pakistan, it has an obsessive animosity ever-since the Indian sub-continent was partitioned in the 1940s based on religious identities – Hindu and Muslim – in the heels of communal riots.

The relations between Bangladesh and India are special in South Asia since India not only stood by Bangladesh during the 1971 war, but also gave reguge to over 10 million refugees who fled Pakistani genocide and its soldiers gave their blood fighting along with the Freedom Fighters.

The two faced many ups and downs over many bilateral issues during nearly five decades, and the dust started settling only after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assumed office in 2009.

The two next-door neighbours resolved many of their long-pending contentious issues with benefits tilted towards India.

The China factor in recent diplomatic engagements might have irked India, but again India should keep its next-door neighbours in confidence for reaping maximum benefit. And Bangladesh deserves more attention than any other neighbours in South Asia.

Bangladesh indeed wants India to be a “true friend” not only in words, but in deeds which will be visible to the people.

For Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina what matters is the public opinion in politics and diplomacy. Modi must act accordingly to take bilateral ties to new heights, without China and Pakistani attempts to penetrate Bangladesh sitting on Beijing’s shoulder.

Pakistan and China were together in opposing Bangladesh’s birth and Chinese weapons and bullets were used in one of the history’s worst genocide.

Sheikh Hasina has to implement her promises made to the people and it is upto India how it can keep China and Pakistan away from blood-soaked soil of martyrs who fought the 1971 war or those three million innocents butchered.

Bangladeshi journalist
Nazrul Islam is a journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The writer can be reached by e-mail ; [email protected]