Saturday, September 19th, 2020
COMMENTARY: Onion-laden trucks and India’s “repentance”
September 19th, 2020 at 11:04 am
Dhaka should altogether end dependence on India for onion or other necessary products, and settle with new sources to avoid such regular hassles amid existing anti-India sentiments especially over border killings.
COMMENTARY: Onion-laden trucks and India’s “repentance”

by Nadeem Qadir in Dhaka,

The sudden ban of exports of onion from India triggered a note verbale from the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry signalling the seriousness of the development amid a dip in bilateral ties, but it appears New Delhi has also taken serious note of the message and is acting to correct the matter.

Sources in New Delhi told newsnextbd.com on Saturday that the matter was being dealt with seriousness and it is expected that 25,000 tons of onion for immediate export to Bangladesh is on the cards. Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh V Shringla has taken the matter very seriously.

Onion-laden trucks stuck due to the ban are expected to enter Bangladesh any time now, thus helping to ease the fluctuating market and bilateral ties.

Shingla was Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s first foreign visitor recently since COVID-19 hit the world on a hush-hush whirlwind mission to bring back bilateral ties back on track, but the onion ban almost derailed India’s efforts as what matters is the trust along with actions that match words.

We wrote in our editorial that the onion sacks being carried by the trucks must not be allowed to rot or else the pungent smell will last for a long time in bilateral ties. At least for now, the situation appears to be easing and it is a prudent decision by New Delhi.

On Monday, India suddenly slapped a ban on onion exports triggering a sharp price hike in Bangladeshi markets amid panic buying. Several hundred truck loads of onion on way to Dhaka were refused permission to cross the border.

Indian onions are exported to the Gulf countries, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but rains damaged the popular spice forcing the ban.

Bangladesh however had an understanding with India that any decision that affects Dhaka must be shared before implementing it.

Annoyed that New Delhi did not keep its word, the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry sent a note-verbale to the Indian High Commission in Dhaka saying it is “deep concerned” with the sudden ban and that it “undermines” the discussions that took place in October last year and January this year.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Thursday said “I heard that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs is very repentant. Because they didn’t know about the sudden ban … It would have been better, had Bangladesh been informed about the ban beforehand.”

It is no secret that China has already made in-roads into Bangladesh forcefully by funding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s mega-projects and the markets are flooded with “Made in China” consumer products. Cheaper than others, Chinese goods did not require any marketing strategy to compete with other foreign goods.

The world media, including The Economist of London, has reported on the dip in Bangladesh-India ties and Dhaka “leaning” towards Beijing. The onion issue came at a wrong time, although efforts by New Delhi can be described as a brush with reality in terms of the standing of its important neighbour, Bangladesh.

Many people feel that Dhaka should altogether end dependence on India for onion or other necessary products, and settle with new sources to avoid such regular hassles amid existing anti-India sentiments especially over border killings.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry might have not known that a ban will be slapped on onion export, but that does not take far when it comes to its seriousness in words about warm ties with Bangladesh. India should remain alert to even the smallest issues that can be made to explode into major ones in the future as far as Dhaka is concerned under its “Neighbourhood First” policy.

It must also remember they are dealing with a strong and powerful leader — Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is very forgiving, but not if the mistake is repeated. 

But for now, we can say that the storm is over and all is well that ends well!

Nadeem Qadir is a senior Bangladeshi journalist and a Dag Hammarskjöld fellow. The writer can be reached by his e-mail [email protected] photo by newsnextbd.com