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Tuesday, April 16 2024
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Hasina’s ‘India Out’ Saree Move Backfires

Hasina
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In Bangladesh, the Indian saree has unexpectedly turned into a political football.

The ruling Awami League (AL) and the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) are kicking things around. The main issue has been developing for several months, if not years. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh has rolled up her sleeves and joined the football match, so New Delhi can no longer ignore the developments on the eastern front that have the potential to make Bangladesh into the Maldives 2.0.

In summary, following the January elections that Hasina won handily and the BNP boycotted, arguing that the elections were neither fair nor free, a social media campaign led by Bangladeshis residing in Europe and the US emerged.

The hashtags were #IndiaOut, #BoycottIndia, and #BoycottIndianProducts, just like the ones in the Maldives that compelled India to withdraw its first wave of troops from the island nation in early March. Naturally, India has no military forces in Bangladesh. However, the main grievance of the campaign is that New Delhi is supporting the prime minister who is destroying democracy, so the hashtag #BoycottIndia is used.

Up until last week, it appeared as though the campaign lacked substance. It was not all that nice. Hasina and Modi were singled out using derogatory language.

However, things have started to get worse since March 20.

Senior BNP leader Rahul Kabir Rizvi publicly threw away a shawl he was wearing around his shoulders, which some reports claimed was an Indian shawl from Kashmir, and he also endorsed the BNP’s #IndiaOut campaign. Obaidul Quader, the head of the Awami League, naturally criticized the BNP for it.

Battling ‘India Out’ with saree power

Had matters ended there, it would have been a case of much ado about nothing. But on 27 March, Hasina publicly declared war on #IndiaOut.

And her weapon of choice was the Indian saree.

“BNP leaders are saying #BoycottIndian products. But how many Indian sarees do their wives have? Why are they not taking away their wives’ sarees and setting them on fire?” she said at a party meeting.

Hasina also claimed that many BNP leaders’ wives and daughters frequently travel to India to purchase sarees, which they then sell back to Bangladesh. “Wives of BNP leaders ought to ensure that they don’t don Indian sarees. I will truly think you are boycotting Indian products the day you burn them, your wives’ Indian sarees, in front of the BNP office.

BNP leaped into her mouth. BNP leaders don’t purchase Indian sarees very often, Rizvi shot back. The home of my grandfather is in India. I came here once after getting married. It was a saree from an uncle. My wife asked me, “Where’s that saree?” She added that it was used to make a quilt, which is now also torn.

India must ask questions

Should Sheikh Hasina have joined the verbal battle on #IndiaOut? Should she have dignified a rabble-rousing social media campaign by commenting on it?

The bottom line is, the Indian saree has become a juicy bone in a regrettable dogfight and it is time for India to start asking questions like who is behind the #IndiaOut hashtag, first in the Maldives and now in Bangladesh.

The answer for anyone with even a lazy eye on subcontinental geopolitics: China.

The politics that brought the new Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu to power was his anti-India pro-China plank.

Hasina is unabashedly India’s best friend in the neighbourhood. But Delhi is hard put to match China’s deep pockets and big investments in Dhaka.

India knows it: Beijing is bent on challenging New Delhi’s natural primacy in the region. No wonder Prime Minister Modi has just doubled India’s assistance to the strategically located Bhutan from Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore.

Dhaka might merit greater consideration.Bangladesh’s commitment to India cannot be taken for granted, even though it was instrumental in Bangladesh’s 1971 separation from Pakistan. Whatever the seeming insignificance of the thorns in the flesh, New Delhi has to pull them out.

Consider the famous Tangail saree made of fine cotton. In January, India granted West Bengal the Geographical Indication (GI) for it, sparking a tug-of-war between the two nations.Dhaka was in a rage. Bangladesh has a district called Tangail. That district is where the saree gets its name. How does India get its GI?Hasina had pains. She told the media that because Tangail sarees are Bangladesh’s pride, she had only worn them during her visit to Germany.

That may sound like a petty kitty party quarrel but see how the saree – this time the Indian saree – has returned to haunt the two countries. Sheikh Hasina has put the Indian saree centre stage in the #IndiaOut debate. By doing so, she may have inadvertently given the campaign against India the boost that it was waiting for. India can ignore the movement at its own peril.

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