Bangladeshi reaction to Modi and his BJP’s win on Facebook was something to be seen. They probably were not so bothered even when the 2018 elections were held. It seemed their own national identity was up for grabs. Indian voters by turning up for Modi had betrayed Bangladesh. What gives?
It seems a sense of alienation or confusion exists within a significant section of the Facebook class about their own identity. In effect, many were reacting to the day many NRBs reacted to Trump’s election victory. Seventy years after 1947 and 48 years after 1971, they may not be fully sure about how much of their “identity” is locked in colonial psychology vaults in India and Pakistan.
Elite perceptions and minority repression
Modi’s victory was predicted for long and in India nobody had any doubts about it. Yet Bangladeshis seem to have expected otherwise. Somehow Modi was seen as not truly representative of “secular” India. This is a bit odd given that Bangladesh is not “secular” and its history of minority repression is embarrassingly high. A list of the names of violence would make very unpleasant reality check for those who are always complaining about Modi’s “Hindutva” policies affecting Muslim minorities.
South Asian states are underdeveloped political units and consider minorities as junior citizens. Junior citizenship concept applies to all categories of people and not just religious, ethnic, gender or language minorities. Anyone not part of the ruling majority is a minority. It’s the economic “minority- not numerically but in terms of state clout- that suffers the most and are actively ignored.
South Asian elite always like to think of identity along religious and cultural lines as this identification matrix allows them to control entire population groups without losing economic or class power. Suffice to say, every South Asian country mistreats everyone except their elite who do their mistreating anyway.
So if that is the case, why did Indians voted Modi into power once more?
Modi and people’s support
It’s possible that Indians have more confidence in Modi that Bangladeshis would like to think or approve. Since BJP/Modi is not very fond of Muslims, has gone against Bangladeshis/Muslims in Assam and promoted the sacred cow culture, he is considered bad and that he must be unpopular as he is in Bangladesh. What most people in Bangladesh can’t accept that its precisely these measures which makes Modi popular.
He is seen as the protector of their faith, of their land from encroachers from across the borders, supporters of anti-Indian militancy and illegal immigrants. Why Bangladeshi causes should be popular in India when India is not in Bangladesh?
Ordinary people vote largely for economic issues and occasionally for sentimental ones but only if there was a major cause. Indira Gandhi’s assassination was one. No wave was noticed anywhere as no wave or sympathy generating event has occurred recently. Thus we should see this as a fair reflection of Indian people’s will. However, one may feel uncomfortable with that but our policies make many in India uncomfortable too. This applies particularly to the way we treat our Hindus and the adivasi population.
Quite honestly, very few members of the majority ever stand up for the minorities anywhere but we are shedding tears for the plight of the Muslims in India, which is in another country. This is not hypocritical but common in South Asia. Our problem is compounded by the Indo-Pak relations on which we are anti-- Pakistan but agree with Pakistan when it comes to mistreatment of Muslims in India.
A misplaced affection for Nehru?
It’s this confusion, in Bangladeshi minds that is intriguing. The passion that was displayed on FB was amazing, as if the election had just ushered in a Government in Bangladesh. The Government has of course done the right thing and congratulated Modi but the angst is not gone. As BD government leaders have said, Modi has done much for Bangladesh.
The love for Nehru’s Congress is probably misplaced to a degree located more in post 1947 unhappiness with Pakistan than historical facts. It’s not RSS which mattered in pre-1947 politics. Its Nehru’s Delhi controlled Congress that successfully ended the chance of inter-community political alliance represented by KKP of Fazlul Haq and Bengal Congress in 1937. In 1947, Its Nehru who played a critical role in ending the United Bengal Movement plan of Bengal Muslim League and Bengal Congress that could have birthed a Bengali state.
The aspirational middle class voted for Modi, the ordinary peasant voted for Modi but it was not a national wave but many regional waves that were strung together. Just as the Opposition to Modi was linked by a common failure to deliver a plan that was more attractive than the one BJP offered. It represents the future of India and that needs understanding.
Time to grow up
There is very little chance of change in India’s policy towards Bangladesh under this regime. However, Bangladesh should, instead of waiting for India to act and then react, act early to prevent another refugee deluge, particularly from Assam. And Bangladeshis can stop looking at India for inspiration as a continuity of its colonial past.
Bangladeshi hostility towards India is largely generated by its sense of being a junior sibling. It wants to be taken care of by looking for historical ties and producer of a common culture. It “secular intellectuals” still looks towards Kolkata as the mother source of its identity as a Bengali. This may well be the reason why it feels so let down. The FB class, close to India, thinks of it as a proxy homeland of sorts due to cultural, economic and information connectivity. That is there but its digital not real. India is another country.
Time to grow up Bangladeshi Facebook class.