Onion diplomacy – A new challenge to Bangladesh-India relations

Onion diplomacy – A new challenge to Bangladesh-India relations

More than WMDs or Rohingya’s the various quarters in the country today are concerned about the rising price of onions! Yes this bulb is so powerful it makes us literally weep.

For most people in the country the price of the humble kitchen market item has increased to unaffordable heights.

This is because India decided to ban the export of onions unilaterally without informing Bangladeshi authorities.

This is the second time India banned the export of onions in the space of one year.

A few days ago it was published in the newspapers that two ministers will be axed from the cabinet including the Health Minister and the Commerce Minister due to their mishandling of their portfolios. Overall the Commerce Minister was performing well except for the matter of onions.

To temporarily calm markets Bangladesh exerted pressure upon India to release the onions which have already been purchased by Bangladeshi traders. So far India informed they will make an exception in this regard.

Since this is the second time India caused problems for Bangladesh regarding onions steps are being taken to decrease reliance on Indian onions.

It is not that Bangladeshi farmers do not grow onions. However the price of Bangladeshi onions are dearer because of their better quality so as such most people tend to purchase the cheaper product on the market, which happens to come from India.

Previously Bangladesh imported thousands of onions from Myanmar, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan.

After 15 long years Pakistan was able to export onions to Bangladesh for the first time. This raised eye brows in New Delhi because they believe Dhaka was sending a message to India that it will do whatever is in Bangladesh’s interests just as Indian policy makers make decisions thinking the best interests of their country first.

This time around however the Bangladesh Foreign Minister floated the idea of importing large quantities of onions from Turkey. The Turkish President assured 15,000 tonnes of onions would be supplied to Bangladesh at 10% of the actual market price now.

Bangladesh is not an isolated or a land locked country. India doesn’t really have much options on Bangladesh – it does not supply water from the shared rivers in accordance with treaties, it willfully harms Bangladeshi citizens along the border, it tries to take advantage of the ‘good relations’ through different and unethical means. There is actually very little India can do that it has not done to Bangladesh already.

Dhaka is at a fork road as to how it will deal with India. The Government has always stated and acted in a balanced manner as far as India and China are concerned. However with India trying very hard to destabilise its relations with its closest neighbour will Bangladesh permanently dump India?

According to calculations India stands to loose the most in this high risk, all out manoeuvre of regional geo-politics.

India will loose out in the following areas:

  • Security cooperation from Bangladesh (It won’t take long before Assam returns to its former self, it won’t have time  for extra-curicular activities such as harassing Bengali’s in the name of NRC/CAA).
  • Transit (Bangladesh can effectively stop providing transit facilities to India. While this will be mostly symbolic it will be unimaginable for India’s ego).
  • Remittances (Indians working in Bangladesh both legally and illegally remit about $11 billion back to India each year making Bangladesh one of the largest sources for worker remittances for India).
  • Tourism (Bangladesh government can effectively curb its citizens from directly visiting India for cheaper shopping and healthcare by creating obstacles. Already Kolkata’s businessmen are counting their losses as 60% of all Kolkata businesses rely on customers from Bangladesh).
  • Ban Indian channels, TVCs and movies (Most Bangladeshi youth nowadays don’t watch Indian drama serials like previous generations. With the advent of Netflix, Bongoz and Amazon Prime the process is already on to cut out Bollywood from Bangladesh).
  • Investment (Many Indian companies have entered Bangladesh’s power, telecommunications and automobile sectors. These are strategic industries and if Bangladesh feels that it needs to put the brakes on Indian MNCs investments it can do so through legislation, taxation, regulatory and other means for the national interest).

Whoever knew that the humble onion can have such teary impact on bilateral relations?

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