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Tag Archives | bangladesh

Devolution of Power from Centre to State

By Ratish Srivastava (@socilia13)

States in India can play a bigger role in foreign policy formulation with active engagement in pursuing global economic opportunities, resource management, security issues and environmental issues. However, does that mean the centre will lose power to states as they push for greater autonomy?

The devolution of power from the centre to state need not translate to a lesser role for the centre. The centre could use this devolution to their advantage in a number of ways.

The current NDA government created the States Division in 2014 under the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for efficient management of centre-state relations. However, this division only provides economic freedom to states by allowing them to engage in global economic opportunities.

The structure proposed by NDA only allows for economic development, investment promotion but not aspects of security. The central government needs to realise the role a state can play in security and improving ties with other nation-states. The best example would be India’s relation with Israel.

India has historically supported the Palestinian stance, and any major diplomatic move with Israel could upset India’s energy ties with Iran and the Gulf states. But, a number of chief ministers of states have gone to Israel, mostly for learning new agricultural practices, as agriculture in Israel is a highly developed industry. Visits from the then CM of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot in 2013 and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis in 2015 show that states can help improve ties with other nation-states.

These low-key measures, which go under the radar are extremely important for India to build stronger ties with a nation-state as it allows greater manoeuvrability in formulating foreign policy. India, however, needs to tread carefully as a tilt towards Israel could be counter-productive to its move for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. India requires strong support from the Arab states that form a large group in the General Assembly. The Modi government must be careful as it looks to preserve its strategic, economic and energy interests in West Asia.

The centre will also become effective in conducting neighbourhood diplomacy if it can coordinate with peripheral states, which share borders with other countries, for example, India’s relation with Bangladesh. The relation between the two countries was weakened over disputes over the Teesta River. The Manmohan Singh-led government in 2011 failed to reach an agreement with Bangladesh, which allowed an equal share of the river. This failure can be attributed to the CM of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, who pressured the centre to break the agreement.

The reason for the the move’s opposition lies with the fact that the centre did not involve West Bengal, which would be impacted the most by this deal.

On the other hand, India signed the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh in 2015. This agreement will rehabilitate people in their respective enclaves in India and Bangladesh. It will improve the domestic situation in both countries but more importantly, this move showed how involving West Bengal helped smoothen the deal.

The central government assured the government of West Bengal that it will be provided with adequate financial support to help rehabilitate people coming from the former Indian enclaves in Bangladesh. The state government has also taken a set of reasonable relief measures through its Cooch Behar district administration with financial assistance from the centre. The centre and the state in this situation worked together, and it resulted in a historic deal being signed between India and Bangladesh, which has been a concern since 1974.

The current central government has suggested the Centre-State Investment Agreement (CSIA), which could potentially help the central government implement a bilateral investment treaty with any foreign country. CSIA creates a platform for states to engage in the management of foreign direct investment flowing into the country.

In addition, with states focusing on improving their economic performance, it allows the centre to focus on other issues like acting in accordance to international law and set environmental goals while the states can help bring globalisation to India through its trade deals and by attracting FDI.

Ratish is a research intern (@socilia13) at Takshashila Institution

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Data story: Lines of Credit supported by India

A brief overview of India’s lines of Credit to other nation-states

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

India’s relationship with Mongolia has been in the news recently. After the Dalai Lama visited the Buddhist country, China suspended ongoing talks to grant a $4.2 billion loan and made Mongolia’s Foreign Minister apologise for permitting the visit. When Mongolia’s ambassador urged India to raise it’s voice against the Chinese overreaction, India’s response was as follows:

We are closely working with the Mongolian government to implement the credit line in a manner that is deemed beneficial to the friendly people of Mongolia by its leadership. We are aware of the difficult budgetary situation that Mongolia is facing due to various factors including high cost of servicing of debt raised by them in the past.

The credit line being referred to was the US $1 billion committed to Mongolia during PM Modi’s visit in May 2015. Meant to finance the ‘development of railways and related infrastructure projects’, this was the second-largest single line of credit by India since the programme started in 2003-04. This data point got me interested in this creature called Line of Credit. This post gives a basic overview of India’s Lines of Credit.

What is a Line of Credit?
A LOC is a ‘soft loan’ (not a grant) provided at concessional interest rates to developing countries and has to be repaid by the borrowing government. Besides serving the foreign policy aim of increasing India’s presence in critical geographies, LOCs are meant to promote exports of Indian goods and services — they come with a conditionality that a minimum of 75% of the contract value must be sourced from India.

One important factor to consider while looking at LOC figures is that the utilisation rates are typically low (the mean utilisation rate currently stands at 42%).  There are primarily two reasons: one, demand side issues such as inadequacies of recipient nation’s importers, insecure conditions, or lack of statutory clearances by the recipient government. Two, because of supply-side issues such as incompetence of Indian exporters, customs restrictions,  or lack of clearances from the Indian government.

Because a LOC is a soft loan (not a grant) and suffers from slow utilisation, regardless of the size of the amount approved as part of a LOC, it merely counts as an attempt to change the recipient country’s incentives at the margin. Which means, if a country is extremely critical to India’s national interest, it would require the government to do a lot more than announce billions of dollars worth of credit lines. Especially because China can match any LOC figure that the Indian government attempts — a direct outcome of continuous economic growth.


Nevertheless, how do India’s LOCs stack up? The summary is in the image below (click to expand the image). The data used to create these infographics can be downloaded from here.

Also read: My colleague Pavan’s excellent Pragati Infographic: Foreign Aid going out of India.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas


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“नोतुन प्रजन्मो — नई दिशा” : भारतीय विदेश नीति के बदलते समीकरण

बांग्लादेश दौरे से कुछ ऐसे समीकरण सामने आ रहे हैं जो भारतीय विदेश नीति के प्रभाव का परिचायक बनेंगे

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) and Pradip Bhandari

जून ७ को भारत और बांग्लादेश ने “नोतुन प्रजन्मो — नई दिशा” नामक संयुक्त घोषणापत्र से अपने द्विपक्षीय संबंधों को एक नया आयाम दिया। प्रधानमंत्री की इस यात्रा में भूमि सीमा समझौते पर मोहर लग गई। समुद्रीय सीमा के पारस्परिक समाधान के उपरांत यह भूमि सीमा समझौता दोनों देशों के रिश्तों में दूसरी लगातार सफलता हैं।

इन दो बाधाओं के हटने से दोनों देश अपनी प्रमुख मांगों को एक दुसरे के सामने बेजिझक रूप से रखने में सफल रहे । जहाँ भारत ने बांग्लादेश से अपने पूर्वोत्तर राज्यों के बांग्लादेश से अभिगम (access) की मांग में सीमित सफलता पाई, बांग्लादेश ने तीस्ता मसले को जल्द निपटाने की बात उठाई।

हालांकि इन मामलों का पूर्ण समाधान अभी दूर है, इन नुकिलें विषयों पर खुलकर बातचीत ही अपनेआप में एक मील का पत्थर है । इन दोनों विषयों पर प्रगति ही भारत-बांग्लादेश द्विपक्षीय साझेदारी को निर्धारित करेगी । साथ ही, इस दौरे से कुछ ऐसे समीकरण सामने आ रहे हैं जो भारतीय विदेश नीति के प्रभाव का परिचायक बनेंगे। आइए, इन समीकरणों पर ध्यान केंद्रित करें।

सर्वप्रथम, यह स्पष्ट हो चुका है कि भारत अपनी विदेश नीति में दोस्ताना पड़ोसी राष्ट्रों को प्राथमिकता देगा । इससे पहले भारत की विदेश नीति प्राथमिकता थी पाकिस्तान के साथ सर्व विवादों पर शांतिपूर्ण समझौता। इस प्राथमिकता के चलते दुसरे पड़ोसियों से रिश्ते और सुदृढ़ करना मुश्किल हो गया था क्यूंकि हमारा ध्यान पाकिस्तान पर केंद्रित था । सार्क (SAARC) जैसे बहुराष्ट्रीय मंच भी पाकिस्तान की कटुता के चलते प्रभावहीन हो गए। लेकिन अब, इस सरकार ने साफ़ कर दिया हैँ कि पाकिस्तान को उतना ही महत्व दिया जाएगा जितना वह उसका हकदार है। रक्षा मंत्री के पाकिस्तान के ख़िलाफ़ आतंकवाद पर वक्तव्य के अलावा, सरकार की पाकिस्तान नीति अब तक भारतीय राष्ट्रहित के लिए सकारात्मक रही है।

दूसरा, इस दौरे की सफलता से यह निष्कर्ष निकलता है कि भारत को पड़ोसी राष्ट्रों के दोस्ताना राजनायकों को प्रोत्साहन देना चाहिए। फिर चाहे वह मालदीव हो, बांग्लादेश हो  या श्रीलंका, अगर कोई राजनेता भारत-समर्थक है, तो भारत को खुलकर दोस्ती का हाथ बढ़ाना चाहिए। अगर ऐसे राजनेताओं की शुभकामनाओं के लिए हमे कुछ अतिरिक्त जतन करने पड़े, तो करने चाहिए।  इस तरह भारत एक सशक्त संकेत प्रसारित करेगा कि जो नेता भारत के शुभ चिंतक हैं, उन्हें भारत मुश्किल क्षणों में भी सहायता करने का सामर्थ्य रखता हैं ।

तीसरा समीकरण है भारतीय राज्यों की विदेश नीति मैं बढ़ती भागीदारी। भूमि सीमा समझौते पर हस्ताक्षर के वक्त पश्चिम बंगाल की मुख्यमंत्री की मौजुदगी विदेश नीति मैं राज्यों की बढ़ती साझेदारी की तरफ संकेत करती है। यह इस बात का प्रमाण है कि केंद्र सरकार को यह अहसास हो चुका है कि ‘पड़ोसी पहले’ की नीति तभी सफल हो सकती है जब सीमा स्थित राज्यों को भी भागीदार बनाया जाए। साथ ही यह सरकार की ‘कॉपरेटिव फेडेरलिस्म’ की नीति के साथ भी समन्वय रखता है।

चौथा समीकरण है यह एहसास कि पड़ोसियों से बातचीत में सार्क जैसे बहुपक्षीय मंच की बजाय अलग-अलग द्विपक्षीय साझेदारियां बेहतर काम करती हैं । सार्क में पाकिस्तान की उपस्थिति से आसान कार्य भी पेचीदा हो जाते हैं । और ऐसी कोई भी भारतीय मांग नहीं हैं जो केवल सार्क मंच पर की जा सकती है, द्विपक्षीय स्तर पर नहीं । अतः सार्क में अपनी शक्ति ज़ाया करने से अच्छा है कि भारत आत्मविश्वास से द्विपक्षीय साझेदारियों का एक सशक्त नेटवर्क स्थापित करें।  

“नोतुन प्रजन्मो — नई दिशा” अर्थात “नयी पीढ़ी—नयी दिशा” का नारा क्या भारत विदेश नीति का भी परिचायक होगा?

यह तो उपर्लिखित चार समीकरण निर्धारित करेंगे। फिलहाल, हमें इस बात पर ध्यान देना है कि यह समीकरण स्वतः भारतीय गणतंत्र की घरेलु सफलता पर आधारित हैं। इस सफ़लता के लिए हमें आर्थिक स्तर पर वृद्धि और सामाजिक स्तर  पर सद्भावना की दिशा में ठोस कदम उठाने होंगे ।

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotasPradip Bhandari is a student of the GCPP3 batch. He is the Coordinator, Youth Forum of Thalassemia & Child Welfare Group, in Indore.

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Dynamics of Bangladeshi Migration into India

By Unmukta Sinha

Why we cannot disregard or oversimplify the Bangladeshi migrant issue into one of merely international border violation

In my previous post, we saw that migration from Bangladesh into India has been a continuous practice with the adjective “internal” before Partition in (1947) and “international” post Partition. For varied reasons, ranging from politically induced ones, to ecological issues such as the Farakka case, to loss of land and livelihood for the poor subsistence farmers; from religious persecution to the recent environmental degradation and climate change; and at times for quotidian reasons such as people visiting their relatives across the border, tending to their farmlands to simply getting tools from their warehouse situated in the borderlands, Bangladeshis have been consistently migrating into India.

Existing estimates suggest that Bangladeshi migration to India occurs mainly from eastern side of India particularly into three bordering states—West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. The author of the referred link further suggests that these states serve as major “conduits of the flow”, meaning migrants who come into West Bengal, Assam and Tripura through the porous border migrate further into Bihar, Delhi and Rajasthan and even to Maharashtra. Thus, apart from being the recipients of Bangladeshi migrants West Bengal, Assam and Tripura also serve as transit destinations. The trigger being highly economic in nature, poor Bangladeshi migrants are driven in search of better avenues for jobs and livelihood. This extends the length of the vector of migration and reinforces the fact that India’s border security measures have to be tightened, however in a humane manner. The other major trigger for Bangladeshi migrants is environmental. Bangladesh being a low lying nation, prone to ravaging floods and cyclones that lead to land loss and induce a general insecurity from a lack of sustainable livelihood.

Those who migrate for economic reasons could be termed as ‘ecomigrants’ and those for environmental issues as ‘environmental migrants’. While the geographic impact of ecomigrants stems from merely crossing over international borders, environmental problems rarely follow political lines. What is being crossed by environmental migrants is the “environmental border” where land degradation stops or disaster doesn’t reach. This kind of logic may be extended unto all out-migrants. Political refugees must cross political borders, usually of a nation. Those fleeing ethnic violence must cross ethnic borders, which may not follow political boundaries. Migrants leaving due to economic decline must cross the economic bounds of the decline, which again may not follow the political border. Thus in the environmental context, Bangladeshi migrants suffering from the discomfort of climate change are forced to migrate to a more secure zone even if it requires entering into neighbouring states, particularly India, by simply crossing the “environmental borders” regardless of whether these borders coincide with international political borders or not. For these migrants it is hard to peg the responsibilities of migration on any one geopolitical, economic or social entity.

For instance, floods do not occur only because of heavy rain in Bangladesh, but rather because such precipitation outstrips water management systems in the upriver areas—heavy monsoonal rains in China, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam swell the Brahmaputra’s banks in Bangladesh causing untold damage. Likewise, salinity intrusion in southern Bangladesh follows not only from climactic reasons of sea-level rise or severe cyclones, but also from economic reasons of large-scale shrimp farming which requires acres of saline water ponds.

Further the impact of the illegal Bangladeshi migrant on the economy of the receiving state is significant, for he is willing to work long hours for a low wage, and is thus an invaluable asset. Thus it may be argued that if indeed there are about 12 to 20 million Bangladeshi migrants in India, there must millions of Indians employing them. This indicates that certain regions in India have employers who would accept illegal labour migrants which pulled the Bangladeshi migrants to choose these places over others to integrate into the black/underground economic sector—for example Assam and West Bengal as tea plantation workers or Delhi and Mumbai as domestic help.

Thus even a simple cursory look at the issue of Bangladeshi migration into India throws up a multitude of challenges, ones that the Indian nation, awake to this deluge of illegal entries, cannot disregard or oversimplify the issue into one of merely international border violation. The dynamics of this movement of people is deeply intertwined with not just the economics of the two nations and overlapping regions, but also environmental and climactic reasons. Thus India needs to introspect into what it can do to alleviate some of the triggers: diverting the excess waters of the Brahmaputra could reduce chances of flooding in downriver areas in Bangladesh, or issuing work permits to labour migrants would stop their persecution at the hands of their Indian employers and make them more accountable.

Unmukta Sinha has previously interned with the Takshashila Institution.

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The Plight of People Living in between Spaces—the Migrant Perspective

By Unmukta Sinha

Bilateral policies regarding Bangladeshi migrants must not forget the vicissitudes of the migrants

The border dividing the nations India and Bangladesh is not a straightforward geometric line drawn from point A to B. In some areas it snakes across villages, agricultural farmlands, temples, and even households. Some of the families who live literally on the borderland, the in-between spaces also known as “contact zones” straddling two nations, often have members technically cross borders on a daily basis.

This brings forward a whole new dynamic of what “triggers” the migrant to move/migrate and what “destination” he chooses. While in the domain of geopolitical discourse this quotidian movement of people across the fence would constitute cross border migration, for those residing in the “contact zones” it might not be as simple or straightforward. In many cases, the “trigger” could be as basic as fetching water from the well and the choice of “destination” as simple as his own backyard.

Cultural affinities, common language, co-mingling and a long shared colonial history in the regions of today’s West Bengal, north-eastern India and Bangladesh (before the post-Independence political borders were formed) provide shared identities and thus a relatively strong bond between these rather poor and powerless border residents, especially when they have relatives living across the river, or their children attending school which stands in the political territory of the other nation. To these so-called “migrants” the notion of borders as international, national or local barriers is merely a symbol of power deeply entrenched in geopolitical disputes, and one that hinders the dynamic of their day to day lives.

Therefore, the people living at the borders, more than often people living hand to mouth, are found constantly toying with their lives (even to the extent of risking their lives) in an attempt to dismantle this barrier both physically and psychologically. In order to combat their dire poverty, adults as well as children are often drawn into rackets of bootlegging and human trafficking. The smuggling of goods – usually fish, oil, mobile handsets, soaps, fake currency metals and small arms from the Bangladeshi side and cattle, fruits, fertilizers, pesticide, salt, spices, sugar and “bidi” (hand rolled local cheap cigars) from the Indian side is rampant.

Along the porous borders of India and Bangladesh there are numerous shanties where prostitution is a roaring business. Minor Bangladeshi girls moreover are coerced into contractual marriages with the Indian farmers or sold as slaves by the poor Bangladeshi families. Driven by the need of survival, families at large and women and children specifically are subjected to rapes, murders, extortion, slavery and sexual abuse on a daily basis.

Furthermore, daily wage labourers are treated inhumanely and are subject to the whims and fancies of the border security personnel. For residents of these borderlands whose households, family ties, livelihoods, or even daily chores were disrupted all of a sudden by the Radcliffe Line, these are valid questions. These narratives hint/point towards the continuous plight of the residents, the volatility of their lives and violation of their basic human rights—those whose physical villages, communities or households straddle two nations while their basic needs as well as psychological needs transcend these artificially constructed geopolitical barriers.

Thus, while coming up with bilateral policies regarding the Bangladeshi migrants the Indian government as well as its Bangladeshi counterpart must factor in these sensitive issues. The region although divided by an international border has been historically, culturally, linguistically, quintessentially one; thus the people residing officially on either sides of the border are one—extremely close-knit and hard to break. In an attempt to escape poverty or sustain themselves borderland quotidian “migrants” will find a way to cut corners by resorting to illegal means supported by their vast migrant network—the local gangs, political parties, border security personnel and friends and kinship across the borders. If the States must break this vicious cycle and sincerely address this issue, it is imperative to factor in the migrant perspective.

Unmukta Sinha has previously interned with the Takshashila Institution

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