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Subir Bhaumik
Monday , July 29, 2013 at 15 : 22

Bangladesh 'most trusted' by Indians


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Guess the country Indians trust the most - surely not where they prefer to travel for higher education or health care or with whom they trade most.

A recent survey on foreign policy issues indicates most Indians trust neighbour Bangladesh the most. And not unexpectedly, Pakistan the least.

The CNN-IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker Survey, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, has revealed that while 37 per cent of India's voters feel that relations with neighbours have improved under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's UPA coalition government, only 19 per cent disagreed with the proposition.

When asked which countries should India either trust a 'great deal' or 'somewhat', 48 per cent chose Bangladesh while 46 percent picked Russia.

This is somewhat surprising considering that leading Indian parties like the biggest Opposition BJP have run a persistent campaign about illegal migration from Bangladesh and previous governments in that country have been accused of sheltering insurgents and religious radicals who attacked targets in India.

Even now the BJP and some regional parties like Asom Gana Parishad and Trinamool Congress are opposing a bill to be placed in the Parliament by the UPA government to formalise the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh.

Not to speak of the anti-Bangladesh tirade that often surfaces in Assam and other northeastern states on the issue of illegal migration and leads to considerable violence against settlers of East Bengali origin.

India's former ambassador in Bangladesh Deb Mukherjee feels this has much to do what the Hasina government has done for India in the last five years.

"I think this has much to do with the way Bangladesh has addressed India's security concerns very comprehensively in the last five years. Unlike during previous regimes, when insurgents from northeast India found sanctuary in Bangladesh," Mukherjee told the Hindu.

He said public attitudes are often shaped by recent memory rather than by history , which may explain why so many Indians feel Bangladesh can be trusted .

Mukherjee also felt many Indians may be suffering from a 'sense of guilt '.

"I am speculating that this could also be a result of a sense of guilt because India has not delivered what India should have delivered on and reciprocated, be it on Teesta waters or the land boundary agreement," Mukherjee said.

There is also a growing recognition that Bangladesh has performed well on social indicators and even its economy is doing rather well.

While India's rupee has fallen from 47-48 to 59-60 for a dollar, Bangladesh's Taka has appreciated from 84 to a dollar to 77 a dollar in a year's time.

For the first time in its independent history, Bangladesh has a current account surplus of $2.57 billion , while India's current account is woefully in the red.

And against all expectations, Bangladesh is on course to achieve its 2015 UN millennium goals in poverty alleviation two years before time within 2013.

In their recent book, An Uncertain Glory, economists Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have noted that India has a lot to learn from Bangladesh in human development index.

Bangladesh is ahead of India and other South Asian countries in most of the criterion used to judge the human development index.

Former Secretary (East) in India's ministry of external affairs Rajiv Sikri has publicly called Bangladesh "India's most important neighbour' during a recent conference in Kolkata.

Russia ranks a close second among partners India should have trust in, according to the survey.

Anuradha Chenoy, professor at the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and a Russia expert, recounted that this trust had 'wavered' after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Sections of the middle class, and the strategic elite, begun having aspirations that they should only go with the US. But after ten years of the strategic partnership with US, and its attitudes on a range of issues, there is a renewed faith in old partners, in Russia, and in the South-South framework."

This, she added, did not mean a reversal to 'Cold War politics', but an 'independent foreign policy'.

54 per cent of the respondents said India should have 'no trust at all' in Pakistan, while only 14 per cent said there should be a 'great deal' or some trust in the country.

These findings come soon after a poll done by the Australia-India Institute and the Low Institute for International Policy, which said that 94 percent of Indians see Pakistan as a threat, while 78 per cent see it as a major threat.

But their study also showed that 89 percent believe that ordinary people in both countries want peace. So there's an window of opportunity to use -- people-to-people contact may help.

China draws mixed response in CNN-IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker Survey, in a reflection of the relationship of competition and co-operation New Delhi shares with Beijing. 33 per cent of the respondents felt India should have trust in China, while 31 per cent believed there should be 'no trust at all' in Beijing.

That should mean there is a window of opportunity to improve relations with China , specially if India reacts positively to Li Keqiang's 'handshake across the Himalayas' and work on specific proposals like developing the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) economic corridor .

"This indicates that while there are sections pandering to jingoism about China, there's equal or more people in India who believe the two Asian giants can develop a great future relationship.

This could also be the result of the growing disillusionment with US, a strategic partner of India but with whom relations have plummeted on a host of controversial issues.


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More about Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC correspondent and author of 'Insurgent Crossfire' and 'Troubled Periphery' . He is a former Queen Elizabeth House Fellow at Oxford University and an Eurasian Fellow at Frankfurt University.
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