The termite syndrome

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Remittances sent mainly by migrant workers constitute the single largest source of foreign exchange of Bangladesh. (courtesy)

Bangladesh is used to being abused. It goes back all the way to 1971 when US leader Henry Kissinger declared, Bangladesh was going to be a “bottomless basket case.” The focus on the B was obvious. Instead of a state; it was going to be a begging bowl.  The famine of 1973 and the military takeovers that followed later didn’t all produce good news but things began to look better after the mid-80s. Bangladesh overcame the floods of 1988 without any famine as was forecast by many particularly Western experts. After 1990 economic acceleration and poverty reduction was rapid.

Since then things have looked up despite many stumbles and some very real structural flaws including corruption holding things back.

The Immigrant economy

However, Bangladesh has many positives now and international media is forever singing praise even undue ones occasionally. It has taken fifty years but it has left 1971 far behind. One of the reasons behind this movement from a Kissinger definition to the ones now popular , “a potential tiger” is emigration. Bangladesh has moved economically using its migrant economy and it is not a government sponsored one.

This is largely an informal sector and was almost a wild west in style before and remains much so now. Although the government now has a presence, it didn’t have so when it began. Thus it is socially located rather than official. It’s more of a regulator and not a contributor in capacity building which could add monetary value through more employment options abroad. It’s one of the most successful sectors of the economy and even during the Covid era provided the most cheerful news relating to the economy as remittances rose.

Migrants are also not of one kind. There are three broad categories though they overlap:

- Migrants to the West and Australia where they are mostly legal but some non-legal also are there. They go to settle and seek citizenship. They are not the largest sender of remittance.

- Migrants to the Middle East constitute the largest segment of migrants, the backbone of the sector. They also return home and invest it mostly locally.

- The third stream is the so called undocumented migrants which go everywhere but also to India, Malayasia, Myanmar and other places as well. These are people who can’t manage to go to the ME. Many return home but many also stay back there. Its obvious economics decides the homestead. It’s this lot that Indians call “termites” and trash them for political gain.

Indians have seen a political opportunity in the termites and used it frequently. The CAA was based on this issue. But till date, it has not yielded any significant political harvest. It even failed in West Bengal recently where most migrants go. “Termiting “has had little impact in Maharashtra as well where Shiv Sena reigns. However, this demonizing for political gain isn’t about to end soon. Migrants will go and Indians will also complain though the degree many vary.

China and India

India’s relationship with China is more complex as it is founded on the real issue of border conflict. India also sees China as its influencer rival in the region. In this regard, India has done poorly as almost every country in South Asia who were close to India have moved away and gone close to China. Pakistan of course has been enemy number one since its birth. So India is isolated in a region where it’s certainly the largest player. China has by default become part of the South Asian region and is exerting given its huge economic clout and its balancing option role vis-à-vis India.

What has however made the situation more difficult for India is the Covid. It managed the first surge for whatever reasons as did South Asia but its management capacity has been tested in the second surge and found extremely lacking. Uncharitably speaking, it’s become the global poster boy of inefficiency. India’s claim as the region’s leader is largely damaged. Enter China with its own version of the “termite” attitude towards India.

After China fired off a missile, it officially posted a contrasting set of images. It showed a funeral pyre overworking as it burns Indians and China rockets thrust fire.

Bloomberg reports, a social media post by China’s top law enforcement body juxtaposing the country’s successful launch of a module into space with grim cremation pyres in India was deleted after it sparked online criticism in China:

Photos of the Tianhe module launch and its fuel burn-off were compared with what appeared to be a mass outdoor cremation in India, and captioned “China lighting a fire versus India lighting a fire." The post on Saturday by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission on its official Sina Weibo account was accompanied by a hashtag noting that new Covid-19 cases in India had surpassed 400,000 a day.

Later that day, it could no longer be found. Many Chinese social media users expressed shock and anger at the insensitivity of the post.

China chortling at the Indian disaster is in bad taste but not any different from the Indian Home Minister calling Bangladeshis “termites” and other stuff. The level of international hostility is such that foul mouthing matters.

In case of China, some people had at least protested but in case of India’s name calling, it’s cheered by all and now an official policy.

Some Indians can’t understand why it isn’t popular in the region but the Chinese post should say clearly that in this world, everyone is someone else's termite. Whipping up jingoism has not served its purpose in India or elsewhere and if it wants to live as a regional leader, the mindset has to change but that seems some days to go.

  • China and India
  • The termite syndrome
  • The Immigrant economy

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