Foreign ties

View from Dhaka Tribune: India needs to keep Bangladesh on its side if it hopes to take on China

Bangladesh tends to lean towards India on most issues, but has not been treated the same by Delhi.

Given China’s aggressive and largely successful policy of expanding its sphere of influence among India’s neighbors, Bangladesh’s support for India stands in stark contrast to other countries in the region. Many Indian analysts think that Dhaka continues to maintain a delicate balance between Delhi and Beijing. In fact, it is widely held that Bangladesh tends to lean towards India on most issues because of the two countries’ proximity in geography and mindset, but is disappointed at not being treated the same way by Delhi.

The most glaring and recent example of this is the ongoing Rohingya crisis, which is nearing its sixth month.

These views were expressed during a discussion at the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi, on January 24. Dr Jonathan DT Ward, one of the leading experts on China, was the keynote speaker at the event.

Ward made an interesting prediction that day: “The 1962 war between China and India was fought on the Himalayan border, mainly in Arunachal. But if there is any future war between these two countries, it will be centred on the sea,” he said. “The China-India tension is gradually shifting towards the maritime domain, especially in the Indian Ocean Region.”

‘String of Pearls’

That China wants to surround India on South by establishing seaports in different countries is nothing new. Geopolitical experts often call it the “String of Pearls”, where the pearls stretch over the Strait of Malacca, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Pakistan, and even the Strait of Hormuz, all the way to Somalia.

Meanwhile, there has already been significant progress towards the establishment of a Chinese economic corridor passing through Pakistan. It will stretch all the way from China to the Gwadar port, situated on the Arabian Sea in the Balochistan province of Pakistan.

Another recent development is that China is likely to set up a military base in Jiwani, 85 km West of the Gwadar port. In that case, this will be the second Chinese military establishment on foreign soil after Djibouti.

It is therefore apparent that Pakistan, in a way, allows China to use its land the way it wants to. It is almost the same when it comes to Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives, and Myanmar. Bangladesh is the only exception to this trend.

Former Indian diplomat Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, also a former ambassador to China, said without hesitation: “The Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a cheque worth almost $26bn when he visited Bangladesh. Even then, it cannot be said that Dhaka has gone into China’s grip.”

He added: “Even after knowing that India cannot compete with China’s capacity for providing aid, the Sheikh Hasina led-government is still clearly leaning towards India.”

Rohingya response

Dasgupta admitted that India failed to fulfill Bangladesh’s expectations regarding the Rohingya crisis. He said: “We [India] have probably put too much importance on Myanmar’s feelings. Maybe India should have accorded a bit more importance to the arguments of the country bearing the burden of thousands of refugees.”

Former Indian foreign secretary and former Indian ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao Menon, admitted that India does not have same economic prowess to spend money the way China spends, whether as aid or investment, on Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

“But money is not everything in diplomacy – there are other means as well, which is called ‘smart diplomacy’,” said Rao, “In my opinion, India has only one way of stopping China’s increasing influence on South Asia – that is by implementing smart diplomacy.”

In private conversations, many Indian diplomats have expressed that it is not evident India has indeed implemented ‘smart diplomacy’ on the Rohingya issue.

But if one looks into China’s activities inside different Saarc countries in the last few months, it should not be difficult to understand why India should put more emphasis on Bangladesh’s India-leaning foreign policies.

It is not an exaggeration to say that China has surrounded India on all sides. China has made strong inroads in neighbouring countries other than Bhutan and Bangladesh, and India needs to address this trend sooner or later.

Retired brigadier Gurmit Kanwaal of the Indian Army now occupies the post of a senior fellow in Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, a strategic think tank in Delhi. He categorically said: “India has to militarily reach out to countries like Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Nepal – the same way it helped the Afghan army.”

Kanwaal also stressed that India has no other way to fight China’s increasing dominion over the neighbouring countries.

“For some reason, a ‘security vacuum’ has been created in the Indo-Pacific zone. China is trying its best to take advantage of it, and India has no other option but to make a counter-strategy.”

Similar warnings have been issued by Tibet’s exiled Leader (Sikyong), Dr Lobsang Sangay, to India. No other country has borne the brunt of China’s aggressive policy like Tibet has, so it is very important to evaluate the advice of the Tibetan leadership.

In a telephone call from his exiled government’s capital, Dharmashala, Dr Sangay said: “I think India needs to start being careful. China is trying to surround India by creating a circle from Pakistan to Nepal-Bangladesh-Burma (Myanmar)-Sri Lanka, and has succeeded in this to some measure. India has to find a way to get out of this circle.”

The summary of the advice from key observers, diplomatic and political, is that India has to be more responsive, careful, and sympathetic towards its neighbours. And in the centre of all the diplomatic missions should lie Bangladesh – India’s trusted and tested ally.

This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.


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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.