Bangladesh is a puppet of India

Between “Big Brother” and older brother

India finds it difficult to cope with its role as a regional superpower. Ruthless cultural and economic dominance goes hand in hand with political clumsiness, which is an expression of one's own insecurity.

On April 15, Bangladeshi border troops occupied a village in the northeast of the country that forms one of the 111 “provisional” Indian enclaves on its territory (Bangladesh has 50 enclaves on Indian soil). Two days later, an Indian border guard company crossed the border several hundred kilometers to the west, apparently for the purpose of punitive action. She was ambushed. When the Bangalans returned the bodies of the fallen Indian soldiers a few days later, India was horrified to discover that they were not killed in battle, but were instead killed by head shots fired at close range. The bodies also showed signs of torture. Villagers brought a survivor across the border by tying his hands and feet to a pole like a game that had been killed.

Differences in size

A few months earlier, just before Christmas, serious unrest had suddenly broken out in Nepalese cities near the Indian border, which quickly spread to the whole country. The targets were shops run by Indians or those selling Indian goods - above all music cassettes and videos from popular “Bollywood” films - on the shelves. Everything that looked like Indian origins, from company names with an Indian sound to cars to hotels, was the object of arson and looting. What happened? A Nepalese television channel reported that India's superstar Hrithik Roshan had made disparaging remarks about Nepal. It quickly turned out that Roshan hadn't said anything like that, but the rumor alone had been enough to freak thousands of young Nepalese.

Both reactions are examples of the difficult relationship India has with its neighbors. The most important hurdle is the sheer size differences that make normal neighborhood relationships between equals difficult. India's size exceeds the total area of ​​the other states by three times or, if you exclude Pakistan, even ten times. The situation is similar with the population distribution: the neighbors reach a third of the Indian population. There are also geographic constants. The Indian triangle forms the center of the subcontinent, and the other countries are on the periphery. With the exception of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, this also entails large mortgages for these countries. Bangladesh lies in the delta of rivers that flow from India and over the regulation of which it has no influence. Nepal is a country with no direct access to the sea, and its only non-Indian neighbor is China, separated by the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau; Bhutan is also a landlocked country and is even more oriented towards India.

Size and location also form the prerequisites for a dominant Indian economy. The demographic weight allows India a market size that puts the others in a one-sided dependency. India's gross domestic product, at just under $ 500 billion, is four times as large as that of its neighbors combined. With the exception of Pakistan, the Indian rupee is an accepted currency in all countries. Historical and cultural factors that have hitherto prevented a certain symmetry of relationships from developing are of particular importance. Two countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan, had once been part of a common country called India. They are still connected today through language and numerous other forms of culture. The same is true for Nepal and Sri Lanka. Nepal is the only Hindu kingdom in the world and its elites are ethnically related to India. It is similar with the Tamils ​​and Sinhalese. Both groups immigrated from India and took with them religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism that are rooted in India. Although Bhutan was not part of India, it was a protectorate for a long time - a status that has not yet been completely abandoned.

India could undoubtedly clarify its neighbors' relationship if its weight were accompanied by appropriate self-confidence. But this is by no means the case. The country has a strong cultural dynamic. This is hardly surprising given this mixture of youth and ancient civilization. It expresses itself particularly in the classical forms of music and dance, especially in their mediation through the cinema. This transports forms of behavior and values ​​that lead to new identification patterns across borders. At the same time (and mostly unconsciously), however, they are also perceived as a threat to or violation of traditional patterns. According to a Nepalese journalist, the riots in Nepal show that the identification with the film hero Hrithik also expresses one with his big brother India, which then turns into violence against everything Indian when this "love" is apparently rejected.

It is symptomatic that India is rarely able to give this positive feedback. According to cultural sociologist Ashis Nandy, India has the psyche of a vulnerable giant. Instead of recognizing its dominance, it is surrounded by small and unpredictable envious people who paralyze the Gulliver with pinpricks and nets thrown everywhere. Following the incidents on the India-Bangladesh border, which were finesse defused by the governments of the two countries, Indian press organs claimed that Bangladesh had never dared to make a military advance into Chinese territory. But the whole world knows about India, said the newspaper “Times of India”, that it is a “soft state” that can be moved around with impunity. The virulence of the political struggle in a poverty-stricken democratic society makes India feel under siege; it is a country with - according to the title of Naipaul's book - "a million revolts".

Hindu fears

But there are also specific historical experiences that explain this sensitivity. In Sri Lanka, its much smaller neighbor to the south, India suffered a military setback in 1989 because it shrank from pretending to be a great power. Relations with Pakistan are even more important. Despite repeated military victories, India has not been able to shake off this shadow, not least because Islamabad in Kashmir is successfully practicing a strategy of "a thousand small stabs". The corresponding anxiety syndromes are particularly virulent among the radical Hindus. Many of them still carry the colonial trauma of inferiority with them and turn it against the Islamic specter. For them, Bangladesh is not a weak neighbor, but one that viciously exports its (Muslim) surplus population to India in order to put the Hindus in a minority in the long term; and it is one of the neighboring countries that Pakistan has chosen to bring down the giants with acts of sabotage and the support of rebels.

It is consistent with this logic that such a lack of self-confidence often results in violent and thoughtless reactions. Beyond the border posts, the contradicting signals are immediately read as arrogance. During the drama of the (suspected) massacre of the Indian border guards, a television commentator escaped the question of why India continues to hold on to Sheikh Hasina (the Bangladeshi Prime Minister) if she is behaving in such a hostile manner. It sounded like Hasina was a puppet in the hands of Delhi. Although not meant in that way, the question in Bangladesh was immediately interpreted as an expression of a hegemonic power that can easily replace the prime minister of a neighboring state. The older brother, who is still a positive leading figure in the family-conscious South Asian society, was only the “Big Brother”.