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New Delhi: G. Kishan Reddy’s statement Sunday when he said that “half of Bangladesh will be empty if India starts granting citizenship”, is indicative of the short-sighted and dated perception of a country whose economy has grown in leaps and bounds.

Reddy is not alone in the belief that Bangladesh is still stuck in a time, marked by low growth, fewer jobs and a steady outflow of people.

Home Minister Amit Shah has on several occasions referred to Bangladeshi migrants as “termites” and “infiltrators”.

“The illegal immigrants are like termites. They are eating the grain that should go to the poor, they are taking our jobs. The T of TMC stands for Tushtikaran of Bangladeshi infiltrators, (appeasement), M for Mafia and C for Chitfunds,” Shah had said in April last year in an attack on Mamata Banerjee’s ruling Trinamool Congress party in West Bengal.

This assumed line of attack has persisted despite Bangladesh’s ministers calling to attention that Bangladesh is “no longer a poor country” and has a GDP growth forecast of 7.4%, which is higher than India’s 6.1%.

“This (the image of a poor Bangladesh) is a legacy of the past, when Bangladesh was struggling and the economy was not doing well. They suffered a destructive war (and other devastating situations),” a former high commissioner to Bangladesh told ThePrint.

“But over the years, particularly under Sheikh Hasina, they’ve done well on the economic front. So, in the last 20 years or so, they’ve come out of that kind of the economic mess.”

ThePrint takes a look at this history to understand the events that might have spurred this image of Bangladesh and why it has persisted in our political rhetoric.

Also read: Bangladesh is booming and here’s why — PM Sheikh Hasina explains

War-stricken and famine-hit

“The history of Bangladesh’s economy starts in the 1960s, where the then East Pakistan’s economy grew by an annual average rate of around 4 per cent,” researchers Umme Humayara Manni and Munshi Naser Ibne Afzal note in their paper, Effect of Trade Liberalization on Economic Growth of Developing Countries: A Case of Bangladesh Economy.

The GDP per capita growth fluctuated heavily during these years. Then came the 1971 Liberation War, which would result in the independence of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. A fifth of the country’s economy was destroyed leading to a year marked by a high rate of inflation, almost zero-level productivity and domestic savings, characteristic of a conflict-stricken economy.

On a slow road to recovery, the country was once again struck by tragedy, this time in the form of the famine of 1974. From April to July that year, parts of Bangladesh were ravaged by heavy rainfall and floods, which affected the rice fields. This, coupled with low food grain availability in the preceding year, led to the deaths of about 15,00,000 people.

According to the World Bank’s data, the GDP per capita growth fell to -5.9% while the average inflation rate touched an all-time high of 80.57%.

The out-migration rates remained high during the war of 1971 and the famine of 1974. About 1,00,00,000 migrants are said to have entered India illegally during the war of 1971, with several settling in the states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya.

The trend continued through the 1980s and into the early 2000s. A report by the Task Force on Border Management under Madhav Godbole in 2000 pegged the number of undocumented Bangladeshis at 1,50,00,000.

However, the 2011 census indicated a fall in the number of migrations from Bangladesh. Contrary to the period between 1992 and 2001 during which 280,000 migrations were reported, 172,000 cases of migration were reported during 2002 -2011.

Also read: BJP gets a reason to cheer CAA in Bengal — thanks to Bangladesh

Among the ‘least developed’ countries

In the years between 1971 and 1985, the GDP grew from $8.752 billion to $22.278 billion. Then from 1987, trade liberalisation policies started being actively pursued in Bangladesh. The reforms, which largely took place under the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, included the “opening up of trade in many restricted items, rationalization and diminution of import tariffs, and liberalization of foreign exchange regime”.

“GDP per capita has been increasing since pre-liberalization period and continuing to move at a faster rate up to now. Besides, FDI and remittances show a high growth rate in the post-liberalization period. Both exports and imports have increased noticeably since liberalization, with imports rising faster than exports in the period immediately after liberalization,” Manni and Afzal highlight in their paper.

Despite the steady growth, it took Bangladesh 43 years (from 1975) to shrug off the ‘least developed status’ as it fulfilled the eligibility criteria for the first time in 2018. At the centre of the country’s growth story was its garment industry.

In the 20 years after 1987, Bangladesh became the second-largest apparel exporter, with the industry accounting for 80 per cent of the country’s exports and “nearly a quarter of its GDP”. Conditions at the 4,560 garment factories, however, were abysmal because of the poorly-constructed factories. The poor conditions also meant that labour was dirt cheap, making it an attractive option for countries looking to outsource.

The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, in which 1,134 workers died, that’s considered the worst accident ever to have occurred in the garment industry, led to a seismic shift. The government now began forcing companies to prioritise the safety of workers, their efforts culminating in the creation of the Accord on Fire.

Regardless of these measures, the image of a Bangladesh where workers work in destitute conditions remains.

How Bangladesh infiltrated our political discourse

The idea of a poverty-stricken Bangladesh and its “infiltrating migrants” have consistently featured in local elections in India. The topic keeps rearing its head in the political discourse of the North-Eastern region and West Bengal.

“This kind of rhetoric, it happened earlier also. In West Bengal, the Muslim migrants were allowed to stay on and the local politicians helped them on the understanding that they would vote for them. So that kind of a nexus continues till date,” said a former high commissioner to Bangladesh.

The issue was a hot topic in the 2006 Bengal elections as Mamata Banerjee had resigned from her Lok Sabha seat the year before, demanding a discussion on illegal migrants being settled in the state.

“Illegal migrants from Bangladesh are also part of the voters’ list in West Bengal. The state government has done nothing about it. Therefore, the issue must be discussed,” Banerjee had said at the time.

Late CPI(M) leader Somnath Chatterjee, who was the Lok Sabha Speaker then, had refused a discussion.

Six years later, in the 2011 elections, Banerjee once again raked up the issue in the poll campaign. That’s the year she defeated the Left and removed its 34-year-old government from West Bengal.

As West Bengal CM today, she has now taken a U-turn on the matter and openly challenged the BJP’s narrative.

What lives on is the picture of an impoverished Bangladesh and its citizens.

Also read: BJP wants to segregate Assamese Muslims from Bangladeshi Muslims, but some ask how


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19 Comments Share Your Views


  1. I reckon it helps to offload 4 – 6 million of your extremely poor population to a neighboring country in boosting GDP rate. This article is nothing but another diversonary tactic to take take focus off the issue that BJP is finally trying to address: a legal process for illegal immigrants displaced by violence or sneaking into India due to famines or floods since the 1960s. If Bangladesh is so good and affluent now, why don’t they take back their citizens without asking India to prove that they are Bangladeshis? BJP is stuck in the past, because successive imbecile Congress governments always had one solution to this problem: illegally convert illegally into vote banks. They will be indeed stuck in past if they have to solve a 50 year old problem that imbeciles had chosen not only to ignore but actively tried to justify their treason by flowery articles like these.

  2. The facts always speak for themselves, the GDP growth rate of Bangladesh is close to 8, and India’s is probably below 4. The fact is the government of India is secretive and not telling the truth. It’s not just GDP growth rate though, Bangladesh is overtaking India in every criteria and benchmark. This will continue as Bangladesh builds its social and physical infrastructure. It’s no Utopia and has a lot of issues, but we are not comparing Japan with Bangladesh. We are comparing India with Bangladesh. There’s isn’t much difference in terms of the characteristics of the people’s and their origin. However, what Bangladesh has over India is homogeneity and a fairer distribution of wealth, I said fairer not fair! It doesn’t have the disgusting plague of caste, the petty rivalries between different ethnicities and it has history.

    Bengal was the richest part of India, that’s why the british came there. The division of Bengal separated the country – its capital city and its majority population. It took a long time to get over that, and now Bengal is back on track, from here on in things will get better. I can’t say the same about India, with the BJP in power, India is obsessed with protecting hindusim, protecting cows, finding medical cures in cow urine and being a super power. A super power that doesn’t even have electric power for millions never mind toilets.

  3. Instead of criticising Bangladesh, you dirty unhygienic and filthy indians need to build toilets instead of soiling yourselves out in the fields. If india is such a wealthy nation, then how come around 22% of its population live below the poverty line( which is more than twice the population of Bangladesh ). You guy’s talk about illegal Bangladeshis around the world, yet there are illegal indians living around the world. In the UK , for example, there are some illegal indians workng in shops etc.

  4. Indian is poorer country it’s life expectancy is 4 years less and Indian under 5 mortality rate is 10 higher then Bangladesh. Indian childrens are more malnourished and lacking behind in most health and education sector. I know what country can provide better life and health that money can’t buy out of this two countries so India please stop living in the passed as a small country like Bangladesh has over taking you with blink of an eye and the margins will get wider with passing days. Look how far Bangladesh has left Pakistan behind in everything after years of Pakistan looking down at Bangladesh and it’s happening same to India.

  5. Your Minister ‘Kishan’ is really a ‘kishans of the lowest order”. As the name translates — he is an illiterate farmer that has no clue on the situation in Bangladesh. It’s rhetoric like this that angers Bangladeshis. Does he know that there are essentially hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals working in good paying jobs in Bangladesh, and there has been outcry on why this should continue. This will only amplify such demands and contribute to bitterness among its people.
    And for all practical purposes, Bangladesh is not stopping anyone who wants to go to India. He forgets that even the Bangladeshis involved in questionable businesses in the border are often shot dead by Indian Border guards without any questioning. Just google this subject and you will get all of the evidences that you will need. Bangladeshis still hold the killing of “Felani” at heart.
    As the last and recently deceased Ambassador of Bangladesh Mr. Muazzem Ali said at his farewell speech in Delhi that “Bangladeshis would rather swim to Europe than go to India”. He was right. Ironically, the Ambassador was given one of the highest awards of India, which defies logic and proves that the one hand of Indian Administration does not know what the other hand is doing!

  6. Again another bengali flaunting the country from whom our forefathers fled..i seriously can’t understand what these seculars crave for bangladesh….indian gdp is 10 times and per capita of india is 20% more than bangladesh…besides in any sector u can’t just compare both the countries…we are reaching space and moon, doing defence expo..and bangladesh still doesn’t have a metro system running…

    • While India and Pakistan keeps on fighting with each bangladesh is leaving both so called big Borthers way behind in every way possible. With a population of 1.3 billion and 203 million people respectively both countries still can’t figure out what’s happening to their own country or what’s going on in their neighbouring country.

  7. And yes, showing one main street in Dhaka as a symbol of prosperity doesn’t cut the ice. It is like showing a picture of the Rajpath in New Delhi in 1950 and claiming India to be developed back then.

  8. First of all, the growth rates of an economy that is probably smaller than a tenth of the Indian economy cannot be compared with that of the Indian economy. A smaller economy should grow much much faster than a much larger economy. Secondly, East Bengal (what you call as Bangladesh) is the real “Sonar Bangla” in Tagore’s poetry for it is endowed with immensely fertile land. Remember it is sitting on the largest delta of the world. With that kind of natural resources where your farmers hardly have to toil to grow a crop, that country should have progressed by leaps and bounds. Remember, the original landowners of that region were immensely rich but they were driven away during the Partition. Those that were driven away were owning almost 75 – 80 percent of the land. It is the ineptness of the current landowners that they have taken such an enormously long time to develop to the current levels. They should have been the most prosperous people in the subcontinent. But they are not!

    Look at their healthcare setup. Their people flood the Indian medical setup. You go to any of the top hospitals in Bangalore and you find these guys over there swarming the place. If they start speaking, their accent tells you where they are from. Technology – the least said the better. Education – they send their kids to India in hordes for higher studies. So on what parameter are they advanced? They have every reason to infiltrate India for better opportunities.

    Your thesis is factually incorrect. They may have progressed far from where they were in 1947, but given their abundant natural resources that place should have been a haven of prosperity, as it was before 1947. At that time, Bengal was the most prosperous British controlled state in the whole country. The only state comparable to that was the State of Mysore, but that was under the Mysore Maharajah and was not British controlled. And ya! The famines in Bengal? They were all British engineered. No marks for guessing that.

  9. 3 time meal still a luxury most of indian states,ADB’s report shows Bangladesh is growing richer at a faster rate than India. Dharavi is a locality in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, considered to be one of the world’s largest slums. Dharavi has an population of about 700,000.Those five northern Indian states account for 45% of the country’s households without a toile

  10. I have seen Bangladeshi women cleaning the sewer drains in Calcutta. Any building site you visit, you will see many illegal Bangladeshi men. Their women change their names and work as maids in Hindu families.

    • India is obsessed with protecting hindusim, protecting cows, finding medical cures in cow urine and being a super power. A super power that doesn’t even have electric power for millions never mind toilets.

  11. Every country in Europe has thousands of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. As far back as South Africa, illegal Bangladeshis are there. This is not a sign of a developed country as the author would make us believe.

  12. “This kind of rhetoric, it happened earlier also. In West Bengal, the Muslim migrants were allowed to stay on and the local politicians helped them on the understanding that they would vote for them. So that kind of a nexus continues till date,” said a former high commissioner to Bangladesh.

    This is an amazingly candid high commissioner! Certainly more honest than most of the opposition and nearly half our our mainstream media!

  13. Amidst this flurry of numbers, I have a question to this eminent writer who glorifies Bangladesh – Why does even a far off place like Bengaluru still has thousands of Bangladesh Muslim immigrants? Why aren’t they going back to their land of milk and honey? Why isn’t Bangladesh generally inviting its people spread out in India, to return to their promised land? Bangladesh has been frequently referred to as Kangladesh, with justification.

    • 3 time meal still a luxury most of indian states,ADB’s report shows Bangladesh is growing richer at a faster rate than India. Dharavi is a locality in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, considered to be one of the world’s largest slums. Dharavi has an population of about 700,000.Those five northern Indian states account for 45% of the country’s households without a toile

  14. No, the BJP guys aren’t actually stuck in the past; talking about Muslims is their way of evoking the emotions of bigot Hindus, their number isn’t small, with a view to polarise them and obtain their votes.

    This is just Vote getting tool for the party.

    • Hi, Keep BJP & religion away & look at this issue as an Indian. Are you saying that there are NO illegal immigration problem in India? Some data which I have seen in internet reveals that anything between 200 to 500 people from Bangladesh leave their country every day. Some of them come to India. What do we do?


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