The Islamist radical threat to stop Indian PM Modi from entering Dhaka on 26 March when he is guest of honour at the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh independence is the latest in the long sequence of organised trouble-making our country has witnessed in the last two years. PM Hasina’s government will doubtlessly resort to tough policing to foil this threat .
Just after India despatched vaccines, manufactured by its Serum Institute, to friendly neighbour Bangladesh, opposition parties in Dhaka sank in shock. A carefully developed social media and propaganda narrative that India will never provide Bangladesh with vaccines , like it has not signed the Teesta water-sharing agreement , just fell apart. The opposition eco-system, comprising of BNP and deregistered Jamaat-e-Islam and a host of fringe radical Islamists , swung back with innuendos and falsehoods to stoke another wave of vitriolic smear campaign on social media platforms.
“India is holding us guinea pig”, “Administration of Indian made vaccines would inject spy cams inside human body”, “Indian vaccine made up of water and cow urine”, are some of such pearls of wisdoms floated by a section of Islamist leaders turbo charged by covert Pakistan funding and moral backing , that started doing the rounds on Facebook and Youtube.. And as expected, they took aim at the Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina .
“Sheikh Hasina, with Indian vaccine, will cripple opposition activists”, pleaded Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a senior joint secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, at an event.
An array of other party leaders attempted to tear down the public image of Sheikh Hasina as the single most popular leader in Bangladesh and projected her as an Indian surrogate. They were joined in this by a section of civil society vendors and a handful of journalists in Bangladesh . The aim was to tear down projects meant for common public good of India and Bangladesh.
With an oblique reference of government’s turning down of Chinese Sino vac proposal from holding clinical trial, an editor of a Dhaka-based English daily, came down heavily on Facebook : “ India refuses to provide Corona vaccine when we cancelled other options”. Posted in the wake of a AP story that wrongly attributed an interview with Serum Instititue CEO to possible delay in the delivery of Vaccines abroad, the post by the editor — and many such by leading Opposition figures — stood out like sore thumbs when the Indian vaccines arrived.Angry Awami League netizens attacked these India-bashers , asking them to desist from taking Indian vaccines and leaving them for poor Bangladeshis who needed them most.
But there are some in the Bangladesh opposition eco-system who are shameless to continue India-bashing even when their arguments appeared undone by facts.
“It’s a husband wife relation. Pity the domestic violence”, commented Shahidul Alam on the India-Bangladesh relationship , his sarcasm counter productive because they were borne out by facts. In addition of a concerted government response, a timely counter offensive run by Awami League web team exposed the those misinformation campaign .
Even on 21st March, ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit slated for March 26, a fake declaration of a general holiday from March 26 ran rife on social media.
Interestingly, in the face of an outright rejection from the mainstream national outlets, social media platforms including Facebook and Youtube emerged as the last force multiplier option in this battle —the radical elements and their backers in political parties like BNP. started screaming “India will invade Bangladesh”.
A new phenomenon is discernible the last two years. Masquerading as journalists and true patriots—Kanak Sarwar, Mahmudur Rahman, once an advisor of the BNP led government back in 2001-06 , Retired Colonels Shaheed and Major Delwar— unleashed a smear and fake news campaign to bring down the regime on Youtube and Facebook . The extensive use of social media to fan hatred to incite communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in rural parts across the country was complemented by defaming secular bloggers by projecting them as atheists and tagging them with a systemic smear offensive against India.
Attacks on the minorities were controlled by tough policing but they continued to recur . A favourite social media smear was to fire some blasphemous material from mobile phones of Hindus and then using it to whip up a frenzy against them.
On the top of that virulent social media campaign, a violent agitation, defying the Covid guidelines, was started against installation of Mujib statues in his birth centenary on the plea that it was un-Islamic . Once that was controlled, the Islamists whipped up frenzy over events in France. But finally it was India , their favourite target, that figured prominently as the opposition eco-system turned on Indian vaccines . First they said the vaccines would never come but when they did, the smear turned on quality and adverse effects.
That overwhelming reliance on social media became apparent with the growing number of countryfolk entering social media owing to an electoral pledge of Digital Bangladesh made by awami league in 2008 that made accessible to internet cost effective more than ever. On another note, during Covid times, from school learning to mobile money transaction and to e health service devidends of Digital bangladesh paid off. In recent times India has become a hub of technological globalization. From hardware manufacturing to startup ecosystem, the country has achieved potential of surpassing other super powers like USA and China by 2031 in terms of GDP.
Moreover the vision of Digital Bangladesh was one of the boldest dream that we have already achieved in making a reality.
The architecture of digital Bangladesh consists four major pillars.
1. Industry Infrastructures with high-end technological facilities
2. Skilled, Equipped and Digital Ready Human Resources
3. Digital Connectivity reaching out the grassroots
4. Egovernance and Smart & accessible Public Services
Many government initiatives has grown into a national innovation ecosystem in the making eying for a national startup ecosystem with complete mapping in near future.
Here are the potential collaboration these two neighboring nations in following areas
1. Knowledge sharing between the academic institutions of Bangladesh and India on research and Studies of Frontier Technologies
India is the home of most of the world’s most successful IT CEOs , mostly graduates from IIT. On the other hand Bangladesh has already established a Digital University specialized on Technology based Unique sectors and has initiated the Plan on establishing a dedicated institution for Tech-entrepreneurs and Experts as Sheikh Hasina Institute of Frontier Technologies(SHIFT) integrating the Phenomenon based learning methodologies and lifelong learning platform alongside with frontier innovations such as: neurotechnology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, etc. which will have their own impact on the Global Economy in near future according to the new trends and waves of innovation and K-wave data. 2. Policy Level cooperation for building sustainable startup ecosystem for the youth Bangladesh government and private Industry has already marching forward to build an innovative environment as well as ensuring the availability of all the elements required to build a sustainable startup ecosystem in the country. Hi-Tech Parks, Software Technology Parks, iDEA Project, Startup Bangladesh Ltd, Digital Entrepreneurship and Innovation ecosystem development project are just some of the examples of government’s priority and seriousness regarding this sector. On the contrary, startup ecosystem established in Bangalore has made it’s own mark in global list of best ecosystems due to it’s policies and supports provided by Indian government. There are plenty of verticals where both nations can cooperate in terms of exchanging the experiences of youth entrepreneurs as well as policy level personals for building a cross border connectivity based startups ecosystem which eventually will help startups from both nations . 3. Preparing the Youth while facing the challenges of Global PandemicThe National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has already established e-skillindia.org platform in order to ensure virtual training and skill development opportunities for the working age population which already collaborated with Universities and institutions from the countries likes of UK for globally recognized and accredited professional courses. Bangladesh has also established National Skill Development Authority (NSDA) which is just getting started and still in it’s early days of executing such initiatives. Establishing a globally collaborated platform for preparing the youth from both nations might help these countries face the challenges of uncertain future. 4. Boosting up local manufacturing industry of Digital Device and Innovations of both nations is a distinct possibility.
India has become one of the major hubs of hardware manufacturing in recent time for global industry. Moreover, Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA) has been working on establishing specialized economic zones for Hi-Tech Industries throughout the nation focusing on the incentives and policy based supports such as: tax exemptions, Duty Free Import, etc. Provided by the government. Both nations are already collaborating on setting up 12 IT parks as well as creating Trainers and Skilled Human Resources through the BDSET project. This might open up a new door of partnership in establishing hi-end hardware manufacturing industries in Bangladesh as well as boosting up the local manufacturing sources of Indian Industry.
The Opposition and detractors of Hasina government try to project that Bangladesh’s IT industry can only grow at India’s expense. That is a misplaced perception , if not a deliberate spin . India is home to the best IT companies of Asia and if they move into Bangladesh big-time with large enough investments to take advantage of the IT resources created by the Digital Bangladesh campaign , developed assiduously under the guidance of PM’ Hasina’s son and IT adviser Sajeeb Wajed Joy, they will not only raise their own profit margins but also boost Bangladesh’s IT industry and exports. Bangladesh needs to diversify its economy by expanding the basket beyond garments and labour exports that boost foreign exchange remmitances. Indian technology and capital can create a win-win for both neighbours , one of the many examples of possible cooperation that can boost Indian and Bangladesh’s economy. The two neighbours are destined to grow together.
(Engineer Tonmoy Ahmed is member of science and technology sub committee of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League )