India vs Bangladesh. Bigger is not always better

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 17, 2020

Indian TV anchor Karan Thapar made a fascinating case the other day for big countries to show a bit of humility.

Ok, he didn’t really say that all big countries should be more humble. Just India. About Bangladesh.

Rather than believing Henry Kissinger’s 1970s’ guff that Bangladesh is “an international basket case”, India should inform itself about the true state of Bangladesh, Mr Thapar suggested.

The provocation was a recent comment by India’s junior home minister G Kishan Reddy. “Half of Bangladesh will be empty (vacant) if India offers citizenship to them,” Mr Reddy said. “Half of Bangladeshis will come over to India if citizenship is promised,” he added.

It was an ugly and offensive comment, especially about a neighbour, and worse, as Mr Thapar pointed out, it’s not even true.

This, for a number of reasons, which Mr Thapar goes on to explain:

  • • growth
  • • investment and exports
  • • life expectancy
  • • literacy
  • • health

On all of those fronts, Bangladesh, it turns out, is doing rather better than India. Bangladesh is growing at 8 per cent while India languishes at just over 5 per cent.

Bangladesh is attracting more foreign investment than India and its merchandise exports are growing steadily, while India’s are falling.

Bangladesh has higher life expectancy (71 years for men; 74 for women) than India (67 for men; 70 for women).

Bangladeshi babies and children have a better chance of life than those in India. Neonatal mortality is 17.12 per 1,000 live births in Bangladesh; in India it is 22.73. Infant mortality is 25.14 in Bangladesh; in India it is 29.94. Bangladesh’s under-five mortality is 30.16; India’s is 38.69.

Bangladeshi women have a better deal too than those in India. They are more literate – 71 per cent of women above the age of 15 than in India (66 per cent). Bangladeshi women are more able to be part of the labour force. Bangladeshi girls are more likely to be in high school.

One further comparison that Mr Thapar didn’t mention: Bangladesh appears to be playing its role as responsible world citizen rather better than India. Its response to uninvited migrants – the Rohingyas – stands in stark contrast to that of richer and bigger countries.