(This is Part Four of a series that analyses the results of an ambitious survey conducted across India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to try and find out what citizens of the three independent sovereign republics think about each other, about the state of democracy in their country; about gender, religious and ethnic freedom; achievements and failures and about institutions, among others.)
Revisiting the past can trigger periodic bouts of nostalgia. It can also trigger wrenching nightmares of violence, loss, and worse. Both happen when one talks about the events 75 years ago when India emerged as an independent nation but paid a hauntingly heavy price for it.
Post Partition, Where Do These Nations Stand?
In an ambitious exercise, CVoter Foundation collaborated with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) to conduct a massive survey across the three countries.
Citizens in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh were asked a uniform set of questions that sought their opinion on key issues that matter. The responses reveal the opportunities policymakers have, to craft meaningful measures for mutual benefits and prosperity in the entire region. At the same time, they clearly show the roadblocks because of a fundamental lack of trust among these neighbours.
In of the series, the authors provided a bird’s eye view of the results of the survey. In this article, we primarily focus on what Indian citizens think about their separated siblings in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The results of the survey make two things very clear: Indians have a slightly favourable opinion of Bangladesh as a nation and its future and a poor one of Pakistan.
Can Indians & Pakistanis Call It a Truce?
Some civil society actors remain convinced that the goodwill between ordinary Pakistanis and Indians will eventually force the two to end their hostile approach towards each other.
They also indicate how the Pakistani and Indian diaspora is very friendly with each other in defense of their conviction. There was the case of Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar who openly supported Pakistan once India was knocked out of the Cricket World Cup in 1992. More recently, one has observed the mutual admiration between Indian cricketer Virat Kohli and Pakistani player Babar Azam.
But beyond these gestures, the reality is different. When asked if they would support a reversal of the partition of India, 44% of the respondents strongly supported the idea while 43% were vehemently opposed to it. As everyone knows, Bangladesh was East Pakistan till 1971, when culture and language triumphed over religion and the Pakistani Army failed to prevent the birth of a new nation despite mass atrocities and genocide.
Indians Respond to Probabilities of Reversal of Partition
When asked on the reversal of the partition of Pakistan and Bangladesh, 42% of the respondents in India supported the idea while 40% were opposed to it. Less than 1% of the respondents in India said that their parents (or grandparents) were born in Pakistan or Bangladesh. So, the weight of time and demography is ensuring that whatever remained of the “old ties” is dying out. Similarly, a meagre 2% of the respondents said they had relatives still living in Pakistan or Bangladesh.
The responses reveal two possible trajectories for the region. No one can dispute the historical fact that the geographical boundaries of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh and, even parts of Afghanistan to some extent, were part of a loosely structured ancient civilisation entity.
If leaders of the three countries display the required maturity and pragmatism, then South Asia could become a replica of ASEAN where South East Asian countries have mutually benefited and prospered via trade and other avenues of economic cooperation.
Why Is Pakistan in a Mess
Respondents were asked to rate the overall progress made by the three countries since the partition. About 40% of Indians felt that the performance of India was way better than expected while less than 10% thought that it was way below expectations.
The responses were dramatically different when it came to Pakistan. Slightly more than 5% of the respondents said the performance was way better than expected while more than 40% said it was way below expectations. The responses from Indian Muslims are significant. Close to 47% said they don’t know or can’t say anything about the issue, 8% rated the performance as way better than expectations while 28% said the reverse.
There was considerable ambivalence in the responses when it comes to Bangladesh. Close to 34% of the respondents stated they don’t know or can’t say anything about the issue; the figure for India was 3%. Given that, there is little doubt that Indians think more highly of Bangladesh than Pakistan. While 10 % said the performance was way better than expected, 18% say it was way below expectations. The difference in perceptions about Pakistan and Bangladesh is huge.
There are justified reasons for this. Till the end of the 1980s, Pakistan had a per capita income that was higher than that of India, and its currency was stronger in the international market. Bangladesh, of course, was considered a basket case in those days; perennially struggling with poverty, cyclones, and floods.
What is the ground reality today? To begin with, the Indian GDP is now more than 10 times larger than that of Pakistan. In terms of per capita income, not only has India bridged the gap but is racing ahead of Pakistan.
According to data available from the World Bank, the per capita income of India in purchasing power parity terms was USD 6390 in 2020 while it was USD 4770 for Pakistan.
The gap is likely to widen in near future. While India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, Pakistan struggles with economic bankruptcy and a perpetual foreign exchange crisis. Even the Indian rupee has fallen in value against the US dollar to Rs 83 in recent days and weeks.
The Pakistani Rupee, once valued higher than the Indian currency, is now Rs 221 to a dollar. After losing USD 100 billion in foreign exchange reserves in 2022, India still has reserves of USD 530 billion. In contrast, the total foreign exchange reserves with Pakistan hover around USD 8 billion. It is fortunate for Pakistan and its economy that the United States has, for whatever geo-strategic reasons, decided to “bail out” Pakistan at this critical juncture. The removal of the country from the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force will enable Pakistan to approach global financial institutions for more assistance, aid, and debt restructuring. Without that, it is a matter of time before Pakistan defaults on its debt obligations.
What Makes Bangladesh’s Model Successful
In contrast, there is a real reason that Indians rate the performance of Bangladesh quite highly. No doubt, the economy of Bangladesh is going through a “crisis” triggered by external factors like the massive oil price hikes caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the raising of interest rates by the US Federal Reserve.
But looking from a longer-term perspective, Bangladesh has delivered a mini economic “miracle”. Its per capita income according to World Bank estimates in 2020, was USD 5310, much higher than that of Pakistan. It has emerged as an export powerhouse in the region.
In 2021-22, as the global economy recovered from the catastrophic elects of the Covid pandemic, Bangladesh recorded ready-made garments exports of USD 42 billion, the largest in South Asia and largest than India. Not surprisingly, Bangladesh had foreign exchange reserves of USD 33 billion at the end of September 2022, compared to USD 8 billion in Pakistan.
Apart from that, Bangladesh has made tremendous strides in human development indicators and women empowerment through a highly successful micro-credit program for female entrepreneurs.
How the Trust Factor Between Neighbours Fares?
The yawning gap between Pakistan and Bangladesh can also be seen in the levels of trust Indians display for the two nations. In the case of Bangladesh, 9% of the respondents said they trust Bangladesh a lot while 37% said they don’t trust the country at all. If one adds the 41% who say they do trust Bangladesh a little, a near majority has a favourable perception of Bangladesh.
It is radically different for Pakistan. Just 3% of the respondents said they trust Pakistan a lot while 11% said they trust it a little. A huge majority of 78% of the respondents were categorical that they don’t trust Pakistan at all. The only other country that Indians do not trust is China (74%). Just about 4% of the respondents said they trust China a lot while 14% said they trust it a little. Both the United States and Russia are perceived favourably by Indians. While 22% said they trust the US a lot, 32% said they don’t trust it at all.
To conclude, Indians seem quite confident not just about the future of their own country but also about who plays the more important role in the Asian region. While 14% were of the opinion that China has the most influence in Asia, 33% say India has the most influence. America gets the nod from 15% while 11% is plump for Russia. Surprisingly, despite their oil revenue and the massive diaspora that works there, the so-called Middle East or West Asia gets just 4% of the vote.
Read the Part Three of the series here.
(Yashwant Deshmukh & Sutanu Guru are Editors-in-Chief & Executive Directors of C Voter Foundation and Rahul Verma is Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)