The IMF report has been very embarrassing for Modi ahead of the West Bengal Assembly elections in April next year
An Indian journalist friend of mine, in the early morning of October 14, sent me an economic chart where IMF showed that "India is set to slip below Bangladesh in 2020 per capita GDP."
Although the gap is marginal, it is a positive sign for Bangladesh. I could not, however, be personally overwhelmed by all these projections by organisations like the IMF and World Bank, because in mind, GDP growth means nothing it it does not translate to money in the pocket of ordinary people.
Before the end of the day, the news made a fuss all over India and it seemed as if the sky was falling on them. It was as if Narendra Modi had brought shame upon every Indian.
It seemed Indians can accept a lower per capita GDP from China and even Pakistan, but their global image is hurt when they are losing the race of growth to the poor neighbour Bangladesh.
BJP ministers, even the member of the civil society, have been saying for long that Bangladeshis are constantly migrating to India in search of bread and butter.
The State Minister for Home Affairs Kisan Reddy once said, in reference to the Citizenship Amendment Act, that if minorities in Bangladesh seek asylum, they will get citizenship in India, but this opportunity has not been kept for Muslims because in that case half of the country's population would migrate to India.
This time, while discussing the GDP debacle, they did not speak harshly about Bangladesh, but media personalities and popular YouTubers from the neighbouring land hummed a sad tune. All of them appeared to be saying "it is okay that the economy fell, but why is it worse than Bangladesh"?
Some of them even openly praised the progress of Bangladesh but could not hide their agony of falling behind us. Similar anger was found in the Indian's voices when India could not reach the quarter-finals of ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 following a five-wicket defeat to Bangladesh.
Some also recalled the sad wound of Bangladesh's 3-wicket victory over India in the Under-19 Cricket World Cup in February this year. When the Bangladesh cricket team defeated Pakistan in their first World Cup match in 1999, Pakistan did the same as India is doing now with Bangladesh.
Pakistan's frustration with Bangladesh's progress has now subsided. They have acknowledged that under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has long been ahead of Pakistan in almost all sectors.
For the past few months, some media outlets have been critical of Modi's foreign policy, stating that Bangladesh is leaning towards China without paying attention to India. On the other hand, even though the pro-Modi media has published this news, economists analytically reminded that Bangladesh, a small economy, is not yet ready for an economic race with India.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi's tweet has let down the Modi government even more. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "Solid achievement of 6 years of BJP's hate-filled cultural nationalism: Bangladesh set to overtake India."
Let's see what the IMF forecast was. According to the IMF's World Economic Outlook (WEO) report, India's per capita GDP is likely to slump 10.3 per cent to $1,877 — the lowest in four years — due to the sharp economic contraction following the strictest nationwide lockdown in the world.
Bangladesh, on the other hand, is expected to see its per capita GDP growth in the dollar by four per cent to $1,888. However, the IMF projected that India will again surpass Bangladesh in 2021 and again in 2024 Bangladesh is forecast to surpass India with nominal per capita GDP.
If the IMF's forecast is correct, India will be slightly ahead of Pakistan and Nepal in terms of per capita GDP. As such, Bangladesh will move ahead of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Afghanistan in South Asia. Bangladesh is behind Sri Lanka and the Maldives.[a1]
Indian analysts cited two reasons behind the decline in per capita GDP. One is the cancellation of big currency notes in November 2016 while the other is the weak management of the government in dealing with Covid-19 crisis, especially the unplanned lockdown.
Bangladesh has been consistently doing well in GDP for the last few years. It is not true that the Indian economy has lagged behind Bangladesh because of the novel coronavirus. Even in a forecast two years ago, it was said that Bangladesh will go ahead of India.
Bangladesh was ahead of India in all major indicators such as global hunger index, gender development index, world happiness index, immunisation, infant mortality, etc. And India was ahead in only two indicators — per capita income and human development indicators.
If India falls behind in per capita income to Bangladesh at the end of the year, it will be an acheivement for Bangladesh. In particular, the way the Indian media projects Bangladesh will hopefully stop a bit. Of course, I do not see this as a fault of the Indian media. Just think of yourself - how much do you care about the poor neighbour next to your house? If you want to get noticed, you have to stand on your own feet first.
Indian opinion-makers themselves are now realising that the dynamics of the relations of the two neighbours should change Well-known journalists like Shekhar Gupta suggested India respect its neighbours, including Bangladesh, and to acknowledge that Bangladesh was leaving India behind.
Gupta reminded the Modi government of how Bangladesh had supported India in its troubles with Pakistan and how it had "beautifully and marvelously" assisted the fight against terrorism by handing over separatists of seven eastern states.
In my view, the IMF report has been very embarrassing for Modi ahead of the West Bengal Assembly elections in April next year. In West Bengal, there is a fear that Muslims will not vote for the BJP, so they are trying to unite Hindus.
They want to take over the state at any cost by playing the 'Bangladesh card', creating Hindutva in West Bengal. BJP's West Bengal president Dilip Ghosh is still saying, "One crore illegal Bangladeshis will be sent back."
By introducing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and labelling Bangladesh as a country persecuting Hindus, they were eager to grant citizenship to non-Muslims of Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, on the other side, this year Bangladesh has allowed the export of 1,500 tonnes of Hilsa to India, a favourite fish of Bengalis. Last year it was only 500 tonnes. Sheikh Hasina has sent Jamdani and Sandesh to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as a gift on the occasion of Durga Puja.
Personally, I think there is nothing for Indians to worry about with the IMF projection and I do not see anything for Bangladeshis to be overjoyed about with a very small gap. Bangladesh still has a long way to supersede India. As a big country with a huge population, India is ahead of us in many fields, especially in technical educations and medical services.
Anis Alamgir is a journalist and columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org