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Hilsa Diplomacy Vs Vaccine Diplomacy: India-Bangladesh Relations to Find Test of Time

Representative image of street in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Representative image of street in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

After the second Covid-19 wave hit India, the South Block decided to suspend vaccine exports to neighbouring countries while Bangladesh not keen to send hilsa to India in this season as of now.

It seems that the much-publicised India-Bangladesh ‘Golden Chapter’ period is fading considerably at the moment. About 16 Lakh people in Bangladesh are waiting for their second dose of vaccine from India as they had already taken the first dose sent from India. India said earlier it is not possible to send vaccines at this time.

According to Dhaka sources, anger over the issue is raging in that country. This is directly reflected in the context of Bengali’s favourite fish hilsa. Bangladesh had banned hilsa exports to India for some time now. Despite this, the Hasina government had given clearance for the export of 2,000 tonnes of hilsa to West Bengal during the Jamaisashti last year. But this year the case is different.

Some say it would not be wise to make such a simplification that the export of hilsa was stopped because the promised vaccine was not sent. But it is also true that the relationship between the two sides has become not so smooth with the hilsa-diplomacy is no longer there.

Hilsa is also a diplomatic symbol in the ups and downs of India-Bangladesh relations. Earlier, when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went to Dhaka to sign the land boundary agreement, she asked Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after seeing the huge amount of hilsa items in the menu list, why are they keeping so much hilsa? Hasina’s quick reply was, “As soon as the water of Teesta come, the fish will be able to swim away and go away!"

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Fishermen’s association saying that there is no reason to get frustrated now. From July 2012 to 2018, Bangladesh didn’t send hilsa. From 2019, it has started again with occasional purpose. In 2019 and 2020, fish has been supplied to the West Bengal market from Bangladesh in September.

Whatever the politics of vaccines, hilsa is growing well in Bangladesh this year and fishermen in India are optimistic about getting hilsa.

Atul Chandra Das, Secretory Fish Importer Association said, “In the last two years, 500 to 1,950 metric tonne of hilsa has been exported from Bangladesh to India. This year, the amount will increase. The price of Bangladesh hilsa is around Rs 800 to Rs 1,200. Additionally, fishes will come from Myanmar, Maharashtra and Gujarat. But obviously, the taste will be not good as Bangladesh."

According to Bangladesh sources, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke to the country’s top leadership during his visit to Dhaka in March on the issue of vaccination. But after the second wave of Covid-19 hit India, the South Block decided to suspend vaccine exports to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. On Sunday, June 20, India’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Vikram Doraiswami, said that the country is keen to resume the export of Covid-19 vaccines to Dhaka as soon as possible, but there is no word yet when it will resume the export.

Bangladesh had signed a deal in November with the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, for 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The country of more than 160 million people has already received 9 million vaccine doses from the SII. India has also previously gifted 2 million doses of the shot to Bangladesh. According to Bangladesh, after receiving so much assurance from India about the vaccine, interested China was sent back. Now, China has reached the point of bargaining with them.

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