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Geo-strategic Role in South Asia

Veena Sikri

By David Lewis
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 233, Rs.395.00


As Bangladesh approached, and successfully crossed the 40-year milestone of its existence as an independent country, several non-Bangladeshi and expatriate-Bangladeshi authors have written comprehensively about this nation. Willem van Schendel wrote A History of Bangladesh in 2009 and S. Mahmud Ali wrote Understanding Bangladesh in 2010. And in 2011, David Lewis has written Bangladesh: Politics, Economy and Civil Society. These books do contribute towards overcoming the much-in-evidence information-gap about Bangladesh that exists outside South Asia. They are also a tribute to the increasing interest in Bangladesh that has resulted from its successes on several fronts. Considering the clichéd views the West has traditionally held about Bangladesh, it is not surprising that almost the first reassurance David Lewis gives to his readers is that Bangladesh should no longer be considered a ‘regularly “failing” State’1. The introductory write-up (prior to the title page) also describes the book as offering ‘an important corrective to the view of Bangladesh as a failed State’. Once again in the concluding chapter the author says that ‘it has become common to refer to Bangladesh as a failing State…’2. It redounds to Bangladesh’s credit that scholars like David Lewis, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who has spent two decades and more studying Bangladesh, has accepted the importance of bringing in this corrective through his 200-page bird’s eye view of the nation’s history, economy and contemporary politics. In his own words ‘an important aim of this book is to argue the case for Bangladesh’s importance, not only for its inhabitants and neighbours but also for the wider global community as a whole’3. The author seeks to explain the importance of Bangladesh, but this is largely from a western, non-South Asian perspective. He lists, in order of priority, Bangladesh’s importance as an emerging economy (they are now listed in the ‘Next 11’ after the BRICS economies) with valuable natural resources, particularly gas and coal reserves; as an ‘important focus for the international development industry’ in terms of the foreign aid it receives; as the ‘third most populous Muslim majority country in the world…a moderate majority Muslim democratic country…often favorably contrasted with Pakistan because it has maintained a reputation as a relatively tolerant society’4; and finally, as a nation facing serious environmental challenges, notably through the potentially adverse impact of climate-change related issues like sea-level rise. These issues are ...

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