GHOJADANGA (India)/ DHAKA • Some 30,000 Indian soldiers guarding the border with Bangladesh have a new mandate under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government this year: Stop cattle from crossing illegally into the Muslim-majority neighbour.
Roughly every other night, troops armed with bamboo sticks and ropes wade through jute and paddy fields and swim across ponds to catch ageing bovines, and smugglers, headed for markets in Bangladesh.
The crackdown is one of the clearest signs yet of how Indian policies, increasingly influenced by Hindu nationalist ideology, are having an economic impact on neighbouring countries as well.
About 2 million head of cattle are smuggled into Bangladesh annually from India.
The US$600 million (S$809 million)-a-year trade has flourished over the past four decades and is considered legal by Dhaka.
Mr Modi's government, which came to power with the help of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, wants to put an end to it.
Interior Minister Rajnath Singh travelled this spring to the frontier with Bangladesh, calling on India's Border Security Force (BSF) to halt cattle smuggling completely so that the "people of Bangladesh give up eating beef", as reported by the media at the time.
"Killing or smuggling a cow is equivalent to raping a Hindu girl or destroying a Hindu temple," said Mr Jishnu Basu, a Rashtriya Swa- yamsevak Sangh spokesman in West Bengal, which shares a 2,216km border with Bangladesh.
So far this year, BSF soldiers have seized 90,000 cattle and caught 400 Indian and Bangladeshi smugglers.
Bangladeshi traders who operate auctions to facilitate the sale of cattle to slaughter houses, beef processing units, tanneries and bone crushing factories estimate the industry contributed 3 per cent to the country's US$190 billion economy.
The hit to gross domestic pro-duct from India's policies is not yet known. But Mr H.T. Imam, a political adviser to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said there was "absolutely no doubt" that the beef trade and leather industry were suffering.
Mr Syed Hasan Habib of Bengal Meat, Bangladesh's top beef exporter, said it had to cut international orders by 75 per cent. The company exports 125 tonnes of beef a year to Gulf countries.
He said the price of cows had gone up by 40 per cent over the past six months because of India's move, and they had been forced to close two processing units.
Bangladesh Tanners Association president Shaheen Ahmed said 30 out of 190 tanneries had suspended work due to lack of hides, and about 4,000 workers were jobless.