By Hrishikesh Utpat
India’s neighbourhood is interesting, to say the least. One of her more intriguing neighbours is Bangladesh. Ever since India played a pivotal role in the independence of the erstwhile East Pakistan, the destinies of both nations have been intertwined. As is usual in international affairs, the relations between the two nations are governed by the attitude and outlook of the political parties at their helm.
Running the risk of generalization, the political structure in Bangladesh can be summarized as follows – of the two major political parties, the incumbent Awami league (founded by the late Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, and headed by his daughter Sheikh Hassina) has a more pro-India inclination, as compared to the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which is headed by Khaleeda Zia.
Ever since they were elected to power in 2008 with a resounding mandate of 230 seats out of 300, the Awami League’s pro-India stance has reaped rich dividends for the latter. The most significant impact has been seen on security. The Awami League has been instrumental in shutting down terror apparatus operating out of Bangladesh, and has clamped down support to secessionist groups operating in India’s north-eastern states. For instance, after their December 2008 electoral victory, the Awami League detained several ULFA activists – including senior members like Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and Deputy Commander Raju Barua.
The BNP, on the other hand, is infamous for its anti-India bias and close relations with fundamentalist groups. The Jamaat-e-Islami – whose members are currently on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladeshi war of liberation – is a coalition partner of the BNP. During the BNP’s tenure, India’s internal security has faced consistent threats; for example, after the BNP was elected to power in 2001, the self-exiled ULFA leadership returned to a safe haven in Bangladesh.
This simplifies New Delhi’s stance – Indian interest is best served by an Awami League government in Bangladesh. But with elections to be held on the 25th of October, 2013, such a government may perhaps not sustain.
Historically, Bangladesh has a long tradition of anti-incumbency. Ever since military rule ended in 1990, no government has survived for more than a term. This was sentiment of anti-incumbency was on display during five city corporation polls held during the months of June and July; the Awami league lost all of them. The Awami League is also facing charges of corruption; corruption in the now-discarded Padma bridge project, several Ponzi schemes and stock market scams have left the government red-faced. The government’s running battles with Nobel Laureate Mohammad Yunus and the on-going war crimes trial has eroded the government’s support base. To further complicate the issue, the Awami League is wrought with factional feuds. The top leadership consists of rookies whose chief qualification is loyalty towards Sheikh Hassina while the old guard has been sidelined.
A significant charge that has been laid at the door of Sheikh Hassina has been doing far too much for India without getting anything in return. The stalled Teesta river water sharing and land boundary agreements have led to a loss of credibility. On a recent visit to New Delhi, the Bangladeshi finance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, warned that the Awami League would suffer unless the Teesta deal is struck. It can be assumed with a certain degree of certainty that the Awami League is going to suffer because of the laxity in New Delhi’s approach.
To be sure, India’s approach has not been one of inactivity. For example, the 71-km Baharampur-Bheramara transmission link was recently created between India and Bangladesh. This link will help transfer up to 500 MW of power. It can be upgraded to 1000 MW in due time. Likewise, the foundation of the 1,320 MW “Maitri” thermal power project is being developed by Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Corporation. Yet, this is an obvious case of far too little being done far too late.
With the Bangladeshi elections right around the corner, it is now too late for India to do anything about the situation at hand. All that New Delhi can do is hope that the tradition of anti-incumbency is broken, and prepare for hard times in case it sustains.
Has completed his BE (Computer Science) from MIT College, Pune, and his currently pursuing a masters degree in Economics. He particularly enjoys social sciences, and has chosen to study Economics because it provides the “perfect blend of Science and Social Sciences”. Currently preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Exam, Hrishikesh hopes to serve the country by joining the bureaucracy – having cleared the Preliminary exams for the Civil Services in 2013, he will be appearing for the Mains exams in December. His passions include reading, writing, travelling, mountaineering and teaching. Currently affiliated with the prestigious Chanakya Mandal Pariwar organization in Pune, Hrishikesh teaches a wide range of subjects such as History, International Relations, Economics, Mathematics and Statistics.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius