Why India should rethink its Bangladesh policy
Shafquat Rabbee Anik

Unlike in most democracies, Bangladeshis have regularly given their blood for protecting their right to vote

  • A file photo of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (L) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R)  
    Photo- PID

Any Indian reading this article should go to YouTube and do a search on “police brutality in Bangladesh.” Then they should watch some of the videos found at the top of the search. This should provide an idea of how, according to Ain o Salish Kendra, an average of 1.5 Bangladeshis a day have been killed in political violence, many by police bullets, in 2013.

About 500 have died, with countless others injured. These are merely official numbers, yet they are the highest in Bangladesh’s 42-year history. Needless to say, the majority of the wounded and dead are opposition activists, protesting actions of the most India-friendly government in the history of Bangladesh.

When the videos and the statistics sink in, Indian readers should try to understand the following: Bangladeshis have become increasingly pro-India in their outlooks over the last three decades. Unlike Pakistan, where there is hardly any political party who can express pro-India sentiments, the Awami League and its allies are openly pro-India. Their electoral popularity should be within 35% to 45% of the population, depending on which ally is in, according to the average of the last several elections.

Then you have Bangladesh’s other large political party, BNP, whose standalone electoral popularity should be similar: Around 35% to 40%. BNP’s leadership was increasingly looking forward to improve ties with India. BNP, for almost the last decade, refrained from resorting to anti-India rhetoric, which used to be a staple of the party’s political communication during the 80s and 90s.

The Islamic parties of Bangladesh, who on a combined basis won less than 5% of the national vote, are probably predominantly anti-India. However, given their size, they are likely to be governed by one of the two major political parties of Bangladesh. If India plays its cards of regional influence over the major parties fair and square, it is more than likely that both the major parties will happily address India’s legitimate security concerns in Bangladesh, to say the least.

Although Bangladeshis are very proud of their religious (read Muslim), ethnic (read Bengali), and independent (read 1971 war) identity, the majority of them enjoy Hindi movies, soap operas, music, and many are fluent in the Hindi language. A large portion of the population supports the Indian cricket team. In a nutshell, Bangladesh is by no means hostile territory for Indians, with or without India’s favourite political party in power.

Now contrast that India-friendly social backdrop with the following recent trends: The vast majority of Bangladeshis now believe that India is the lone back-up for the government of Sheikh Hasina and her farce of an election, which was boycotted by all the opposition parties.

Taking matters to the next step, a majority of the Bangladeshi population now believe that based on India’s assurances alone, Sheikh Hasina has sent almost the entire opposition political leadership to jail. She sent the leader of the third largest political party General Ershad, who is also known to be pro-Indian, into a peculiar hospital confinement with golfing facilities.

And Begum Khaleda Zia is in house confinement. The entire senior leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh, is in far worse shape. They will be lucky to be alive for more than a year, as most of them are awaiting death sentences to be handed out by a special tribunal, with one already executed. In short, as matters stand, for the first time in Bangladesh’s political history, the entire opposition leadership is praying hard to be simply alive and free.

Taking matters further, many in Bangladesh now believe in the following grave accusations: India is behind the day to day security protection of certain Bangladeshi leaders. India is carrying out stealth operations inside Bangladesh wearing Bangladeshi forces’ dresses. India has trained and sent special operations teams in Bangladesh. India is lobbying Western countries to take Sheikh Hasina’s side.

The above list of anti-India accusations are ever-increasing, and cannot be brushed aside anymore. In fact, it is now common practice among the entire opposition bloc and talking heads on television to find an Indian hand behind almost all the political misadventures of Sheikh Hasina and the AL.

Please note: The above is not the perception coming from some fringe element of Bangladeshi society. People with very credible backgrounds are joining the ring.

 Considering the depth of these accusations, which are increasingly getting prominence, a fair conclusion for Indians will be that anti-Indianism of historic proportions is on the rise in Bangladesh. This cannot be, by any standard, welcome news for Indian business policy, geo-strategy, or for that matter, counter-terrorism matters related to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh may now officially enter the hall-of-shame of countries known as “one party states.” And India, along with Sheikh Hasina and the AL, will share that blame, perhaps in front of a global audience. The gravity of this blame sharing must be understood from Bangladesh’s history. Unlike other Muslim-majority countries, Bangladesh has practiced multi-party elections going back over 40 years.

Indians, who were Bangladesh’s partners in its liberation war against Pakistan, should know very well that it was West Pakistan’s foolish reluctance to accept the all-Pakistan election results back in 1970. That foolish decision of West Pakistan to not honour the mandate of the East Pakistani voters eventually ended the existence of a united Pakistan on two sides of India.

As history suggests, Bangladeshis take elections and the democratic practice of voting very seriously. Unlike in most democracies, Bangladeshis have regularly given their blood for protecting their right to vote. Therefore, India should urgently rethink its policy in Bangladesh and align its policy with the rest of the world. 

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Shafquat Rabbee Anik

Shafquat Rabbee Anik is a social media activist.

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