A powerful faction of the BNP wants to end the party’s historic hostility to India and build sustainable ties with the neighbouring country based on more than a short term “election-centric” relationship.
The development comes as the foreign affairs wing of the country’s main opposition party continues to work on its policies ahead of the upcoming 11th national election.
As part of this, BNP has reviewed and strengthened its foreign policies towards the world’s most powerful countries, which include the economic giant on its own doorstep.
At the same time, BNP has already started scrutinizing India’s position ahead of the election in Bangladesh, which is due to be held in December.
Also at play is the recognition within a powerful faction of the BNP foreign affairs division of the Awami League’s cordial relations with India, and the dangers of BNP becoming marginalised in the future development of the Bangladesh-India relationship.
“We hope that there will be a relationship between the governments of the two countries, not between any particular communities,” BNP Standing Committee member Amir Khashru Mahmud Chowdhury said.
To achieve this, the party’s central leaders want to stress the importance of building a sustainable relationship through the cooperation of both sides, rather than one that only centres on winning the upcoming election.
“Only then will there be a sustainable and true relationship. All the other relationships are made under the table,” Amir Khashru said.
“If any party from India focuses on any particular committee, it will damage the relationship between Bangladesh and India because relationships are always bilateral. If a particular party gets involved, it will only work to alienate the people of Bangladesh.”
The only high-level visit that BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia made to India while in government came in 2006, and she swiftly followed this up with a trip to India’s arch enemy, Pakistan.
The first indications of the party’s potential departure from its long-time anti-India policy came in October 2012, when Khaleda visited while in opposition and held a series of meetings with government figures including the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and other key officials including the foreign minister, foreign affairs secretary and national security advisor.
She also met with the country’s then president, Pranab Mukherjee.
“In that meeting, Khaleda Zia asked the Indian president to not let Indian secessionists use Bangladeshi land for their own personal gains,” the BNP chairperson’s press wing member, Shairul Kabir Khan, said.
However, Khaleda could not visit Pranab in 2013 because of the turbulent political situation in Bangladesh at the time.
Party policymakers have now started heeding the ruling Awami League’s visit to India, as well as reports from different research institutions in the neighbouring country.
Senior leaders of BNP have confirmed that the party has held several discussions on building a desirable relationship with BNP. The matter came to the forefront at the national council of 2016, during the announcement of vision 2030, and in Chairperson Khaleda Zia’s speeches.
Amir Khashru is the leader responsible for maintaining the party’s relationship with India. In doing so, the former commerce minister can call upon the assistance of Vice-Chairperson Abdul Awal Mintu and Executive Committee Member Tabith Awal.
Sources from the diplomatic wing informed that even if these BNP leaders cannot satisfy India, they are at least trying to not go against it.
This was evident when acting BNP chairperson, Tarique Rahman, ordered the party to not send its proposal for solving the Rohingya issue to the UN, as it placed more importance on the role of China than on that of India.
BNP’s renewed focus in its dealings with India is on stopping border killings, increasing commerce, developing the water distribution system, and signing transit treaties.
Amir Khashru said the party needs to find a workable solution to the Teesta and transit issues, in particular, if it is to develop its relations with India. “We will be providing cooperation from Bangladesh’s side,” he said.
BNP does not have any objections in giving transit to India; according to senior leaders, Bangladesh must make provisions to India in order to bring goods from China within 7-8 hours.
The party’s diplomatic wing said all the sub-continental countries - such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, the Maldives and Myanmar - have built a relationship based on political unity. Sources further said that Dhaka has a deeper relationship with Delhi due to their geopolitical proximity.
Following this, BNP wants to convince the neighbouring country to undertake a new position regarding BNP.
Former Dhaka University vice-chancellor Prof Emajuddin Ahmed said BNP has taken a different position to the one it adopted during the Indian National Congress-led government, which was voted out of office in 2014.
“It (now) seems that the party wants to keep good relations with the country,” he said. “However, it is hard to measure how friendly they are inclined to be.”
Jahangirnagar University teacher Prof Dilara Chowdhury said that even with the change in stance, BNP will remain second favourites to the ruling party.
“Maybe BNP has understood that they will not be able to win the election or fulfill their political goals without India’s aid, but India does not favour BNP as much as it favours Awami League,” she said.
This article was first published on banglatribune.com