Why Bangladesh should be paying attention to the Indian elections
With Bangladesh and India currently enjoying possibly their best relationship in history, Bangladeshis have eagerly kept their eyes on India’s parliamentary elections.
It’s not that the relationship will witness any major change if any change takes place in New Delhi. Still, Bangladeshis have reason to be interested about the results on May 23.
Why are Bangladeshis so eager about another country’s elections? One simple reason is that Bangladeshis are a politically conscious nation. When a globally powerful country -- like the US or the UK -- goes to polls, many Bangladeshis tend to follow and have an opinion, and India is no exception. The geographical position and religious beliefs make India’s election even more interesting to Bangladeshis.
Even at road-side tea-stalls where people watch movies on Bangladeshi or Indian satellite television channels, you will find that people have a choice -- either BJP of Congress -- and if possible, they would vote for their respective symbols.
For obvious reasons, the ruling Awami League has been following every development in relation to the Indian elections. However, even if a changeover takes place in the central government of India, the AL has nothing to be worried about.
The reality is that, while the relationship between the two countries reached its peak during the tenure of Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka and Narendra Modi in New Delhi, it all started when Sheikh Hasina staged a comeback to power in 2009 with Congress in power at the time.
So, whatever the results on May 23, the Awami League believes that the relationship between the two countries and governments will not see anything that might be overtly negative. If Modi stages a comeback, bilateral relations will continue as they currently are. If Congress or anyone else forms a government, there will be minimal policy changes towards Bangladesh and a similar relationship will prevail.
If we analyze the Bangladesh-India relationship, we see that the major factor is the government in Bangladesh. In other words, the factor is whether the AL is in power or not. It is a relationship linked to the bloodstained history of Bangladesh’s independence, when the AL led the Liberation War in 1971 and India stood by Bangladesh on all fronts.
That is the reason Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s arch-rival Khaleda Zia’s BNP thinks that whoever is in power in India will always favour the AL.
The reality is that the BNP is a party developed with an anti-Indian sentiment, and they had played the anti-India card in the 1990s and early 2000s, though it does not work much nowadays.
Perhaps that’s the reason why the BNP is now trying to develop party-to-party relationships with the BJP and Congress. We witnessed a number of BNP delegations visiting India in the past years and holding meetings with India’s politicians.
Political analysts in Dhaka, however, don’t believe that any government in India will favour the BNP over the Awami League in any context. BNP itself knows this reality.
The civil society in Bangladesh, though happy with current bilateral relations, has some observations.
Though they agree that the relationship with India will not be hampered, regardless of who comes to power in India due to the AL being in power in Bangladesh, the pro-Hindutva campaign by Modi is a matter of concern for Bangladesh as it may alienate the religious forces here too.
The pro-Hindutva steps taken in Assam are also a matter of concern, which may be fuelled further and spread to other parts of India if BJP is re-elected, and may have an adverse effect on the communal harmony in Bangladesh.
Among other concerning matters for Bangladesh is the huge trade gap between the two countries -- one that seems to be increasing, despite the harmony on political, diplomatic, and economic grounds between the two nations.
The two countries have resolved the enclave problems, cooperated with each other in combating militancy, and discussions regarding Teesta have been progressing.
Yet, the trade gap continues to increase. Bangladesh will need more economic diplomacy to reduce the trade gap. Bangladesh will also need to have assurance to bring border killings to zero along with getting its due in water share of international rivers.
The present government in Bangladesh, in its third consecutive term, will be less than six months old when the new government in India will take over. There is hope that it will give an extra mileage to both sides to strengthen the bilateral relations, based on an extraordinary relationship that has been developing since 2009.
Zahid Newaz Khan is Chief News Editor (CNE) of Channel i and Editor of Channel i Online. He is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi.