By Rakibul Hasan
India is running its 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House) election, the longest polls in the country’s history, starting from 7th April to 12th May, 2014. The results will be declared on 16 May and a new government can be formed on 31st May. These comprehensive voting phases take place in total number of 543 parliamentary constituencies under Election Commission of India (ECI).
Earlier, the 15th Lok Sabha naturally expires its constitutional duration on 31st May of the year that was held in between April-May 2009.
Indian constitutional obligation requires the country to hold general election every five years later or the time when president dissolves the parliament in case.
This gigantic election takes all about nine phases to better deal the larger electoral bases and security concerns.
This time, neighboring Bangladesh observes the developments of Indian National Election from different perspectives of analyses. Post-election stability in India will certainly favor sustain bilateral relationship with B’desh and other neighboring states as well. Different popular surveys and analyses predict of Modi to be sworn in Delhi. On the other hand, the Congress thinks that Indians choose the party for so long as there were some surveys proved wrong predicting other party coming in power.
Whichever the party is coming to swear, stomach country, Bangladesh cannot completely skip spillover effects resulting in changes in regime. Seemingly the types and patterns of bilateral ties are supposed to continue same as previous when the Congress reelects its office again. However, the BJP’s swearing in Delhi happens some capricious turns in dealing with Bangladesh.
For different reasons, the ruling Awami League (AL) government prefers Congress Party to assume office in Delhi again. Primarily AL wants to deepen its bondage with trusted and stable government led by the Congress to deal scores of pending issues; notable of them are Teesta water-sharing agreement, land demarcation, border killing, enclaves and exclaves, maritime disputes etc. Because in 2009, the swearing in of the Awami League Party in Bangladesh and the Congress party in India have formed a congenital ties along with their ongoing historical bondage creating a bilateral architecture in the respective countries.
January 5 polls in Bangladesh outcomes controversies resulting in mono-party election. The election kept country’s main opposition uncontested and so Awami League won overwhelming majority having 153 unopposed Mps in the National Parliament unprecedentedly. Moreover, it is blatantly argued that there was nothing undemocratic maneuvers to force the people either to boycott the polls or to cast their votes in favor of any parties. It is just constitutional arguments, not obviously on moral basis.
The Congress-led India ‘openly’ backed the AL staging disputed January 5 polls that enabled Awami League to sustain its ever consecutive second term while western countries vilified the credibility of the election and urged for further ‘inclusive election’ for the citizens to exercise their democratic rights. Mass people lost their rights to elect their candidates. Therefore, majority people abstained from appearing in polling centers. The EU, USA, the Commonwealth and Russia were refrained to send their election observers terming the election as ‘neither free nor fair’. However, India’s Congress Party gave ‘blind’ priority on ‘Constitutional Obligations’ breaking all pervious evidences of interferences. Why is it? Is it of nostalgic Congress-Awami League historical relationship that turns ‘blind eye’ of endorsement for AL? What will happen, if BJP is once in power dealing with enemy’s ally Awami League?
Prior to the National Election in Bangladesh, the main oppositional alliance named BNP-led 18-party alliance gained victory over all city corporation elections and even after the National election, significant number of constituencies in sub-districts election were won by the main oppositions in early phases. Although ruling Awami League wins almost rest of the constituencies in allegedly counterfeit vote casting through muscle power. Post-National Election the AL hold controversial Upazilla Polls (UZ) intimidating away anti-suporters to boycott the polls or compels them to cast votes in favor.
Despite these scenarios, Congress-led India recognized the ruling Awami League party in very early phase. Here it comes the question, If regime changes in Delhi, who will back AL? how secular Awami League deal with probably upcoming right-wing BJP, led by controversial Narenra Modi to decide over some lingering issues between the countries? Modi might pursue a comprehensive relationship with, may be, AL’s opposite BNP to abolish Congress influence in Bangladesh. Different local sources said BNP’s Khaleda Zia might set a schedule to meet BJP’s Modi, if he wins the election to clarify her stand and offer bilateral relationship.
All past evidence shows that Bangladesh has never ever signed any water agreement either with the Congress or with the BJP-run government in New Delhi. In 1977, the Ganges Water Agreement was concluded with Morarji Desai led the Janata government and in 1996, Bangladesh signed Ganges Water Treaty with the United Front coalition government. Moreover, the West Bengal’s dogged againstness continues both with centre government and with Bangladesh regarding long-standing water sharing issues.
Bangladesh, more rightly the ruling party is seriously interested to keep their eyes on ongoing Lok Sabha election. If Congress wins the polls, no significant changes are supposed to occur in bilateral relationship until Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) swears in Delhi responding huge popularity in recent times.
Probable win of rightwing BJP might have considerable consequences on Bangladesh in settling lingering bilateral issues like settling border disputes swiftly. Even some proposed deals like regional connectivity among Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh under the initiatives of Congress-led government nipping in the bud. BJP strongly denies settling any bilateral dispute as a single solution rather the party seeks to address all issues as a comprehensive solution including intrusion of Bangladeshis to Indian separatism-prone Northeastern Assam and likely West Bengal.
Deciding over this above issues, a political resolution was recently passed in BJP National Council Meeting in New Delhi. BJP sets a campaign agenda criticizing ‘Infiltration of illegal Bangladeshi to India’ to gain votes from Hindu Chauvinists (likely extremists) from Eastern India marking the issues as ‘Havoc’ in Assam and creating ‘Virtual Bangladesh or East Bengal’ in West Bengal. Narendra Modi declares these problems of ‘illegal Bangladeshi migrants’ will be solved, if his party, BJP comes in power. Nevertheless, deliberately, he welcomes Bangladeshi Hindus migrants to accommodate in India withdrawing away all detention camps. Modi thus creates a communal atmosphere and wants to influence such in Bangladesh persuading Bangladeshi Hindus to exodus their land. It constantly incites historical riotous tension spoiling demographic distribution or modern ethnic cleansing what happened as in 1947 through erroneous ‘Two-nation Theory’. Modi might have not known that Bangladesh is not so-called communal existence what he calculatedly thinks about India now. These communally provocative campaigns will be kicked away in the modern age. Even people didn’t like what modi and once Jinnah tried to impose upon the mass. The India states is the best example because maximum number of Muslims stayed in their land, even after creating so-called state for the Muslim in Pakistan.
Moreover, BJP does not like to see Bangladesh expanding diplomatic and trade relationship with China. BJP fears stomach-country Bangladesh suspecting it can incite Northeastern separatism with the weapons imported from China. In addition, Chinese investment to boost up B’desh economy means marginalization of Indian investment as well. Therefore, BJP technically requires being involved within the country’s affairs. Now the question rises again, which party BJP can choose in the strategic B’desh? Congress-favored Awami League or the Jamaat-allied Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)? More or less it might be true that Hindu fundamentalist BJP can get, at least, a bit of discomforts dealing on extremist ingredients of Jaamat legacy in BNP-led alliance.
However, analysts say Modi’s populist rhetoric used in his ‘Filmy-styled’ campaign can be changed once he is in power. Because geographical and economic realities are always intended to rationalize politics, even his ‘communal boom’ adopting cooperative policies to sustain his regime. Modi has been severely suffering US’ critiques and restriction to enter in to US territories for his alleged controversial role in Gujrat riot killing at least 1,000 people. So it could be too pressure for him to launch communal initiatives again.
Interestingly Modi apparently accused Chinese expansionist claims over India’s territories of Arunachal or others. Nevertheless, he allows Chinese investment. More instances, despite of having belligerent USA-China relationship, China products swells US markets. Therefore, in this sense of view, Modi could be enough friendly to even strengthen its bilateral ties with geo-strategic Bangladesh.
Another assumption suggest that fundamentalist BJP might lose comfort to work with BNP not only for ‘Jamaat element’ rather the past legacies that show Khaleda Zia’s term frizzing bilateral any alignment either with the Congress or with the BJP. Even Khaleda Zia maintained a cold relationship with India during her term orienting ‘Go East’ foreign policy. This is what the Awami League gets leverage.
Another advantage, AL can enjoy like India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Company signed an oil exploration contract in the coast. At now, India enjoys its soaring development of trade in Bangladesh marking the recent history led by Awami League.
Indian leadership needs to adopt a non-partisan policy stressing AL for further election through constructive dialogue and understanding among major political parties in order to fledge democracy for regional stability and development. It is high time for India to rethink beyond its long-continued ‘One-friend-policy’ in Bangladesh. Because India must concerns about the Bangladeshis’ sentiment, not any particular party. The UN had repeatedly intervened urging this ruling government to organize a participatory election by all parties allowing its citizens to exercise their casting rights. Western Block followed so as UN favors. India should need to undertake the same stands. Today’s world cannot forward without cooperation within the country itself and as so with neighboring states. It could be a symbol of trusted friendship, if India would hear the hue of mass in Bangladesh. If Awami League can sustain cooperative relationship with significant neighbor India, then why not popular opposition alliances recognizing the reality of Indian existence?
Noted Indian Journalist Kuldip Nayar analyzed India’s role on Jan 5 polls in Bangladesh providing some constructive guidelines for Indian government. He remarked in his recent commentary articles named ‘Pointless polls in Bangladesh’, published on Jan 24, 2014, “New Delhi should have played a conciliatory role. Initially it did but it is now seen partisan. The anti-India feeling is spreading and the Hindu population, nearly 8 million is feeling the heat.”
[Rakibul Hasan is a Sub-editor at The Bangladesh Today (TBT) and a former Research Assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]