Parliament Election in Bangladesh: A Lot at Stake in India

by March 17, 2018 0 comments

As the parliamentary election in Bangladesh in near, it is hugely influencing India’s condition as a lot of things are put at stake. It will, therefore, fortify Sheikh Hasina’s Position as the BNP’s return to power is certain to spell distress. As Parliamentary elections approach in Bangladesh and results are due by December end, India must consider the inferences of the possible results. Although there is more probability of Sheikh Hasina to win the election, Awami League’s return for the third time in succession to control, this implies that New Delhi cannot rule out an upset victory by the BNP which is led by Begum Khaleda Zia.

The first thing to recognize is that while the Awami League Governments have been friendly towards India, the coalition Government, headed by the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (Jamaat) from 2001 to 2006, was intensely hostile and the BNP Government in power from 1991 to 1996, marginally less so. One may cite here an instance of the difference in their attitudes towards this country and another of the BNP’s proneness to use every possible occasion to whip up anti-India sentiments.

As to the first, both BNP and the BNP-Jamaat-led coalition Governments had vigorously continued the policy of the preceding military dictatorships of providing shelter, funds, weapons and training to secessionist insurgent groups of north-eastern India like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), the All-Tripura Tiger Force, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur, and the National-Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah)-NSCN (I-M).

Bangladesh’s BNP-Jamaat coalition Government not only sheltered and provided these groups but mocked at India’s well-documented claims of its doing so. The country’s then Foreign Minister, Morshed Khan, provided a striking example of this during his speech inaugurating the ‘India-Bangladesh Dialogue of Young Journalists’ at Dhaka on September 7, 2004. Referring to India’s claim that North-East Indian insurgents had 195 camps in Bangladesh, he had said, “The list of insurgent camps from their side increases at every meeting between us. But they have not been able to provide a single telephone number or address of these camps.”

Even while dismissing India’s claim about the insurgent camps, Morshed Khan, let slip a remark, suggesting that Bangladesh knew that India was vulnerable in the north-eastern States.  He said during the same September speech, that though Bangladesh was “India-locked”, Delhi had “also to remember that its north-eastern States” were “Bangladesh-locked.” Not only that, reflecting the Khaleda Zia Government’s policy of stoking disaffection and secessionism in the region, he had said in the speech, “It costs 40 percent more for north-eastern India’s States to buy most construction goods from Kolkata or other western cities than it would have cost them to buy those from Bangladesh.” He also blasted the “Central Bank of India” (the Reserve Bank of India?) for acting unilaterally against the interests of the common people of north-eastern States by imposing non-tariff barriers such as not allowing individual States to open Letters of Credit without Delhi’s permission.

It is hardly surprising that with an important Minister speaking mockingly and minatorily, lesser functionaries would also do the same. Thus, Major-General Mohammad Jahangir Alam Khan Chowdhury, the then Director-General of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) — now Border Guards Bangladesh — visiting India for talks with the then Director-General of India’s Border Security Force (BSF), Ajay Raj Sharma, had said in Delhi on September 28, 2004, “There is not a single [insurgent] camp in Bangladesh. We looked for camps’ locations given in the BSF’s list. Some of the addresses were of our cantonment area and our headquarters. Some of these addresses even pertained to the Bay of Bengal.”

In sharp contrast, Sheikh Hasina has closed down insurgent camps in Bangladesh and handed over to India several important rebel leaders, exposing as lies what the BNP leaders had been saying about the camps as well as the fact that they were actively supporting secessionist insurgencies in India’s North-East.

The second instance is the turn the BNP-Jamaat Government sought to give to the grenade attack on the Awami League’s rally in Dhaka on August 21, 2004. Held to protest against bomb attacks on Awami League supporters in Sylhet in north-eastern Bangladesh, the murder of Tushar, a leader of the party’s students’ organisation, Bangladesh Chhatra League, and atrocities on its leaders and supporters throughout the country, it was addressed by Sheikh Hasina, then president, Awami League, and the leader of the Opposition in Bangladesh’s Jatiya Sansad or National Parliament, and attended by most of the party’s presidium members, and the president and general secretary of the Mahanagar (Metropolitan, ie Dhaka) Awami League.

A deadly grenade attack began just after Sheikh Hasina had finished her speech, severely condemnatory of the actions of the BNP-Jamaat coalition Government, and was about to leave the venue. The time was 5.22 pm. It was a cold-blooded slaughter. The number of the dead eventually rose to 24, and of the wounded to over 300. The aim was to hobble the Awami League by wiping out its top leadership. Sheikh Hasina had a close shave but had her hearing impaired. Several critically-injured senior leaders of the party were hospitalized. One of them, Ivy Rahman, leader of the Awami League’s women’s’ affairs wing and wife of Zillur Rahman, then general secretary of the Awami League and later President of Bangladesh, died in hospital on August 24.

There was sharp criticism at home and abroad. The BNP-Jamaat Government ordered an inquiry into the outrage. Joinul Abedin, a former High Court judge heading it, was asked to submit a report within three weeks. Abedin, a former BNP leader who was appointed without any consultation with the opposition, submitted his report on October 2, 2004. It was not made public. He, however, said at a Press briefing just before submitting the report that neither the BNP nor the Awami League nor Jamaat, nor any other fundamentalist Islamist organization, was responsible for the attack; agents of a foreign country were. Abedin did not identify the foreign country or its agents but through innuendoes and false associations, clearly suggested that it was India.

Subsequent developments have exposed the hollowness of Abedin’s observations. As long, however, as the BNP-Jamaat Government was in power, the investigation seemed to be deliberately not focusing on the guilty and the forces behind them, failing to frame a young man, Shoibal Shaha Partho, they forced one Joi Miah to confess that a criminal gang called Seven Star Group had carried out the attack.

Genuine investigations began after Bangladesh’s Army had staged a coup on January 12, 2007, and replaced by a new one the BNP-Jamaat Government-appointed caretaker Government for holding the parliamentary elections. These concluded that the terrorist organisation Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) Bangladesh had carried out the attack, which, according to Syed Rezaur Rahman, the chief prosecutor in the case that followed, was orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and the BNP-Jamaat coalition Government, which used the Bangladesh’s Ministry of Home Affairs, Directorate-General of Forces’ Intelligence (DGFI), National Security Intelligence (NSI) and the Bangladesh Police to implement the plot.

Included among the 49 persons — 19 of whom are absconding — now being tried are personnel from the above organizations as well as BNP leaders like Tarique Rahman, Begum Khaleda Zia’s son, Lutfozzaman Babar, state Minister for Home and Abdus Salam Pintu, a Deputy Minister, in the BNP-Jamaat-led Government. There was no mention of India or any of its agents.

There are issues. Many in India are uneasy about Bangladesh’s growing ties with China — Hasina’s assurances that India has nothing to worry on this score, notwithstanding. The BNP’s return to power, however, will mean a hostile Government in Dhaka attempting, among other things, to foment trouble in the North East, and acting as a launching pad for the ISI’s terror strikes in India. New Delhi must, therefore, consider measures to strengthen Sheikh Hasina’s position within Bangladesh. An accord on Teesta waters could be a good beginning.

Writer: Hiranmay Karlekar

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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