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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2858

Bangladesh: Politics of revenge and vengeance

By Benzamin Mendez

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the largest opposition party in Bangladesh has alleged that the government has an 'evil plan' to kill its jailed Chairperson Khaleda Zia. "The family members of our leader Khaleda Zia met her in jail on Thursday. We're not only concerned, but also surprised and disappointed over what they told us about her health condition," said BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told reporters in Dhaka.

Ms. Zia, a former Prime Minister was wrongly convicted in a false graft case by a Kangaroo court in Bangladesh. According to political analysts, the ruling party, which is continuing in power illegally since 2009 are determined in keeping this popular leader in prison and hold another fake general election (similar to that of January 5, 2014) in December this year.

Former Indian bureaucrat Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty in an article titled Shadow of India, Hasina government’s corruption, repression of BNP looms over Bangladesh polls in South Asian Monitor wrote: “Bangladesh will go into election mode in the next few months. Democratic transfer of power in Bangladesh became the norm ever since the overthrow of military dictator General H M Ershad in 1990. The army-backed caretaker government, during 2007-2008, was an exception in Bangladesh’s democratic governance. Bangladesh has never voted an incumbent government back to power, except in 2014, when the BNP, boycotted the election, giving Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL) a walkover. The forthcoming election by the end of this year will be held again without a caretaker government.”

On Islamization of Bangladesh, Mr. Mukherjee wrote: “During the tenure of military dictators, Bangladesh had turned its back on secular principles of the liberation war that were embedded in the 1972 Constitution. Islamisation of Bangladeshi society was encouraged under the military dictators who were trained in Pakistan. Their model of governance drew from the Pakistani experience and they formed alliances with Islamist parties whose leaders were later accused of war crimes.”

About Bangladeshi dictator Sheikh Hasina, the former Indian bureaucrat wrote: “Allegations against Hasina’s government include authoritarian governance, hounding of the opposition and rampant corruption. These issues and the India factor will dominate the electoral campaign. The sustained harassment of political opponents has only added to the growing sullenness among sections of the people and a pervasive feeling that the ruling AL government has assiduously subverted democratic norms and institutions. There is growing consensus that if elections are free and fair, the AL will be reduced to an embarrassing minority in the next Parliament. Many critics believe that the Hasina government will “manage” the election. This is popularly called “rigging” in South Asia.

“Critics allege that every national institution has been compromised and packed with party sympathizers. The national campaign against drugs has allegedly led to a “shoot to kill” policy that has led to deaths of innocents, according to human rights activists. One former chief justice of the Supreme Court, belonging to the Hindu minority community, fell out with the government and was forced to resign and seek refuge in exile. The Hindu minority, normally very supportive of the AL, is agitated and angry because AL leaders have grabbed Hindu properties with impunity. AL leaders think that India has no option but to support the AL and will not complain about harassment and discrimination against the Hindu minority. On the positive side, the government’s action against militant religious extremists and terrorists has been effective. The economy has also done very well under the stewardship of the Hasina government, though rampant corruption and crony capitalism have marred the economic landscape.”

Hinting the possible catastrophe waiting for Bangladesh as Indian government is posed to expel over four million Bangla-speaking nationals from Assam and push them into Bangladesh, Mr. Mukherjee wrote: “As Bangladesh and India head for general election in 2018 and 2019 respectively, the India factor will also loom large, as the BNP is likely to pillory Hasina of kowtowing to India. The main criticism will be that Hasina has given India too many concessions in return for precious little. This is an old tune but is revived by the BNP and allied opposition parties during election time. The overhang of the issue of the illegal migration that has already acquired a high profile in India with the publication of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, will continue to make Bangladesh nervous. Bangladesh-India bilateral relations will have to be insulated from the collateral effect of the NRC. Sharing of river waters will remain a challenge in bilateral ties but not an insurmountable one.”

It is learnt from various dependable sources in the diplomatic circle that Bangladeshi dictator Sheikh Hasina has requested Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pause the process of expelling Bangla-speaking Indians until March 2019 as the issue may seriously jeopardize her consecutive third term. On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina has placed special request on the Indian Prime Minister to begin the expulsion process right on the next day of the election result, should her political opponents win the December 2018 election.

Narendra Modi and India are already grateful to Sheikh Hasina as she has done everything ever since she came to power in 2009, compromising the national interest of Bangladesh. She even is considered as the only pro-Indian politician and her party as the pro-Indian force by most of the top policymakers in India.

There also are speculations of military intervention in Bangladesh – this time at the request of Sheikh Hasina. According to South Asian Monitor, in the backdrop of reports of an internal pre-poll survey that predicts that the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League may be electorally decimated, should free and fair polls be held, and the setback to the regime following its tardy handling of the “road accidents” protests, Bangladesh could likely be headed for a 2007-like situation with the army playing a decisive role to “stabilize” politics.

It says, “This is not to suggest that the military will seize power by force. Those days of majors or generals toppling governments by pulling out tanks from the Dhaka cantonment are passé. In 2007, the army stepped in to end the political imbroglio that emerged in the wake of Bangladesh’s two most famous begums going for each other’s political jugulars, even as a caretaker government was formed in October 2006 before the scheduled parliamentary elections of January 2007. At that time, a state of emergency under the army’s aegis served to avert violent political confrontation between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Before 2008 was out, the caretaker government, with the army serving the role of an efficient guarantor, was able to conduct elections to the Jatiya Sangshad. The elections saw the return of the Awami League to power.

“Today, as the Awami League stubbornly refuses to yield any ground, including creating conditions for holding free and fair elections, restoring state and democratic institutions and putting a halt to repressive measures, is the time ripe again, at least on the part of the League, to indefinitely defer the elections? Would such a stand compel and/or impel the army to step in as it did in 2007? There are, of course, other necessary considerations—the position New Delhi, the United Statesand Britain will take on the “ways and means” that would sufficiently justify postponement of the polls—allowing for the restoration or “normal conditions” that would ensure an election free from violence, intimidation and malpractices.

“Speaking to the South Asian Monitor, former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, Dev Mukherjee, admitted that the Sheikh Hasina regime has “made mistakes” and what it is doing, as exemplified by the method employed to end the Dhaka street protests and the arbitrary arrest of internationally acclaimed photographer and activist Shahidul Alam, is “very wrong and foolish”. Mukherjee, however, exuded confidence that “the Awami League will hold elections, especially because it knows that otherwise it will have to face national and international opprobrium”. While Mukherjee said that elections will be held—at what time, he was not sure—it is “difficult to say or anticipate what role an apolitical army will play” in the weeks and months to come.”

South Asian Monitor has clearly signaled the ulterior desire of the Bangladeshi dictator. It said “According to the head of a Dhaka-based think tank, the “picture—whether the Awami League will stick to the election schedule or defer the process indefinitely—will become clear towards the beginning of October”. This is a clear indication that the ruling party will wait for the Eid celebrations to be over before it plays out its political-electoral card. On its part, the BNP, the think tank head said, “could launch a national movement, though the party is aware that it does not have the strength needed to make such long-term action successful”. In this context, he added emphatically that “the Awami League, for its own good and for that of Bangladesh, will be have to find a way out” of the current impasse.
Preferring anonymity, a former general, a keen observer of domestic politics, said that in the wake of the “perceived unpopularity” of the Awami League, the ruling party could take recourse to two moves. First, it could defer elections for a certain length of time and find itself an exit route by avoiding an imminent electoral defeat. Second, by postponing the elections, “say by two years”, conditions could be created for a “government of national unity”. This, according to the general, would “facilitate the Awami League to dry-clean itself” before returning to contest elections held sometime in the future.”

Government of ‘National Unity’ in Bangladesh?

According to the Indian journal, a section of Bangladeshi political observers, especially those who had previously served in military capacities, believe that while the “Americans are possibly in favour of a government of national unity”, it is not clear whether they are pursuing this line of action vis-à-vis the Indians. On the other hand, Beijing will “not play any direct role in pushing for one party or the other” but will certainly aim to make its presence felt once a new government is in place. Bangladeshi political observers, however, believe that the Indians and the Americans will act in “concert” to prevent any penetration by China.

A former Indian high commissioner to Dhaka, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, said that “even as there is no escape from elections, the only other possibility could be a variant of what happened in 2007, although this time it could be a shorter interregnum of one year”. This would suggest that the army could step in, with or without prodding from the Awami League, to restore order before totally free and fair elections are held.

Chakravarty, who served as high commissioner in 2007-2008,admitted that while the Awami League “certainly mishandled” Dhaka’s street agitation and there are other shortcomings of the party, India has “little option” especially as the “BNP is (considered by New Delhi) still in a grey area”. He recalled how the Indian security establishment had earlier sought to “cultivate” BNP chief Khaleda Zia’s London-based son Tareque Rahman, but it “turned a cropper when the latter reneged”.

Indianization of Bangladesh politics:

Meanwhile, taking full advantage of Bangladesh’s fluid political situation and Sheikh Hasina’s desperation of remaining in power indefinitely, radical Hinduist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is pushing and lobbying with the Awami League as well as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for earmarking a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 50 parliamentary seats where nominees belonging to the minority community could contest elections to the Jatiya Sangshad, scheduled to be held in December.

According to Awami League sources, a few rounds of deliberations between the party’s representatives, including some Hindu leaders, and RSS functionaries in Dhaka over the past two months or so have yielded “positive” results. The top leadership of the Awami League has agreed “in principle” to let Hindu nominees contest in 23 seats across districts where the population of the minority community is between 15-25 percent. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is keen to put up Hindu nominees, leaders of the minority community, following discussions with RSS functionaries in the Bangladesh capital, are overly “optimistic” that their demand to field a few more candidates would be met.

Speaking to South Asian Monitor on the condition of anonymity, a senior Bangladeshi political researcher said most of the Hindu Awami League MPs are “mired in allegations of corruption and they are not likely to be nominated as candidates this time” while others will not get the ticket because they are “too old”. While the Awami League is “trying to spot fresh blood (among Hindus), it may be difficult for the party to pick winnable candidates”, leaving the decision-makers to finally select between “20-22” nominees.

That the RSS is playing a key, though not very publicized, role in propping Hindu politics in Bangladesh was revealed by the South Asian Monitor earlier this month when it reported (on August 3, 2018) that an important Sangh functionary close to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a “secret” two-day visit to Dhaka on July 24, 2018. The same report revealed that ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power in Delhi, the RSS has assiduously tried to “penetrate” the Hindu community in Bangladesh and has even been instrumental in launching a few outfits that covertly follow and espouse the Hindutva ideology.

It is now learned that the Indian prime minister’s close aide, who held a key office in Gujarat when Modi was the chief minister there, met a section of the Indian High Commission’s senior staff, besides a few top Bangladeshi Hindu leaders, to initiate preliminary discussions on the number of potential candidates from the minority community who could be fielded from certain parliamentary constituencies.

Four days before this RSS functionary’s visit to Dhaka, another Sanghoffice bearer from Assam, Professor Eeshankur Saikia, who heads the Physical Sciences department at the Gauhati University, visited Dhaka and met several Hindu Awami League leaders and cadres at the Indian High Commission and elsewhere in the city. When contacted, Professor Saikia confirmed he was in Dhaka “for a week” and he “did meet” representatives of the minority Hindu community. “The objective of my visit was socio-political,” Professor Saikia said without going into the details of his visit.

The demand by Bangladesh’s Hindu leaders for increasing the number of seats where their nominees intend to contest the parliamentary polls assumes significance, especially because in the 2014 election, which was boycotted by the BNP, candidates from the minority community contested 17 seats (plus one which was won by a Hindu woman), returning about the same number of MPs to the Jatiya Sangshad. Sheikh Hasina’s council of ministers has two Hindu representatives.

Fully aware that she needs the backing and support of the minority Hindus—today more than ever before—early last month Sheikh Hasina showed keen interest in the launch of Sampriti Bangladesh, a platform for progressive Muslim and Hindu intellectuals,which would strive to strengthen and deepen communal harmony and bridge divides and allay suspicions that may exist between the two communities. Bangladesh’s noted cultural personality and thespian Piyush Bandopadhyay is the organization’s convener, while Dr Mamun Al Mahtab Swapnil is the secretary. “Sampriti was founded on the express suggestions and advice of Sheikh Hasina,” an Awami League leader said, adding that smaller units of the organization would soon be formed at the sub-district and village union levels.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has started collecting fund from various corporate bodies and large donors in India for supporting the Hindu candidates in the forthcoming general election in Bangladesh. It is targeting to collect at least US$ 150 million for supporting over 70 candidates.

Meanwhile, RSS has already pressed few demands with Sheikh Hasina and according to reliable sources, an agreement has been signed between RSS leadership and the Bangladeshi dictator, where Bangladesh Awami League has fundamentally agreed to implement the following demands should it get a third consecutive term. The demands include:

1. Sheikh Hasina will select a Hindu as the next President of Bangladesh and would immediately get the present President Abdul Hamid resigned soon after the general election in December 2018,

2. Hindus will be given several key ministries including the ministry of land, ministry of fisheries and livestock, ministry of commerce, ministry of industries, while Hindus will occupy the rank of state minister in the ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of home affairs, ministry of information and ministry of religious affairs,

3. There will be a separate ministry named Ministry of Religious Minority Affairs,

4. At least five Hindu judges will be appointed in the High Court Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court,

5. Number of Hindu officers in the Bangladesh Armed Forces will be increased to the volume of at least 30 percent of the total number of officers,

6. Hindus will be sent as the heads of Bangladesh missions in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore,
Philippines, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States, while the number of Hindu diplomats in the Bangladesh missions will be increased,

7. Hindu properties grabbed through the Enemy Property Act and the Vested Property Act will be immediately returned to the Hindus within 180 days of Hasina’s consecutive third term.

Sensing the secret agreement signed in between Bangladeshi dictator Sheikh Hasina and leaders of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders are also showing signs of accepting the demands of RSS should BNP come to power.

Admitting that the BNP leadership recently met Hindu representatives and discussed the number of nominees the party could field, party standing committee member Gayashwar Chandra Roy told South Asian Monitor that “there will be another meeting”. Roy, however, said that “there are not many Hindus who would be able to win elections”. The BNP’s executive committee headed by party chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia has 20 Hindu members of whom “four to five have winnable credentials”, Roy said.

India’s ambitious and anti-US bloc:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political aides of Hindutva ideology are pushing ahead their ambition of emerging as a global power sidetracking the United States. With this agenda, Indian policymakers are establishing deeper ties with Russia and forming an anti-US bloc. Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh are amongst the most prominent figures in the bloc.

According to The Diplomat, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin had an “informal” meeting in Sochi in late May, the two leaders discussed a number of bilateral issues such as military and defense cooperation and international issues relevant to both India and Russia. The meeting once again put the attention on the strategic partnership between New Delhi and Moscow, which continues to be significant, but also faces a number of challenges.

India recently has decided to buy S-400 anti-aircraft missile launching system ignoring American threat of sanctions. Russia believes that India does not need to buy an American missile shield it is currently in discussions for since the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile launching system is better.

“We don’t see any need to buy the (American) NASAM (National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) as India is acquiring the S-400, which provides an umbrella, comprehensive cover,” said Dmitry Shugaev, director of Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation (FSMTC).

India has already made it clear that it plans to purchase the S-400 from Russia, and that this is not contingent to US sanctions waiver. However, efforts were made by the two sides to find common ground during the 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was in New Delhi for the India-US 2+2 ministerial dialogue said that there has been no decision yet on concessions to India from the US sanctions against Russia to enable New Delhi's planned purchase of the S-400 Triumph air defense missile systems.

India earlier made it clear that US sanctions would not deter it from making crucial purchases from Russia. Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on July 13 during a media interaction, termed CAATSA as an American law and not a UN law and said that India will go ahead with the S-400 Triumph air defense missile systems deal.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the US House Armed Services Committee William Thornberry said in an interview with NDTV that India's decision to purchase the missile system from Russia could cost New Delhi access to sophisticated US military equipment, including Predator drones for surveillance and reconnaissance missions, which could be used in operations against terrorists in Pakistan.

On April 6, the United States imposed new sanctions against Russia under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over Moscow's alleged global destabilization efforts.

The sanctions target senior government officials and lawmakers, as well as state-owned and private companies, including Russian military equipment exporter Rosoboronexport. Any third party that carries out major transactions with the sanctioned companies is liable to punitive measures under the act.

Bangladesh deepening relations with Russia:

For past nine and half years, Bangladeshi policymakers have been vigorously pushing ahead in deepening economic and defence relations with Russia. This has been done with the target of forming an anti-US bloc. In the recent past, Bangladesh not only increased its defense purchase from Russia, but a multi-billion dollar nuclear power project is now under implementation. Besides, in 2013, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh went to Russia along with her younger sister Sheikh Rehana and niece Tulip Rizwana Siddiq, the Labour Party MP from Hampstead and Kilburn, where Sheikh Hasina signed a controversial multi-billion dollar arms purchase deal with Vladimir Putin. According to British and international media, Tulip Siddiq negotiated the deal on behalf of her aunt and substantial amount of commission was paid by Kremlin to Sheikh Hasina’s family members against this purchase. Sheikh Hasina also had purchased huge volume of defence items from China, which include submarines, anti aircraft missiles etc.

At the advice of Narendra Modi, Bangladeshi Prime Minister has distanced herself from Washington in the past several years and had further strengthened relations with China, Cambodia, Iran and of course India. It is asserted that the anti US bloc has been gradually becoming stronger silently but steadily. Such bloc would serve the purpose of China and India in further deepening influence in the Asian regions. Despite the decade-old political and diplomatic rivalry between Delhi and Beijing, both parties are vigorously putting emphasis on the formation and spread of the anti-US bloc with the future goal of stopping Washington from making financial gains from the countries within the bloc.

United States Pacific Command:

Sensing a possible consequence in Bangladesh and probable attempt of the anti-US bloc in marginalizing United States’ influence in South Asia, the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) ships had already advanced towards Bangladesh and it can reach the Bangladesh territory within one-hour notice. Intelligence sources in Washington has already alerted the US administration of a possible blood-less mock military coup (at the signal of Sheikh Hasina) in Bangladesh and return of a military-backed government for the period of 2-3 years. United States is against any such military intervention or increase of Sino-Indian influence on Bangladesh. Instead, it has been advocating a government of national unity (through the use of military influence), should Sheikh Hasina make any such attempt of continuing in power illegally. Trump administration may not allow any dictatorship in South Asia in the future. With this goal, Washington is keeping eyes on countries like Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. It is asserted that President Trump may play key role in reestablishing US influence in the region with the goal of stopping China and India from emerging as defecto powers.

The case of Khaleda Zia:

Khaleda Zia, the three-time Prime Minister is in jail since February 8, 2018 as she was wrongly convicted in a false graft case by a Kangaroo court in Bangladesh. The 73-year-old politician and wife of Major General Ziaur Rahman is facing series of false charges brought against her by the military-backed interim government and the subsequent government led by her arch-political rival Sheikh Hasina. She has been suffering from numerous health complications including left portion of her body being partially paralyzed. Bangladesh’s authoritarian regime is refusing Khaleda Zia due medical treatment. It was rumored that Sheikh Hasina and her cohorts are actively conspiring to kill Ms. Zia in prison through slow poisoning. As part of the plan, the government had assigned its loyalists inside the prison as well as the ‘medical team’. The special type of poison was secretly brought into Bangladesh from Russia, which can slowly damage the body tissues. Sheikh Hasina may abruptly release Khaleda Zia once the full course of applying this lethal poison is fed. Once released, Ms. Zia may die within a period of maximum 8-11 months. A special team formed by the Bangladeshi dictator is overseeing the implementation of the notorious plan.

Khaleda Zia, because of her anti-Indian policies is considered as a potential enemy of Delhi. Indian policymakers also are unwilling Ms. Zia in becoming the Prime Minister once again through popular vote in December 2018. According to credible sources, India wants its loyalists within Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) replace Khaleda Zia and her son Tareque Rahman and take control of the party. Their goal is to ‘free’ BNP from the ‘grips’ of pro-American and anti-Indian leadership.

Can Khaleda Zia survive the conspiracy?

This is a big question, especially to the pro-democracy masses in Bangladesh. Unless international community, especially the United States and the European Union become vocal demanding immediate release of Khaleda Zia and ensure her medical treatment soonest, there is really little hope for this ailing political leader from surviving the death trap set by Sheikh Hasina and her anti-West cohorts.

For the sake of democracy, immediate release of Khaleda Zia from prison is important. At the same time Trump administration should send a strong message to Bangladeshi dictator Sheikh Hasina stating Washington is keeping eyes on Bangladesh. As Mr. Trump is known as the champion defender of human rights and rule of law, it is extremely important for him and his administration to undertake Bangladesh issues without further delay.

Benzamin Mendez is a research-scholar and former university professor

- Asian Tribune -

 Jailed Chairperson Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) -  Khaleda Zia
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