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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

India Welcomes Hasina’s Win without Reservations

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

It was only to be expected that the re-election of Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, in the just concluded polls will not be universally welcome. Her critics at home, in the West and above all, in Pakistan, have harped on her alleged attempts to stifle the Opposition and freedom of speech. But they have conveniently overlooked that the alternative to her is in no way better than her, going by their track record and their current thinking.

As far as India is concerned there is absolutely no reason to join the chorus against her third successive victory at the polls. While as a sincere friend, it might be fine for India to gently nudge Bangladesh by pointing out that the egregious ways of the ruling party, if unchecked, will in the long run prove to be harmful.

It would be delusional to think that India is in a position to influence the domestic—or for that matter, foreign--policies of Sheikh Hasina. Besides, she should be able to decide for herself what is good or bad for her country, both in the short term and in the future ahead.

India’s neighbourhood has two nuclear powered states, both implacably hostile. It cannot be forgotten that the Opposition in Bangladesh is not at all disposed well towards India. The Begum Khaleda Zia (Bangladesh Nationalist Party, BNP) rule had seen Bangladesh becoming almost as unfriendly as Pakistan, from which the country had seceded in 1971.

India had failed to stop the BNP regime from aiding insurgents operating in its Northeast that shares border with Bangladesh and Myanmar. ISI had strongly entrenched itself in Bangladesh to carry out terrorist and other subversive activities in India. Sheikh Hasina was bold enough to renounce the anti-India policies weathering strong BNP opposition.

It is, of course, a fact that anti-India elements in Bangladesh—the BNP and its allies in the radical religious groups—have continued to grow even under Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League rule. Almost anything done by her that even remotely looks like a friendly gesture towards India draws taunts of her being ‘anti-national’ and kowtowing to India. The pro-Pakistan lobby in the country that opposed Bangladesh becoming an independent nation in 1971 is active and spreading its wings with help from Pakistan.

Pakistan fully backs the anti-India moves with money, weapons and also politically and diplomatically. Any trouble inside Bangladesh is swiftly taken by Pakistan to the outside world—the way Pakistan meddles with affairs in Kashmir. Pakistan always looks out for opportunities to stoke anti-India sentiments anywhere, in India or out of India.

Let it not be denied that there are issues between India and Bangladesh which, if left unresolved over a long period, have the potential to sour bilateral relations even under a friendly government in Dhaka. Perhaps the most touchy unresolved issue is the sharing of the Teesta River waters.

An attempt to settle the issue was made by Dr. Manmohan Singh-led UPA government in India but just when it looked that an agreement would be finally sealed, Mamata Banerjee, the chief of Trinamool Congress, put in the spokes. She too, like the Bangladeshi leader, has to cater to the ‘sentiments’ of the people of her turf – West Bengal, who have been led to believe that the entire Teesta water is theirs. Mamata Banerjee plays upon that sentiment because it helps her put some pressure on New Delhi—and win votes. Much of the goodwill that is visible in the bilateral relations between the two neighbours can be wiped out if the Teesta issue is not resolved quickly.

Sheikh Hasina may have won 90 per cent of the Parliament seats but she cannot rule out the possibility of an Opposition resurgence on account of discontent and anger of the people which can be built over issues like Teesta. The Bangladesh government may have snuffed out Indian insurgents from its territory but such elements will still manage to find hiding places with the help of the local population. Agencies like the ISI are there to offer more than a helping hand.

It will be necessary for the Indian government to carry the West Bengal government with it for a final settlement of the river water sharing agreement. Trinmool Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, ruling parties in West Bengal and the centre, may be at daggers’ drawn but there are occasions when political adversaries have to come together in the interest of the nation.

It is not a question of which of the two—the state or the centre—will blink first. Given the vast powers the centre enjoys vis-a-vis a state, the more desirable thing might be for the centre to try and accommodate as much as possible the views of the state. Some give and take has to occur but to make it possible the two parties have to refrain from making jingoistic noises.

Bangladesh has allowed India direct access across the Northeast. Terrorists and insurgents can no longer straddle across the more than 4000 km porous border between the two countries. Bangladesh is becoming India’s gateway to the South-east. India was saved from receiving a huge influx of refugees from Myanmar when Bangladesh received the bulk of frightened, fleeing Muslims from its southern borders.

A friendly Bangladesh can play an active role in shaping an important regional grouping in the Southeast which in terms of trade and commerce can prove to be much better for India than the near defunct Saarc, which has been sabotaged by Pakistan due to its anti-India obsession.

With a population of about 170 million, Bangladesh has shown an impressive growth rate of 7 per cent. At 139, its human development index is nearer India’s at 130 but much ahead of Pakistan’s at 150 (out of 189 countries). It is remarkable that though the Sheikh Hasina government has hardly been trouble-free its growth rate in the last few years was impressive. Sheikh Hasina says she will bring it up to 9 per cent. India will be envious of that, but the more important thing for India is to work hard at removing the possibilities of any major misunderstanding with Bangladesh.

- Asian Tribune -

Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina being commended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - File Photo
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