1. ( SBU) Summary. On February 12 , ConGen spoke with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus about his plans to enter Bangladesh politics. Yunus, on a two-day visit to Kolkata, expressed a strong interest to enter the political fray and said that he was reviewing his options. He expressed support of the present Caretaker Government and its decision to declare a "State of Emergency," saying it had averted a possible civil war. Yunus felt that Muslim fundamentalists represented a fringe and that while the dominant parties had developed ties with fundamentalists for political gain, most Bangladeshis did not favor the extremism. Yunus was also receptive to closer commercial and trade relations with India. Yunus recognized the risk of entering politics and its potential to tarnish his exemplary image. However, even as he professed that he was still considering his options, he indicated a strong intent to plunge into the maelstrom of Bangladesh politics. End Summary. 2. ( SBU) As a fellow Bengali, Prof. Muhammad Yunus, received a hero's welcome while participating in two days of programs in Kolkata, West Bengal, from Feb. 11-12. During a lunch hosted by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce ( CCC) for its 175 th anniversary, ConGen spoke with Dr. Yunus about the present political situation in Bangladesh. On February 11 , Yunus had issued an open letter saying that he was seeking support from Bangladeshis to launch a political party to reform the violence and corruption in Bangladesh. In the letter, Yunus asked people to send him their opinions on forming a political party focusing on good governance. ConGen asked Yunus was he was intent on entering politics as recently reported. Yunus confirmed that he was interested, having supposedly been asked by many people to step-in and overcome the political impasse between the two strongest political leaders, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. Yunus added, though, that he was still discussing the merits of becoming a political figure. CCC President Manoj Mohanka questioned the advisability of Yunus joining the messy world of Bangladesh politics and noted the likelihood of Yunus' reputation being tarnished. Yunus quickly responded that he understood the dangers of entering politics but felt that responsible people had to step into the political field to make a real change in Bangladesh, which was wracked by corruption and poor governance. 3. ( SBU) ConGen asked Yunus for his views on a recent "Economist" magazine article that described the present Bangladesh Caretaker Government's state of emergency and its support by the Bangladesh military as "The Coup That Dare Not Say Its Name." Yunus was supportive of the imposition of the state of emergency, saying that it had averted a possible civil war. He did not believe that the military's support was significant and added that the Caretaker Government's role was clearly defined under the constitution. 4. ( SBU) When asked about the perception in India of the rising fundamentalism in Bangladesh, Yunus said that he saw the Muslim fundamentalists as a fringe not accepted by the Bangladeshi mainstream. ConGen noted, however, that even the Awami League (AL), which had been the primary advocate of a socialist, secular nation, in December had signed an agreement with fundamentalist group Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish (BKM). The agreement with BKM would recognize fatwas issued by Imams and block the introduction of laws contrary to sharia law. Yunus responded that the agreement was a reflection of the AL's moral bankruptcy and was based on pure political calculus to garner a few additional votes and another example of the need for a new political party. 5. ( SBU) ConGen asked Yunus about his views on India and whether better trade relations could be developed. Yunus was positive about expanding economic ties with India and within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). He felt that Bangladesh would be receptive to better relations with KOLKATA 00000050 002 OF 002 India but that often it became a divisive political issue, with Bangladeshi politicians stoking resentment against India for political gain. However, he recognized that the GOI maintained significant non- tariff barriers restricting Bangladeshi goods from India's markets. He was favorable to opening Chittagong Port to regional trade with India, Burma, Bhutan and China; but said that the port was presently too small and at full capacity. He added Grameen Bank was considering the possibility of financing a new " mega-port" project in Chittagong to meet the regional demand. 6. ( SBU) Comment: Although Dr. Yunus limited himself to saying he was still considering his options, the tenor of his comments indicated a strong to desire to jump into the maelstrom of Bangladeshi politics. He recognized that he would face a potentially bruising response from the "two ladies" and other established political figures, but he felt that the situation in Bangladesh had reached a critical juncture as "civil war" had only just been averted. As a person of great moral stature and strong organizational skills, Yunus' candidacy could offer a possible out from the present Hasina-Zia zero-sum game that cripples Bangladesh's democratic process. 7. ( U) This message was cleared with AmEmbassy Dhaka.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Arundhati Roy in conversation with Shoma Chaudhury for Tehelka.com on the violence rending India’s heartland Shoma Chowdhury (SC): Singur and Nandigram make you wonder — is the last stop of every revolution advanced capitalism? There is an atmosphere of growing violence across the country. How do you read the signs? In what context should it be read? Arundhati Roy (AR): You don’t have to be a genius to read the signs. We have a growing middle class, reared on a diet of radical consumerism and aggressive greed. Unlike industrialising Western countries, which had colonies from which to plunder resources and generate slave labour to feed this process, we have to colonise ourselves, our own nether parts. We’ve begun to eat our own limbs. The greed that is being generated (and marketed as a value interchangeable with nationalism) can only be sated by grabbing land, water and resources from the vulnerable. What we’re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in independent India — the secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country. It’s a vertical secession, not a lateral one. They’re fighting for the right to merge with the world’s elite somewhere up there in the stratosphere. They’ve managed to commandeer the resources, the coal, the minerals, the bauxite, the water and electricity. Now they want the land to make more cars, more bombs, more mines — supertoys for the new supercitizens of the new superpower. So it’s outright war, and people on both sides are choosing their weapons. The government and the corporations reach for structural adjustment, the World Bank, the ADB, FDI, friendly court orders, friendly policy makers, help from the ‘friendly’ corporate media and a police force that will ram all this down people’s throats. Those who want to resist this process have, until now, reached for dharnas, hunger strikes, satyagraha, the courts and what they thought was friendly media. But now more and more are reaching for guns. Will the violence grow? If the ‘growth rate’ and the Sensex are going to be the only barometers the government uses to measure progress and the well-being of people, then of course it will. How do I read the signs? It isn’t hard to read sky-writing. What it says up there, in big letters, is this: the shit has hit the fan, folks. SC: You once remarked that though you may not resort to violence yourself, you think it has become immoral to condemn it, given the circumstances in the country. Can you elaborate on this view? AR: I’d be a liability as a guerrilla! I doubt I used the word ‘ immoral’ —morality is an elusive business, as changeable as the weather. What I feel is this: non- violent movements have knocked at the door of every democratic institution in this country for decades, and have been spurned and humiliated. Look at the Bhopal gas victims, the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The NBA had a lot going for it — high-profile leadership, media coverage, more resources than any other mass movement. What went wrong? People are bound to want to rethink strategy. When Sonia Gandhi begins to promote satyagraha at the World Economic Forum in Davos, it’s time for us to sit up and think. For example, is mass civil disobedience possible within the structure of a democratic nation state? Is it possible in the age of disinformation and corporate- controlled mass media? Are hunger strikes umbilically linked to celebrity politics? Would anybody care if the people of Nangla Machhi or Bhatti mines went on a hunger strike? Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger strike for six years. That should be a lesson to many of us. I’ve always felt that it’ s ironic that hunger strikes are used as a political weapon in a land where most people go hungry anyway. We are in a different time and place now. Up against a different, more complex adversary. We’ve entered the era of NGOs in which mass action can be a treacherous business. We have demonstrations which are funded, we have sponsored dharnas and social forums which make militant postures but never follow up on what they preach. We have all kinds of ‘virtual’ resistance. Meetings against SEZs sponsored by the biggest promoters of SEZs. Awards and grants for environmental activism and community action given by corporations responsible for devastating whole ecosystems. Vedanta, a company mining bauxite in the forests of Orissa, wants to start a university. The Tatas have two charitable trusts that directly and indirectly fund activists and mass movements across the country. Could that be why Singur has drawn so much less flak than Nandigram? Of course the Tatas and Birlas funded Gandhi too — maybe he was our first NGO. But now we have NGOs who make a lot of noise, write a lot of reports, but whom the sarkar is more than comfortable with. How do we make sense of all this? The place is crawling with professional diffusers of real political action. ‘ Virtual’ resistance has become something of a liability. Anyone listening? Nobody. There was a time when mass movements looked to the courts for justice. The courts have rained down a series of judgements that are so unjust, so insulting to the poor in the language they use, they take your breath away. A recent Supreme Court judgement, allowing the Vasant Kunj Mall to resume construction though it didn’ t have the requisite clearances, said in so many words that the questions of corporations indulging in malpractice does not arise! In the ERA of corporate globalisation, corporate land-grab, in the ERA of Enron and Monsanto, Halliburton and Bechtel, that’s a loaded thing to say. It exposes the ideological heart of the most powerful institution in this country. The judiciary, along with the corporate press, is now seen as the lynchpin of the neo-liberal project. In a climate like this, when people feel that they are being worn down, exhausted by these interminable ‘democratic’ processes, only to be eventually humiliated, what are they supposed to do? Of course it isn’t as though the only options are binary — violence versus non- violence. There are political parties that believe in armed struggle but only as one part of their overall political strategy. Political workers in these struggles have been dealt with brutally, killed, beaten, imprisoned under false charges. People are fully aware that to take to arms is to call down upon yourself the myriad forms of the violence of the Indian State. The minute armed struggle becomes a strategy, your whole world shrinks and the colours fade to black and white. But when people decide to take that step because every other option has ended in despair, should we condemn them? Does anyone believe that if the people of Nandigram had held a dharna and sung songs, the West Bengal government would have backed down? We are living in times when to be ineffective is to support the status quo (which no doubt suits some of us). And being effective comes at a terrible price. I find it hard to condemn people who are prepared to pay that price. SC: You have been travelling a lot on the ground — can you give us a sense of the trouble spots you have been to? Can you outline a few of the combat lines in these places? AR: Huge question — what can I say? The military occupation of Kashmir, neo-fascism in Gujarat, civil war in Chhattisgarh, mncs raping Orissa, the submergence of hundreds of villages in the Narmada Valley, people living on the edge of absolute starvation, the devastation of forest land, the Bhopal victims living to see the West Bengal government re- wooing Union Carbide —now calling itself Dow Chemicals — in Nandigram. I haven’t been recently to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, but we know about the almost hundred thousand farmers who have killed themselves. We know about the fake encounters and the terrible repression in Andhra Pradesh. Each of these places has its own particular history, economy, ecology. None is amenable to easy analysis. And yet there is connecting tissue, there are huge international cultural and economic pressures being brought to bear on them. How can I not mention the Hindutva project, spreading its poison subcutaneously, waiting to erupt once again? I’d say the biggest indictment of all is that we are still a country, a culture, a society which continues to nurture and practice the notion of untouchability. While our economists number-crunch and boast about the growth rate, a million people — human scavengers — earn their living carrying several kilos of other people’s shit on their heads every day. And if they didn’t carry shit on their heads they would starve to death. Some f***ing superpower this. SC: How does one view the recent State and police violence in Bengal? AR: No different from police and State violence anywhere else — including the issue of hypocrisy and doublespeak so perfected by all political parties including the mainstream Left. Are Communist bullets different from capitalist ones? Odd things are happening. It snowed in Saudi Arabia. Owls are out in broad daylight. The Chinese government tabled a bill sanctioning the right to private property. I don’t know if all of this has to do with climate change. The Chinese Communists are turning out to be the biggest capitalists of the 21 st century. Why should we expect our own parliamentary Left to be any different? Nandigram and Singur are clear signals. It makes you wonder — is the last stop of every revolution advanced capitalism? Think about it — the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Vietnam War, the anti-apartheid struggle, the supposedly Gandhian freedom struggle in India… what’s the last station they all pull in at? Is this the end of imagination? SC: These are times when to be ineffective is to support the status quo. And being effective comes at a terrible price. The Maoist attack in Bijapur — the death of 55 policemen. Are the rebels only the flip side of the State? AR: How can the rebels be the flip side of the State? Would anybody say that those who fought against apartheid — however brutal their methods — were the flip side of the State? What about those who fought the French in Algeria? Or those who fought the Nazis? Or those who fought colonial regimes? Or those who are fighting the US occupation of Iraq? Are they the flip side of the State? This facile new report-driven ‘ human rights’ discourse, this meaningless condemnation game that we are all forced to play, makes politicians of us all and leaches the real politics out of everything. However pristine we would like to be, however hard we polish our halos, the tragedy is that we have run out of pristine choices. There is a civil war in Chhattisgarh sponsored, created by the Chhattisgarh government, which is publicly pursing the Bush doctrine: if you’re not with us, you are with the terrorists. The lynchpin of this war, apart from the formal security forces, is the Salva Judum — a government-backed militia of ordinary people forced to take up arms, forced to become SPOs (special police officers). The Indian State has tried this in Kashmir, in Manipur, in Nagaland. Tens of thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands tortured, thousands have disappeared. Any banana republic would be proud of this record. Now the government wants to import these failed strategies into the heartland. Thousands of adivasis have been forcibly moved off their mineral-rich lands into police camps. Hundreds of villages have been forcibly evacuated. Those lands, rich in iron-ore, are being eyed by corporations like the Tatas and Essar. MOUs have been signed, but no one knows what they say. Land acquisition has begun. This kind of thing happened in countries like Colombia — one of the most devastated countries in the world. While everybody’s eyes are fixed on the spiralling violence between government-backed militias and guerrilla squads, multinational corporations quietly make off with the mineral wealth. That’s the little piece of theatre being scripted for us in Chhattisgarh. Of course it’s horrible that 55 policemen were killed. But they’re as much the victims of government policy as anybody else. For the government and the corporations they’re just cannon fodder — there’s plenty more where they came from. Crocodile tears will be shed, prim TV anchors will hector us for a while and then more supplies of fodder will be arranged. For the Maoist guerrillas, the police and SPOs they killed were the armed personnel of the Indian State, the main, hands-on perpetrators of repression, torture, custodial killings, false encounters. They’re not innocent civilians — if such a thing exists — by any stretch of imagination. I have no doubt that the Maoists can be agents of terror and coercion too. I have no doubt they have committed unspeakable atrocities. I have no doubt they cannot lay claim to undisputed support from local people — but who can? Still, no guerrilla army can survive without local support. That’s a logistical impossibility. And the support for Maoists is growing, not diminishing. That says something. People have no choice but to align themselves on the side of whoever they think is less worse. But to equate a resistance movement fighting against enormous injustice with the government which enforces that injustice is absurd. The government has slammed the door in the face of every attempt at non-violent resistance. When people take to arms, there is going to be all kinds of violence — revolutionary, lumpen and outright criminal. The government is responsible for the monstrous situations it creates. SC: ‘Naxals’, ‘Maoists’, ‘outsiders’ : these are terms being very loosely used these days. AR: ‘Outsiders’ is a generic accusation used in the early stages of repression by governments who have begun to believe their own publicity and can’t imagine that their own people have risen up against them. That’s the stage the CPM is at now in Bengal, though some would say repression in Bengal is not new, it has only moved into higher gear. In any case, what’s an outsider? Who decides the borders? Are they village boundaries? Tehsil? Block? District? State? Is narrow regional and ethnic politics the new Communist mantra? About Naxals and Maoists — well… India is about to become a police state in which everybody who disagrees with what’s going on risks being called a terrorist. Islamic terrorists have to be Islamic — so that’s not good enough to cover most of us. They need a bigger catchments area. So leaving the definition loose, undefined, is effective strategy, because the time is not far off when we’ll all be called Maoists or Naxalites, terrorists or terrorist sympathisers, and shut down by people who don’t really know or care who Maoists or Naxalites are. In villages, of course, that has begun — thousands of people are being held in jails across the country, loosely charged with being terrorists trying to overthrow the state. The government has slammed the door in the face of every attempt at non-violent resistance. The government is responsible for the situations it creates. The Communist Party of India, the CPI, was formed in 1925. The CPI (M), or what we now call the CPM — the Communist Party Marxist — split from the CPI in 1964 and formed a separate party. Both, of course, were parliamentary political parties. In 1967 , the CPM, along with a splinter group of the Congress, came to power in West Bengal. At the time there was massive unrest among the peasantry starving in the countryside. Local CPM leaders — Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar — led a peasant uprising in the district of Naxalbari which is where the term Naxalites comes from. In 1969 , the government fell and the Congress came back to power under Siddhartha Shankar Ray. The Naxalite uprising was mercilessly crushed — Mahasweta Devi has written powerfully about this time. In 1969 , the CPI (ML) — Marxist Leninist — split from the CPM. A few years later, around 1971 , the CPI (ML) devolved into several parties: the CPM-ML (Liberation), largely centred in Bihar; the CPM- ML (New Democracy), functioning for the most part out of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar; the CPM-ML ( Class Struggle) mainly in Bengal. These parties have been generically baptised ‘Naxalites’. They see themselves as Marxist Leninist, not strictly speaking Maoist. They believe in elections, mass action and — when absolutely pushed to the wall or attacked — armed struggle. The MCC — the Maoist Communist Centre, at the time mostly operating in Bihar — was formed in 1968. The PW, People’s War, operational for the most part in Andhra Pradesh, was formed in 1980. Recently, in 2004 , the MCC and the PW merged to form the CPI (Maoist). They believe in outright armed struggle and the overthrowing of the State. They don’t participate in elections. This is the party that is fighting the guerrilla war in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. SC: The Indian State and media largely view the Maoists as an “ internal security” threat. Is this the way to look at them? I’m sure the Maoists would be flattered to be viewed in this way. The Maoists want to bring down the State. Given the autocratic ideology they take their inspiration from, what alternative would they set up? Wouldn’t their regime be an exploitative, autocratic, violent one as well? Isn’t their action already exploitative of ordinary people? Do they really have the support of ordinary people? AR: I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that both Mao and Stalin are dubious heroes with murderous pasts. Tens of millions of people were killed under their regimes. Apart from what happened in China and the Soviet Union, Pol Pot, with the support of the Chinese Communist Party ( while the West looked discreetly away), wiped out two million people in Cambodia and brought millions of people to the brink of extinction from disease and starvation. Can we pretend that China’s Cultural Revolution didn’t happen? Or that millions of people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were not victims of labour camps, torture chambers, the network of spies and informers, the secret police. The history of these regimes is just as dark as the history of Western imperialism, except for the fact that they had a shorter life-span. We cannot condemn the occupation of Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir while we remain silent about Tibet and Chechnya. I would imagine that for the Maoists, the Naxalites, as well as the mainstream Left, being honest about the past is important to strengthen people’s faith in the future. One hopes the past will not be repeated, but denying that it ever happened doesn’t help inspire confidence… Nevertheless, the Maoists in Nepal have waged a brave and successful struggle against the monarchy. Right now, in India, the Maoists and the various Marxist-Leninist groups are leading the fight against immense injustice here. They are fighting not just the State, but feudal landlords and their armed militias. They are the only people who are making a dent. And I admire that. It may well be that when they come to power, they will, as you say, be brutal, unjust and autocratic, or even worse than the present government. Maybe, but I’ m not prepared to assume that in advance. If they are, we’ll have to fight them too. And most likely someone like myself will be the first person they’ll string up from the nearest tree — but right now, it is important to acknowledge that they are bearing the brunt of being at the forefront of resistance. Many of us are in a position where we are beginning to align ourselves on the side of those who we know have no place for us in their religious or ideological imagination. It’s true that everybody changes radically when they come to power — look at Mandela’s ANC. Corrupt, capitalist, bowing to the IMF, driving the poor out of their homes — honouring Suharto, the killer of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian Communists, with South Africa’s highest civilian award. Who would have thought it could happen? But does this mean South Africans should have backed away from the struggle against apartheid? Or that they should regret it now? Does it mean Algeria should have remained a French colony, that Kashmiris, Iraqis and Palestinians should accept military occupation? That people whose dignity is being assaulted should give up the fight because they can’t find saints to lead them into battle? Is there a communication breakdown in our society? Yes.
Post-mortems are undertaken on things that are dead. The Yunus Affair is not exactly dead a court case is still pending. Frantic efforts are also being made to bring the issue to a “respectful” end. Yunus is down but not out, not completely anyway! Perhaps CT scan is a better way to express and expose the present state of the Yunus Affair. CT Scans are useful tools to reveal body parts in their evolved conditions and thus help separating growths that are benign from the malignant. The three month-long Yunus issue has revealed several aspects to it, not all are benign. “Keya, Ek ghar me do pir?” Shah Waliullah’s epic novel Lal Shalu narrates an incident where one day young son of a Pir ( religious sage) produces a miracle that outshines that of his ‘Pir’ father’s. This immensely upsets the father (the ‘Pir’). He could not accept the fact that someone other than him could or should have the gall to produce a miracle better than his, especially not by his own young son. The Pir roars, “Keya, Ek ghar me do Pir?” (What, there are two sages in the same household?) ; he orders his son, “Jao bachcha so raho (Go my child, off to sleep)”. The child goes off to sleep never to wake up again. There are those who believe that the entire Yunus episode has been a stage managed affair. They believe that the way the saga unfolded itself from Heinemann’s Norwegian TV showing, that followed its enthusiastic reporting in some sections of the Bangladeshi media (alleged to be those having connections with the government or the PM) to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s “blood sucker” comments etc. and then in more recent times, the unceremonious sacking of Prof. Yunus from his position of Managing Director of the Grameen Bank demonstrates a pattern undertaken to demonize and marginalize the Nobel winning microcredit champion who not only outshines in fame Bangladesh’s multiple ‘doctorate’ Prime Minister but there may also be a perception that given the opportunity Prof. Yunus may even out-gun her politically. The conspiracy theorists thus argue that the whole thing has been done to diminish all possibilities of a future political alternative in a country where it is not so much the party ideology but the cultist character of a leader that draws followings and empowers politicians to gain supremacy. Yunus is not a cult leader but a leader who commands genuine respect of millions, at home and abroad and thus to some, he may have appeared as an unwelcome and ominously potent second “Pir” in the house of Bangladeshi politics. The final nail in the coffin of Yunus Affair came from none other than Sajib Wajed, Bangladesh Prime Minister’s US based son ( reportedly, an Advisor to the PM though no one knows how he got this position and exactly what he advises the PM on and whether his TOR qualifies him to comment on touchy and complex issues such as Yunus and microcredit respectively) . Wajed has since called Prof. Yunus a “fraud”. He also alleges that in the name of microcredit Prof. Yunus indulges in acts of “ theft”. “Blood sucker”, “Thief”, Fraud” these are potent ingredients of a profound vilification project that starting with the mother has now ended up with the son. The curse has been cast, its detractors now expect Prof. Yunus to go into “ sleep” (from public life), never to wake up again! Dada Vs Uncle Sam Judging from the way how some section of the Indian press reacted to the Yunus issue it is not hard to see that elements of geo-politics may not be all that far from the current episode. In its regional hegemonic intents India certainly has interest in maintaining a docile political leadership in the country. Patriotic independent minded people like Prof. Yunus risks such equations. Also what is equally important to remember that in the present times India’s regional hegemonic intents are directly aligned with West’s similar global imperialist project. In the evolving geo-politics of today, India is a first cousin of the world’s hegemonic fraternity it is an active member of West’s mutually beneficial twin goals of “ fight against terror” (read this as brutal subjugation of all forms of Muslim nationalist struggles that are currently raging from Palestine to Indian occupied Kashmir etc) and establishment of a counter force against China’s growth as a regional power. Thus even though US is visibly “troubled” by the Yunus Affair but in the context of the realities of today’s geo-politics India’s dictations regarding how to manage the project in its own backyard would reign supreme and are unlikely to be contradicted too much by any one let alone the US. No wonder we are now discussing options of a “compromise” deal. We have an example around the corner of a situation similar to this. This example illustrates how power and potency of a regional superpower has the capacity to triumph over moral underpinnings of rest of the world. We are aware how against all odds and against sustained international condemnations backing of a self- seeking China, an emerging super- power has allowed the military junta of Myanmar to incarcerate and humiliate another Nobel Laureate, Ms. Aung San Su Chi in Myanmar for more than a decade. The lesson - you get away with murder provided you manage to garner, indeed not without a price, the backing of a powerful ally. Yunus’ foes are not acting alone. As they say if you wish to learn things go to China. These days some of us choose to go to India. Whether we like it or not, in matters relating to the sub- continental issues Dada is likely to have greater sway over Uncle Sam in the region and hence, search for the so-called “compromise deal” to ensure that the so-called “deal” does not weaken too much the position of Dada’s subservient ally (ie, Yunus’ foe) and destabilize too much the current geo-political equilibrium in the region. On Yunus affair what is likely to happen is a deal be composed of a compassionate package and not a principled solution. Deal or no deal and contrary to the wishes of his detractors Yunus is likely to rise again but will he be the same person? In this regard, Prof. Yunus may wish to draw some inspiration from what Nelson Mandela once had to say about great people, “Greatness of a person is measured lot less by his rising but more by the rising of his falling”. What twist of bad luck the people of Bangladesh must have had to endure to experience a situation where its elected leader chooses to dishonour its most revered person, that too someone that brought such glory and fame to its country and people!
India’s relationships with its neighbours are fraught with conflict, save Bhutan and Maldives. Of late, the popular perception is that its relationship with Bangladesh is on an upswing. Last year, India signed the much- awaited agreement for transit of goods through Bangladesh to access its north-eastern states. Indian media reports hailed it as a momentous step in cementing India-Bangladesh relations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also set to visit this eastern neighbour sometime this year. But no effort has been made to gauge the mood on the other side of the border. Despite an informal gagging of any critical media by the ruling Awami League, some television talk shows and newspapers took the vox populi route to register how unpopular the agreement had been. The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), traditionally anti-Indian, lost no time in denouncing the deal. What is significant is that ministers took it seriously and worked hard to fend off the BNP’s opposition. Why should India worry about growing opposition to the deal when the Awami League is in a significant majority in Parliament and when most Indians feel the deal is as good for Bangladesh? Transit deal favours India Actually, the transit agreement is stellar for India. It is just what India needs to access its fractious North East, flanked by a belligerent China. The transit would save India crores of rupees in transporting goods that now take the circuitous route through the ‘chickens neck’ in the Siliguri corridor in West Bengal. For instance, Assam tea is now carried 1 ,380 km from Guwahati to the Kolkata port to be exported. If exported through Chittagong port in Bangladesh, the journey gets shortened to 530 km. But Bangladesh will not get access through India to reach Bhutan and Nepal through the treaty, as it has been asking for along time. The $1 billion loan that India has promised Bangladesh to upgrade infrastructure is more to facilitate India’s own transportation into Bangladesh. For instance, the Bangladesh railway gauge is different from India’s; and Indian bogeys can’t move seamlessly into Bangladesh. A large portion of the loan will actually go towards that end and not to upgrade Bangladesh’s own rail network; it is a loan tied to Indian equipment and contractors. A 3 ,783- km fence that India is building along its border with Bangladesh, ostensibly to keep out illegal immigrants, is adding to India’s unpopularity. To most Bangladeshis, the logic of being fenced in, while India has transit rights, is untenable. This view is gaining enough traction to make the Awami League deeply unpopular. Consequently, it could affect its ability to ‘deliver’ transit to India. The belligerence of India’ s Border Security Force (BSF) has also complicated things. The China card China, of course, is the other big worry. India’s perceived heavy- handedness could facilitate large Chinese investments in Bangladesh. Sri Lanka has Hambantota port, Pakistan has Gwadar port and the highways linking Sinchiang and the Northern Territories, Nepal has its Chinese government-built highways. Bangladesh is still to see such concerted Chinese activity though the Awaini League government in a rare show of dissent, perhaps to quell its image as being blatantly pro-India, has indicated it wants China to build a deep sea port and a road from Kunming via Myanmar into Bangladesh. And China is by no means uninterested. A smart Bangladesh government could leverage that and bargain with India, something Bangladesh is yet to do. Despite everything, goodwill for India still remains high in Bangladesh given the history of its independence. Much is also made of an emotional give-and-take of a shared culture between West Bengal and Bangladesh. But Bangladeshis are fast beginning to realise that engaging with Kolkata is not the same as engaging with New Delhi. New Delhi should be ready with a strategy when this realisation morphs into policy in Bangladesh. India might actually gain from removing the fence because free movement of trade could well compensate for movement of free labour — the ostensible purpose of the fence to stop illegal migration. But this is unlikely, given the political pressure to stop not just migration but the changing demographics of West Bengal and Assam with a growing share of Muslims in their populations. But if immigration policy is liberalised and migration legally controlled, Bangladeshi workers would spread across India, and the pressure of their presence in eastern India would ease. The author is a London-based research scholar in political economy.