Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Manmohan's Comment's Anything But Naive

Many things have been said so far, in the last few days, ever since Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, remarked during an interaction with five print media editors in Delhi, on June 29 , that ‘ 25 per cent of the population of the population of Bangladesh swear by the Jamaat-e-Islami and are very anti-India, and are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI’ – Pakistan Army’s intelligence wing. The comment has drawn reactions from a range of people, including members of the present government, leaders of the main opposition in parliament BNP, former Indian diplomats, the Indian High Commission’s official clarification and the Bangladesh government’s refusal to issue a statement.  Given Manmohan’s reputation as an intellectual and scholar, there is no reason, however, to treat his comments as merely an innocent remark.  The first thing to note is the timing of the comment made by the Indian premier. The Indian external affairs minister, SM Krishna is likely to visit Dhaka on July 6. The Indian Water Resources Minister Salman Khurshid is likely to visit Dhaka soon after to give final touches to a treaty on sharing the waters of River Teesta. Sonia Gandhi is expected arrive on July 25 , while Manmohan himself is likely to visit Dhaka by September. Given the context, it is difficult to believe that the apparently ‘off- the-record’ comments had been mistakenly inserted in the transcripts of the meeting, as asserted by Indian High Commission in Dhaka. Instead, it would not be a stretch to presume that the comments arrived at the right time to exert an influence on the number of agreements that are likely to be signed during these visits. An ominous note in Manmohan’s comment, ‘that Bangladesh’s political landscape can change anytime’, can hardly be interpreted as anything but a means to put pressure and create a sense of vulnerability on the government in power, in Bangladesh, prior to negotiations in which the Indian government are expected to seek a number of concessions from the Bangladesh government. Furthermore, given the Bangladesh government’s visibly shaky relations in recent months with the US government, following the Dr Yunus saga, Manmohan’s comments could serve as a double- edged sword to impress upon the US the apparent threat of fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh.  Manmohan’s comments, in the end, provide the answers for the questions he raises. If a significant part of the population the country is indeed anti-Indian, it is because of such comments and expression of intent of top officials of the Indian government, time and again, which not only cast aspersions on the ordinary millions of the country, disrespect their mandates and insult Bangladesh’s sovereignty, but also reflect a tendency to wrestle out undue concessions in negotiations, through any means. The Indian policymakers must realise that if they truly want to build friendly relations between the neighbouring countries, as indeed it should be, than it should take effective steps to resolve the numerous unresolved issues – primarily a result of Delhi’s selfish unwillingness - between the two countries and make negotiations beneficial to both sides. Meanwhile, for the present Awami League-Jatiya Party led government, elected to parliament with a three-fourths majority, it now becomes their patriotic duty, to not buckle under such pressure and wrestle out from India the best interest of the country in the days to come.