Sunday, September 9, 2012

Delhi worries on Hasina’s popularity slide

The Times of India published an article entitled ‘India’s worries could mount with Khaleda Zia’a expected return to power in Bangladesh’ on August 29, 2012. It said that the India intelligence agencies were very worried at the rapid decline in popularity of the incumbent Awami League government and the expected return to power by BNP.

The article mentions: “New Delhi has got unprecedented cooperation from the Hasina regime in busting the havens of Indian insurgent groups in her country as well as in the investigation of terror incidents with Bangladeshi linkages. However, as the popularity of the Awami League regime under Hasina dips, ceding ground to rival BNP, the agencies fear that the gains of the last few years may be reversed if Khaleda regains power.”

It added: “Obviously, the Indian security establishment is keen to arrest the slide in Awami League’s popularity. Though there is little it can do to reverse the incumbency disadvantage, a positive development on the Teesta water-sharing pact, financial assistance for the Padma Bridge project and exchange of enclaves may go a long way in correcting the negative perception in Bangladesh that Hasina has not managed any major concessions from India. However, these will be possible only after UPA’s troublesome ally, the Trinamool Congress, is convinced to drop its reservations on Teesta and the enclaves…..Even as efforts will intensify over the next year to recover lost ground for Hasina, senior intelligence officials here claimed that Khaleda’s BNP alliance, saddled by corruption cases and expected conviction of its leaders by war crimes tribunals, could see a reversal in its growing popular perception closer to the polls, expected sometime in February 2014.”

Uncharitable, obscene
This article is followed by more than four hundred comments from the readers, an overwhelming majority of whom are Indians. The language used by the Indians to demean the Bangladeshis is mostly uncharitable and obscene. It is obvious that most of them think that Bangladesh is still a ‘basket case’ and is dependent on Indian charity for its survival. The poor Indians seem to be oblivious of the fact that Bangladesh has surpassed India in almost all social and economic indices and in fact this year has left India behind in GDP growth rate. Industrial growth in India is plummeting while it is fast rising in Bangladesh.

Indians know nothing about the tremendous progress Bangladesh has made in the recent years. They treat Bangladesh as a poor cousin of Eastern India which in turn is treated as a poor cousin of Western India. While India as a whole is communal, Eastern India is even more communal. It is common in this region for those who are considered to be of low cast to be submissive to the upper class Brahmins to be punished or even be killed. Thus like the lower caste Hindus, Bangladeshis have no business to be prosperous or successful and this may give rise to the anger and envy they feel towards Bangladesh.

India will most definitely try their best to hold on to their assets in Bangladesh by influencing the public opinion whichever way they can. Ruthless persecution of the opposition parties seems to be high on their “to do” list. But this is unlikely to deliver the desired result as people tend to forget that what happened more than five years ago and are more likely to be influenced by the government’s inaction on a number of corruption and law and order issues that is plaguing the country today.

The only option left for India is to impress upon the western countries to allow the holding of the next general elections under the present Awami League government. This is the only way that Awami League can hold on to power. On the other hand, losing the next elections is not an option for this party. The Awami League is exactly in the same boat as the Caretaker Government of Fakhruddin and Moinuddin, a BNP victory in the 2014 General Elections will be very unhealthy for all the beneficiaries of the current government, exactly as a BNP victory in 2008 would have been to the last Caretaker Government. A defeat in the next elections is not an option for the Awami League and with its growing isolation, it will have to be more dependent on Indian support.

India’s NE strategy
India on the other hand has not been able to extract the desired tangible advantages that it wanted of Bangladesh. The Indian intelligence report clearly exposes their need for Bangladesh support to hold on to their remote north eastern territories. It is ridiculous to claim that insurgents there need Bangladesh support to fight Indian control there. If the Maoists in central India can effectively fight the powerful Indian army without any external support, it is most unlikely that the much better organised, far more experienced insurgents fighting in some of the most inhospitable terrains in Asia will need the support of Bangladesh.

On the contrary, the Indian army, whose recruits are mostly from the plains, do need easy access to these hilly battlegrounds which only Bangladesh can provide. India needs transit through Bangladesh for quick, and more importantly, cheap transport of weapons and personnel to their remote north-eastern battlegrounds.

Certain developments in India have not been advantageous for the Awami League. The departure of “Kakababu” Pranab Mukherjee from the Indian central cabinet and the rise to power by Mamata Banerjee has left Awami League with no powerful friends in New Delhi. This means that India will not be able to oblige Bangladesh with anything that would be seen as a friendly gesture, i.e., Teesta Barrage waters or the exchange of enclaves. This would mean that India would be pressing for long term concessions from the Awami League without giving anything in return. The way things are in the country now, the Awami League may have to do just that if it wishes to stay in power.