Sunday, January 29, 2012

India Must Share The Blame

Sheikh Hasina has done so much unilaterally to foster good relations with India yet bureaucrats in Delhi are not allowing the implementation of the treaty that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inked with the Bangladesh Prime Minister. 

As the dust settles over an attempted coup or conspiracy in Bangladesh, it is now confirmed that Indian Intelligence agencies had warned the army brass in Dhaka about a plot against the Sheikh Hasina government. The Bangladesh army acted on the tip-off with alacrity and nipped the defiance in the bud. In 1975 too, ahead of the murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman and his 15 family members by the army, Indian Intelligence had warned of an attack on Mujib. But that time, the top brass were in the thick of the coup and the army did not act deliberately. The result is known to the world.

That the Bangladesh army is not interested in taking over the country was clear when it returned power to the civil authorities in 2008 and held free and fair elections that returned Sheikh Hasina with a three-fourths majority in the country’s parliament. When the army was backing the caretaker government and cleaning the stables, it found top politicians of both Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League and Khalida Zia’s Nationalist Bangladesh Party involved in corrupt practices. Many in the army were worried that a revival of the democratic process would bring in its wake the same old graft. Yet the army preferred civilian rule and bowed to the prerogative of the people to have their representatives in power.

Things are not what the electorate expected and the administration has been found wanting in many respects. Corruption and nepotism are back with a vengeance. Yet, it is the people who have to fight such evils. The army cannot do the job because there is a difference between democracy and dictatorship. “Instigated by some non-resident Bangladeshis, a band of fanatic retired and serving officers led a failed attempt to thwart the democratic system by creating anarchy in the army, banking on others’ religious zeal,” reads a statement issued by Bangladesh’s army that claims “such heinous attempts are being foiled”. The statement further reads: “Some officers in active military service (were) involved in a conspiracy to topple the system of democratic governance through the army.” 

A top army officer is under investigation and another officer, Major Syed Mohamad Zia-ul Haq, is absconding. It is apparent that the coup had been attempted by a few religious fanatics and disgruntled army officers. The fundamentalists are unhappy because they have been firmly suppressed by the Hasina government which is liberal and secular. Yet, there are other forces that are inimical to India and they resort to all kind of methods to befoul the atmosphere. That was also the case when Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman was killed. He too did not give any quarter to extremists and forces unhappy with the battle for Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina regrets that Islamists have penetrated the country’s army. It is ominous because this is what has happened in Pakistan as well.

My information is that coup leaders this time were helped by forces operating in India. The rump of Ulfa was part of it as were the hostile Nagas. The Manipur insurgents too had a hand in the plot. It is strange that while Bangladesh does not allow any anti-India forces to operate from its soil, as used to happen in the past, whereas India is lethargic and inactive.

For the larger picture, New Delhi must share the blame. It fails to improve connectivity with Dhaka. Promises made in the fields of trade, power and business have remained unfulfilled. Sheikh Hasina has done so much unilaterally to foster good relations that there are many people in Bangladesh who are resentful. Yet, bureaucrats in Delhi are not allowing the implementation of the treaty in areas of trade, power and money that Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh inked with the Bangladesh Prime Minister. The bureaucrats are not anti-Bangladesh but they can’t simply get over the red tape that retards the implementation of any plan or project in this country. 

The much-needed over-bridges that New Delhi was supposed to build in Dhaka cannot be found even on drawing boards. I recall when Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan, Delhi made a five-year plan to dovetail Dhaka’s economic projects with those of India’s. It was an undertaking to develop the entire region. The Sheikh reminded New Delhi many a time of its commitments but there was little follow-up. The only justification that New Delhi had was denial of facilities to India to reach its North-eastern states through Bangladesh but Shiekh Hasina took care of even this grouse long ago. 

The failed coup is not only a warning but also an opportunity for New Delhi. It must take some bold steps quickly to send the right message to the people in Bangladesh disillusioned with Sheikh Hasina’s government and to prove to them that India remains friendly and would go to any extent to help Bangladesh when it needs India’s help. But no such step has been taken yet.

Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh transferred a few tracts of land in Assam to Bangladesh, its rightful owner. He should bring a Constitutional amendment in the next session of Parliament to make de jure what is de facto now. The BJP and some elements in Assam are opposed to the transfer. But they must realise that this is a territory that belongs to Bangladesh and has stayed wrongly with India for some 40 years. One recurring complaint of Dhaka is that border police are cruel to Bangladeshis who stray into India by mistake. Television channels have recently aired footages of Indian border police beating a boy mercilessly because he had strayed into India.

West Bengal chief minister Miss Mamata Banerjee would be well advised to visit Bangladesh where she is popular and where the expectation is that she would make amends for her absence from the Prime Minister’s team that visited Dhaka last year. Were Miss Banerjee to announce more water from the Teesta for Bangladesh, something she had promised, the entire Bangladesh population would dance to her tune. She should tear a leaf from the book of former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu who accommodated Bangladesh on Farakka barrage water. 

Sheikh Hasina has undertaken a stupendous job of punishing those who not only opposed the birth of Bangladesh but also sided with the forces that were indulging in anti-national activities against the people during the war. Their atrocities are untold and many bright young men and women were killed in cold blood. Among the killers are the elements that had supported the attempted coup against her. When the country’s army says in a written statement after busting a coup attempt that “such heinous attempts are being foiled,” it suggests that Sheikh Hasina has faced similar situations before. This is a matter of concern. 

BY :  Kuldip Nayar.