One finding from the opinion poll that the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies conducted on behalf of this newspaper and CNN-IBN was that the one country Indians trust ‘a great deal’ is Bangladesh. So it is somewhat ironic, and downright regrettable, that India’s domestic politics is the main reason why the UPA government has been unable to keep two promises to this important neighbour on issues vital to it. The fate of an accord on sharing the Teesta’s waters — which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to conclude on his 2011 visit to Dhaka but which was jettisoned due to opposition at the last minute by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — remains uncertain. The 2011 protocol to the 1974 Land Boundary agreement has been signed by the two countries, and ratified by the Bangladesh parliament, but the Indian parliament is sitting on it. The Bharatiya Janata Party has created irrational and unfounded fears around the agreement for the exchange of Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves located in each other’s territory. Unfortunately, the Opposition has chosen to project the agreement, which would help rationalise the border and help people in these enclaves lead normal lives, as a territorial loss for India. During last week’s visit by Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni, New Delhi tried to make amends by offering a stake in the yet to begin Tipaimukh hydel project in Manipur. Also, Bangladesh is soon set to receive 500 MW of power from India. This, though, is small consolation for the Sheikh Hasina government.
Since the Awami League came to power in 2008, the Bangladeshi opposition has lost no opportunity to paint its policies addressing Indian security concerns as a ‘sell-out’ to New Delhi. Thanks to Dhaka, the United Liberation Front of Assam was neutralised, and there was a clamp-down on other anti-India insurgencies and Islamist extremist groups. If Indians today trust Bangladesh more than any other South Asian state, it is in no small measure due to this. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had hoped to fight the “pro-India” accusation against her by getting something substantial in return from New Delhi. But these hopes have been belied. Meanwhile, her government has been under attack by the religious right-wing on the war crimes trial issue. The Jamaat-i-Islami’s violent retaliation to the conviction and sentencing of some of its leaders, provoking a heavy-handed response from the government, has led to more cycles of violence. As Bangladesh prepares for elections in early 2014, in addition to the turmoil over the trials, the failure of the Awami League to keep India to its promises has strengthened the party’s adversaries. If New Delhi is unable to pull its act together before Prime Minister Hasina’s scheduled visit in September, it can only blame itself for losing an opportunity to help a friend.