The Hindu Explains: From Meghalaya illegal mining to Bangladesh polls

Why are Bangladesh elections important?

What was the strategy?

When Sheikh Hasina returned to power in 2008, the Bangladesh Prime Minister promised to uproot every anti-India terror module in Bangladesh and help reduce insurgency in India’s northeastern region. Top ranking intelligence officials agree that without the Hasina-led Awami League in Dhaka, it would have been impossible to check flare-ups in the east. “She dismantled all known Pakistani assets in Bangladesh,” an intelligence official said. A decade later, agencies in both sides are engaged in real-time intelligence sharing with more efficiency to combat terror, hugely benefiting India.

Will elections change things?

With the general election slated for December 30, India wants a fair exercise in the neighbouring country. “It is more necessary, however, for Ms. Hasina to return to power,” the official admitted, for the Awami League steadfastly remains India’s best friend in the subcontinent.

What did the Awami League do?

The return of the Awami League in 2008 dramatically changed the nature of India-Bangladesh engagement on every front. A plethora of connectivity projects, unthinkable earlier, are either in place or in advanced stages of negotiation. While trans-shipment of goods using river ports and roads is on, many bus and train routes have been operationalised. A bus service from Kolkata to the northeastern region through Bangladesh has started, thus shortening time and distance to the region. The land boundary issue in north Bengal has been sorted out alongside amicable settlement of a long-standing maritime boundary dispute and neither of the sides is too keen to hype their differences from Teesta water-sharing to illegal border trade. Power and energy sector cooperation is another of many bilateral achievements. The flow of tourists has increased to such an extent that Bangladesh has proposed to set up a diplomatic mission in Chennai.

How has India reciprocated?

India has contributed towards security cooperation from training to interception of exchanges between groups hostile to the region’s stability, averting attacks on the country’s top establishments. Maintaining stability is India’s first contribution to Bangladesh. There are about a dozen agreements amounting to $10 billion of Indian private investment in Bangladesh. A $7.5 billion Line of Credit has been approved for infrastructure and other projects in Bangladesh.

What are the concerns?

But India is in a fix. Delhi is keen to see “a fair election” in Bangladesh, unlike last time, when the Awami League returned to power without a contest. India was relieved when Kamal Hossain, a former Awami Leaguer, with secular credentials formed a multi-party coalition, Jatiya Oikya Front, with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) as the biggest constituent. An election process was set in place as Ms. Hasina met Mr. Hossain.

But closer to the election, the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JeI-B), with its cadre depth in the countryside, catapulted to centre stage as a partner of the Jatiya Oikya Front. The JeI-B is not contesting the election as the party was de-registered in 2013 but it has fielded candidates who are contesting on the BNP symbol in 25 of the 300 seats. The JeI-B’s participation is a cause for worry for both the Awami League and India as it has put down roots in Pakistan, an allegation that the JeI-B has repeatedly denied. But the JeI-B candidates, who are contesting in constituencies bordering Bengal, are keeping the political and security establishments on tenterhooks in India. India’s ruling elite had tried to deal with the other main party, the BNP, when it last came to power in 2001 but burnt its fingers.

What happens next?

Experts are watching this election to see how the India-Bangladesh relationship will unfold if a BNP-Jamaat coalition comes to power, a possibility the international press is ruling out. Will it jeopardise connectivity projects, unsettle India’s northeastern region or meddle with billions of dollars of investments made over the last years in Bangladesh? Answers will be public in a little over a week.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 4:56:29 AM |

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