Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Hours after the December 30 general election in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India – the largest democracy in the world congratulated Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He twitted, “Spoke to Sheikh Hasina Ji and congratulated her on the resounding victory in the #Bangladesh_elections. Wished her the very best for the tenure ahead.”
That was extremely important as the ruling party, Awami League is known as a “pro-India” party and it greatly counts on support from India. Another important congratulatory message came from Chinese President Xi Jinping, one of the most trusted allies of the ruling party. Of course, India and China are arch rivals. In this case, Bangladesh ruling party has both sides as its friends and allies. But – what about the Western nations, particularly the United States? For years, Indian government and key policymakers are frantically trying to distant Sheikh Hasina from United States. India clearly does not want any “American dominance” in Bangladesh. It has been repeatedly mentioned in the Indian media prior to the December 30 general elections. For example, we can see a blog post published by The Times of India on December 29, 2018. In this blog post, Subir Bhaumik, a former correspondent of BBC wrote, “So, Indians of all political hues would be well within their rights to root for an Awami League victory. A CSDS-Hindu survey had shown in one of its public attitude surveys that Bangladesh is now the country Indians trusts most – more than our traditional friend, Russia. This is clearly a post-Hasina phenomenon. That her father and Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s autobiography has now been translated in eight Indian languages, including Assamese, is evidence of the friendly feeling at the popular level.
“The West, specially the US, is making much noise over pre-poll violence in Bangladesh. But if Trump can overrule the CIA and come to the rescue of Saudi crown prince Salman after the horrific murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, India is well within its rights to rejoice in the event of a poll victory of a leader who has given Bangladesh phenomenal economic and human development, besides obliging India on her key concerns. Unlike US ambassador Robert Miller, Indian envoy Harsh Shringla has rightly maintained a low profile and avoided interfering in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. If Trump can support the autocratic Saudis because it is always ‘America First’ for Trump, why can’t it be ‘India First’ for a billion plus Indians?”
Bhaumik in his blog post has categorically emphasized on two points – Awami League’s victory is something very much sought after by all of the “political hues” in India. Although until now, Indian National Congress (INC), which is seen as the next party in power, has not greeted the Bangladeshi Prime Minister. This is significant. May be, it has already started considering Awami League in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s bloc. What we really need to remember – Narendra Modi’s tenure as the Prime Minister is going to end within next 100 days and he and BJP possibly will face a humiliating defeat in the upcoming elections. To save himself and his party from defeat, Prime Minister Modi may implement several drastic plans. One of such plans would be implementing his 2014 electoral pledges of expelling over four million Bangla-speaking Muslims and Hindus (may be only Muslims) from the Indian states in the northeast. Narendra Modi’s party considers these “illegal immigrants” as “Bangladeshis”. Meaning, the Indian Prime Minister may exhibit another round of cruelty on the people of Bangladesh by suddenly pushing us into another worst-ever refugee crisis. Why I wrote the word “another”? Well, all of us know, since 2014, Narendra Modi has been making blank promises with Bangladesh in giving us due share from the common rivers. Although Bangladesh has kept all of the requests from Indian side, unfortunately the water issue has been dangling for years or – let’s say, Delhi has been playing ping-pong with this issue by bringing West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Bannerjee into the scene.
Of course Bangladesh too could play a similar game with India on each of the requests Delhi had placed with our government by tagging our parliament and saying it needs approval from the parliament before implementing any or all of such requests. Here again, Narendra Modi knows well – the parliament in Bangladesh has never been sufficiently powerful while the 10th parliament in Bangladesh was not really having any opposition. It was a parliament of the ruling party all around.
While addressing the issue of water sharing, Indian politicians have actually played the role of patriots thus putting total emphasis on their national interest. On the other hand, unfortunately, patriotism is something that possibly has gone into extinction from the political culture in Bangladesh.
Now let me bring the issue of Subir Bhaumik’s comments in the Times of India blog. Justifying India’s exclusive incline towards Awami League in Bangladesh, Bhaumik wrote, “If Trump can support the autocratic Saudis because it is always ‘America First’ for Trump, why can’t it be ‘India First’ for a billion plus Indians.” Through these words, Bhaumik not only has clearly labeled Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as “autocrat” but he also has hinted a battle of supremacy between United States and India on Bangladesh case. That means – India is already putting challenge on the US. This is not the solo opinion of Bhaumik – rather it is the sentiment of the Indian people.
India has never considered United States as its ally. Rather, United States and China are always seen as rivals to Indian interests in the region. Good thing here is – Bangladesh’s ruling party has already got support from India and China. Now the billion dollar question is – whether Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party would get support from the Trump administration. Possibly we have to wait for some more hours in getting a clear picture.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz.