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Ruling party̢۪s India game and Bangladesh̢۪s shame

THE Indian foreign secretary, Sujatha Singh, who left Dhaka Thursday morning after a hectic 24-hour visit, claimed to have come on a ‘goodwill’ visit, and ‘not as mediator’. Her public statements, including the one written for a special group of editors, with whom she had a meeting on Wednesday, followed detail diplomatic norms and niceties to the last. ‘People of Bangladesh, like anywhere in the world, deserve the right to choose their elected representatives freely and fairly,’ she was quoted in a New Age report on Thursday as having told the editors. In her meeting with the leader of the opposition earlier, Khaleda Zia, earlier, she apparently maintained the tone of a concerned and well-wishing neighbour that attaches ‘high importance’ to ‘having good relations with Bangladesh’ and ‘peace and stability in Bangladesh’, and that is willing to work with the Bangladesh, regardless of which party is in power. In her meeting with the prime minister, similar tone seems to have prevailed; at least that’s what her official statement indicates.
However, her meeting with HM Ershad, who announced Monday that his Jatiya Party would not participate in the forthcoming general election and subsequently asked his party leaders to withdraw their nomination papers and senior party colleagues on the so-called ‘all-party interim government’ of prime minister Sheikh Hasina to resign, on Wednesday turned out to be a giveaway of the partisan political motive of her visit. As far as can be gleaned from Ershad’s post-meeting news briefing, it seems that she may have been here to help push through the ruling Awami League’s eminently undemocratic agenda of holding the elections, keeping the main opposition BNP and its allies out of the frame.
Ms Singh was quoted by Ershad as having told him that if his Jatiya Party boycotted the election ‘another party’ may eventually go to power and there would be the possibility of ‘the rise of Jamaat’. By ‘another party’ she seems to have suggested the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which India apparently does not want to go to power, no matter if the people of Bangladesh aspires for it or not. This is a clear trespassing into the internal affairs of a sovereign state. As regards the allegation of the BNP’s patronisation of Jamaat, India’s view does not appear to be well-rooted in the reality on the ground. Jamaat has enjoyed patronisation of both the Awami League and the BNP at different points in the country’s history.
Besides, the Awami League appears to have contributed significantly to the recent rise of the Islamist forces in Bangladesh. It is worth noting that the dozen or more prominent Islamist organisations that the country has until recently had bickered with each other within their general framework of ideological discourse. It is the sustained undermining and repression by the Awami League—especially in the past couple of years—that have prompted these disparate organisations to close their ranks.
There are hardly any reasons to believe that the politicos in New Delhi are not aware of such a reality. In fact, it is highly likely that their questionable analyses and assessments are a deliberate ploy to justify their overt and covert support for the Awami League. After all, since its assumption of office, the Awami League government has bent backward to give almost every concession that New Delhi has sought, needless to say, in return for virtually nothing. On its part, the Awami League is likely to be only too happy with such blatant interference by India in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. It is worth noting here that the AL-led government has made similar concessions to the United States in the form of TICFA, Russia in the form of a Rooppur nuclear power plant deal, and China in the form of a defence purchase agreement — all of them controversial.
It appears that the AL leadership increasingly views such servility towards foreign powers as its strongest bet to perpetuate control over state, given the irrevocable erosion of its popularity, as manifested in a series of recent opinion polls and local government elections. It is ironic that a party, which provided the political leadership to the country’s struggle for freedom and claims to embody the spirit of the liberation war, could sacrifice the country’s sovereignty and the people’s pride on the altar of its greed for power.
In any case, the ruling camp needs to realise that, no matter how dutifully it services the need and greed of the foreign powers, people’s will ultimately determine whether it stays in power or not. Hence, it needs to do what the people demand, and not what their supposed benefactors beyond the boundary want.

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