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Indian media urge its govt to rethink Bangladesh stand

Mubin S Khan

As a strong public perception persists that the ruling Awami League-led government is being backed by the Congress-led Indian government in its decision to go ahead with the ‘controversial’ 10th parliamentary elections on January 5, recent reports and editorials in leading Indian newspapers, as well as comments from leading Indian politicians, appear to indicate that Indian government may be under some pressure to reconsider its position. 
A number of leading Indian newspapers over the last few days have come out strongly critical of the upcoming polls in Bangladesh and warned the Indian government that its long-term interests would be negatively affected if it allows AL to go ahead with this election.
One newspaper further reported that the Indian government is likely to ask the AL-led government to prepare for ‘another election’ very soon.
Adding his voice to the issue, former Indian cabinet minister and president of the Janata Party Subramanian Swamy said the Indian government is ‘duty-bound’ to see that elections in Bangladesh are free and fair.
India’s highest circulating regional newspaper Anandabazar Patrika reported on Tuesday that the Indian government was in possession of a report that the law and order situation will worsen after the January 5 elections and therefore will be sending high-level envoy to Dhaka before the January 5 elections to ‘advise the Sheikh Hasina government to prepare for a participatory election very soon after tackling the militant Jamaat-e-Islami.’
Titled ‘Come to elections again after tackling militant Jamaat’, Anandabazar reported that Indian government was concerned both about pressure on the international diplomatic front because of a lack of credibility of the elections as well as the ‘law and order situation’ along its long frontiers with Bangladesh.
The report claimed the current AL-led government was considering a declaration of ‘state of emergency’ to tackle the threat from Jamaat.
On Tuesday, The Hindu, the third most widely-read English newspaper in India, in an editorial titled ‘Uncertainty in Bangladesh’, described the upcoming national elections as ‘moth-eaten’ in the absence of all major opposition parties.
The Hindu pointed out that while the AL-led government has aided New Delhi through cracking down on Islamism and safe haven for ‘militants from Northeastern states’, ‘anti-India’ feeling in Bangladesh is incredibly high as India had failed to reciprocate in equal measure. In that context, the paper writes, ‘New Delhi’s relations with a government that comes to power through a problematic process will only get more complicated.’
Meanwhile, the India’s second most widely-read English newspaper Hindustan Times, in an editorial on December 30, came out strongly critical of the upcoming elections saying, ‘January 5 will produce a sweeping but wholly illegitimate victory for the incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.’
The Hindustan Times goes on to be critical of the Indian government saying, ‘There is a sense that New Delhi is not unhappy with the idea of another Awami government being in power.’
Both papers appear to advocate that the current Indian government move away from its position of looking at short-term interests and use its influence to have an acceptable election in Bangladesh.  
Both editorials resonate with recent comments from opposition Indian politician Subramanian Swamy who in a statement, as reported by the Press Trust of India, expressed concern over the law and order situation in Bangladesh and said ‘Indian government is duty-bound to use its good offices, if necessary with the help of other countries, to see that the elections in Bangladesh are free and fair.’
Adding to the air of uncertainty surrounding India’s position on Bangladesh elections, Salman Khurshid, the external affairs minister of India, told The Hindu that there were differences in perception with respect to Bangladesh between India and the US, and that they were trying to close the gap.
‘Our understanding of the region and understanding of sentiments of the people in the region should be helpful in the positions they (US) want to take,’ he is reported to have said.
The recent reports and comments appear to be a departure, at least in tone, from what has been the Indian government’s position so far, as well as, what has been reported in the Indian media.
Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh during her visit to Dhaka on December 5 courted controversy saying that the upcoming elections should have ‘maximum’ number of parties, instead of advocating participatory elections.
The Times of India on the same day, quoting a government official, reported that India was concerned that all the confidence building measures between India and Bangladesh taken up during the regime of the AL-led government would be ‘futile if a new government comes to power in Bangladesh.’
Earlier on November 1, Times of India published an article by Dhaka-based Indian journalist Subir Bhaumik who, according to some observers, appeared to be advocating possible military intervention in Bangladesh.




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