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Bangladesh-India ties: Rainbow diplomacy

Publication Date : 02-11-2012


Two thoughts instantly spring out from Bangladesh premier Khaleda Zia's apparently redefining of her stance towards India. The first one comes as a confirmation of a known fact: Our leaders show their trump cards abroad, break news out of home, even set a tenor not conforming to their previous positions.

The second deduction is Khaleda Zia like Sheikh Hasina has nibbled more than she can chew. Sheikh Hasina, for her part, over-committed to India, Khaleda Zia may have done the same, each in her own way. The difference is not merely in style but in content as well. Hasina has already given to India more than she has got from her whilst Khaleda Zia's commitments are rhetoric without any immediate responsibility.

Pathologically reserving good copy not for home but abroad, Hasina unveiled her concept of interim government for the polls in the US offering berths to elected members from both sides to form it. The calibration of what she said was narrow because she had just tossed the idea without clarifying who would head such a government.

And now Khaleda Zia on her trip to India has made radical statements, at least two of which do not rhyme in with Bangladesh Nationalist Party's (BNP) traditional ideological proclivities. In the first place, while admitting to providing sanctuaries on Bangladesh territory to insurgents from northeast India during her rule in 2001-2006, she has given her word not to repeat this when in power.

This has been greeted with open arms in India because its safety concerns have been allayed beyond political worries of changing of guards. The other thing BNP has apparently acceded to is transit right to India "as part of the total connectivity of the region." We think these are deliverable commitments with a guarantee for reciprocal and commensurate benefits accruing to Bangladesh.

But the third factor is the elephant in the room. The BNP's call for a clean slate approach leapfrogging from caustic innuendoes of yesterday to a new tomorrow should have a reality check. Politically and ideologically, BNP has had a strong anti-India slant largely for nurturing its right-of-centre, rightist and extreme right vote banks.

Then there is the war crimes trial. If what sets BNP apart from Awami League (AL) is lost, will it erode its support base? Perhaps not, if relationship with India brings tangible reward as it is equally true in the case of Awami League-United Progreassive Alliance thrust for taking Indo-Pak relations to a new height of partnership.

Meanwhile, Veena Sikri, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh and head of think-tank looking after Indo-Bangla said, no particular significance should be read into Khaleda's visit, rather it should be seen as part of a process. Dev Mukherjee, a former Indian High Commissioner in Bangladesh even reminded over BBC that during BNP rule, support to insurgents from Northeast was likened to that provided to freedom struggle. It was seen among some BNP circles as "tit-for-tat" for armed Shantibahini forays into CHT and tribal refugees' encampment in the Indian state of Tripura.

By earlier standards, Khaleda Zia's latest overtures have been greeted with great enthusiasm adding, however, that "the taste of the pudding would be in eating."

The bottom line from Khaleda Zia's visit is a de facto bipartisan consensus on two vital issues occurring by accident and not by any design in India. Some Awami League ministers begrudged Khaleda Zia's visit with uncharitable remarks like its being "pointless" reminding India of Khaleda Zia's kowtowing to insurgents from the Indian northeast seeking refuge in Bangladesh. Even so, the fact is the hiatus between AL and BNP in their approaches to India has been narrowed down.

That even this limited commonality of approach couldn't originate in Bangladesh itself, it had to be for India to host it is ironical. Despite the experts crying their hearts out stressing unified stances from the major political parties on important issues of bilateral, regional and international concerns, no response has been forthcoming from political parties.

Such a degree of sophistication in inter-party relationship is a given in democracies like India and Britain. In Bangladesh context, where even basic consensus is unachievable on fundamental economic and political issues of survival, stability and sustenance, it is perhaps too much to expect that they will volunteer to synthesise their positions on matters of far reaching national interest. But, they should know there is no permanent enemy but permanent national interest.

There is one more moral of the Indian story which is that if we cannot solve our problems, others will be willy-nilly drawn into casting their influence on us.

The writer is an Associate Editor of The Daily Star.


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