Why BNP’s tirade against PM Hasina’s India visit sounds hollow

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Published on September 10, 2022
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Sukharanjan Dasgupta:

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has claimed that PM Sheikh Hasina is "unable to deal with India".

Bangladesh's Islamist opposition too seems to be on an overdrive to belittle Hasina whenever she is on a visit to India. But these high-pitch allegations ring hollow.

Let's ask Mirza Fakhrul what his party leader and former PM Khaleda Zia achieved during her visits to India. The answer is simple. During Zia's two terms in office, not a single agreement of significance had been signed during her visits to Delhi.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed as many as eight agreements with India during his four years in office. Then came the two long decades of military rule during which bilateral relations with India nosedived following the assassination of Mujib with most of his family members back in 1975, reportedly having covert support by Gen Zia who would later, being the president, oversee enactment of indemnity ordinance, a legal shield for those Mujib killers.

Sheikh Hasina, immediately after assuming office in 1996, managed to sign the landmark water sharing agreement on Ganges. Then with some classic diplomacy, Hasina even successfully resolved some long pending issues like the historic land boundary agreement.

If these agreements reflect "inability to deal with India", Fakhrul must be joking. The Ganges water sharing agreement will come up for renewal soon.

The sensational ten truck arms seizure in the port city in 2004 and subsequent investigations unearthing the nefarious role of then State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar, known to be handpicked by Tarique Rahman, shed light on the country becoming a safe haven for transnational terrorists at that time.

Moreover, under their watch, Pakistani grenades were used targeting Sheikh Hasina at a rally in August 2004, and the attackers were ensured safe passage to Pakistan. The attack carried out by radical elements, in association with Pakistan affiliated groups, left at least 30 activists dead while Sheikh Hasina survived with ear injuries.

Let's get back to the current context. Proposals from India to allow Bangladesh access to third countries through its territory to dispatch goods, talks for trade agreements, attention to add a fresh impetus to connectivity and commitments of new investments from Indian businesses are key takeaways from PM's latest visit. In addition, a water sharing agreement on Kushiara river has also come through as well as progress on energy cooperation.

It is true the Teesta agreement is yet to happen. But Hasina has been relentlessly pushing for an early resolution of the agreement, cleverly putting the onus on PM Modi to keep India's commitment on the issue. It is also well known that the problem over the Teesta agreement lies not in Delhi or Dhaka.

In sharp contrast to Jyoti Basu's pragmatic role in shepherding the Ganges water treaty, Mamata Banerjee has played spoilsport by torpedoing the agreement in 2010 during former Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh's Dhaka visit. Hasina has tried her best to discreetly placate Mamata without being seen as interfering in Indian politics.

Instead of resorting to sound and fury, Hasina has put India under pressure by actually responding to India's bona-fide security and connectivity concerns. What else could she do? It is by this policy of friendship and by addressing India's concerns that Hasina has managed to settle the tricky enclaves issue (the much cherished land boundary agreement).

Hasina's handling of big neighbour India is a classic example of persuasive rather than coercive diplomacy. The latter would never work, given India's size and power.

Hasina knows how the Indian mind and the country's systems work. She has lived in India for six years after the assassination of her father and much of her family. Some veteran Indian politicians like the late Jyoti Basu and Pranab Mukherjee treated her as family.

Her fondness for India has not prevented her from bargaining hard when Bangladesh's interests have been at stake. She cleverly plays on the Indian policy elite's realization that giving Bangladesh important concessions will boost Hasina's credibility and help a friend take her country forward, which is good for its own interest.

On the other hand, BNP's acting chairman Tarique, who leads a fugitive life in London, has had a record of peddling lies. Attempts to declare his father, the country's first military dictator as the "first president of the country" in 2013 provoked the country's observers to ask him to take basic history lessons.

So driven by the examples of peddling lies set by Tarique Rahman, when Fakhrul and his cohorts attack Hasina for her "inability to handle India" it reflects their deep frustrations over how well Hasina has actually handled India.

Reportedly, they depend on their foreign friends to pull off a "regime change" operation as they are hell-bent on boycotting the upcoming election.

Writer: Veteran columnist and author of "Midnight Massacre" on the 1975 Bangladesh coup

Courtesy: The Daily Star