Bangladesh is in a real mess. What with stagnation of economic activity and paralysis of administrative decision-making except for “party political” ends, what with extortion rackets at every sphere of life, corruption and criminalisation of the institutions of the state for “party political” stranglehold over various sectors of public opinion, assembly and activity, what with brutal suppression of the opposition, intimidation of the media and servility of the judiciary, the polity is in a pitiably sorry state.
In the mild words of former chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda, there is no rule of law in the country now: “All constitutional bodies, including the Election Commission and Public Service Commission, as well as the judiciary have been politicised, and incompetent people are getting important posts. This situation is giving rise to characters like Nur Hossain.”
He was referring to the fugitive Narayanganj-Siddhirganj City Corporation Councillor Nur Hossain, who was allowed to escape murder-charge, in the abduction and killing of a fellow councillor along with 6 other innocents, bunglingly or willingly by law-enforcement agencies, while 3 RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) officers were dismissed by high authorities, and taken into custody by police for implication in the same planned and abhorrent contract killing. The former Chief Election Commissioner has now to appear before the High Court on June 3 to explain the “audacity” of his express opinion.
‘A team of hired killers’
In the harsher words of former prime minister Khaleda Zia: “People are crying now… One day the Awami League will need to cry and seek pardon from people… what it is doing is unforgivable. We had formed the RAB to restore peace and law and order in the country. We had succeeded in doing so. But now the government has been using the force to kill people and make them disappear.
“RAB has now become a team of hired killers. The battalion had abducted the apparel union leader Aminul and many others and had carried out (political) murders across the country. The Awami League wants to turn the country into a failed state and to depend on foreign aid. The government had destroyed the economy, agencies such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, the civil administration and the police administration and there was no rule of law.”
While on an official visit to Japan and seeking substantial Japanese assistance, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the Bangladeshi residents there that her party never gave indulgence to any offenders in the past and would never do it in future. She said a section of people permanently maintain their allegiance to the government party and they change colour and merge with the ruling party after change in power: “Some activists of Jamaat and Shibir have intruded into Awami League and they are unleashing terrorism, killings and other misdeeds in different parts of the country.”
Apart from gallants of such heroism in war of words, is there any saviour coming forward to rescue the suffering public? None indeed. The countrymen are in a state of shock and constant fear, with rage fuming in their hearts. Leaders on both sides of the divided polity are biding their time, feverishly looking for allies outside the country for support in a decisive power game after the impugned January 5 transition process.
The Modi fever
Their latest fever is racing over who may get closer to Narendra Modi, the newly-installed prime minister of India. Our national media and our civil society leaders have also caught that fever.
Indeed, election-2014 in India and sweeping victory of Modi-led BJP and camp-follower NDP is, in the words of a former Bangladeshi diplomat, Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud, “a tectonic shift” in Indian politics potentially impacting on the whole of South Asia. Another former Bangladeshi diplomat, Ambassador SM Rashed Ahmed has pertinently asked a question: Can Bangladesh, in the “weak” state and “diseased” polity as obtaining now, expect any beneficial change by looking up to Delhi?
He noted in an article in the Daily Star that the past years had been most disappointing phases of Bangladesh-India relationship by one-sided concessions with practically no significant reciprocity from India. The South Block may not be inclined to change the course as of now. But if our policy-makers go for renewed negotiations with India, based on linkages and reciprocity, we could see some positive forward movement. In the ultimate analysis, foreign policies are extensions of domestic policies. Instead of the change of guard in Delhi, our concern has to be with the weak state of the nation, failure of governance, near break-down of rule of law, growing intolerance for dissent, politicisation of the vital organs of the state and government. Delhi is well aware of our weakness, particularly following the January 5 elections, with a polarised nation and the party in power lacking popular mandate. In other words, Ambassador Ahmed suggests that we have to put our own house in order ourselves before we can derive any benefit from change of guard in Delhi.
Is Modi a Deng?
Ambassador Masud in his contribution for South Asia Analysis Group, an Indian think tank, went further afield to take into account the geopolitical tremor that Modi might induce, with inevitable implications for Bangladesh. He notes that analysts taking an optimistic view feel that Modi can become to India what Deng Xiaoping was to China. Dr. Man Mohan Singh’s last two years saw average economic expansion of less than 5 per cent, bringing to the surface once again the acid label of “Hindu rate of growth”. BJP manifesto states its intention to ignore big power interests and focus on Asia via the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) instead.
Narendra Modi has been advised that in the region, addressing relations with Bangladesh is a less glaring but important foreign policy initiative. Given the fact that “Bangladesh has secured India from terrorists using our territory as a transit passage to India”, it would make sense to make Bangladesh one of the first countries on Modi’s foreign itinerary. He also expects Narendra Modi to develop the strategic relationship already in place between the two countries.
But is the US-India Strategic relationship firmly in place?
James C. Clad and Robert A. Manning, both former policy-making personnel of US State Department, had the following comments to make in southasia.foreignpolicy.com: India has always been a prickly, autonomous actor. India’s occasionally insecure, periodically venal, and always self-conflicted elite bureaucracy the external affairs and defense ministries in particular obstructed even the most unspoken convergences of approach. With Modi in place, the boom part of the cycle is about to start again. A BJP-dominated central government, led by a proven Thatcher-like and market-oriented Hindu conservative, is likely to prompt another cascade of hype, aided by an enthusiastic new generation of Indian-Americans.
US-India linkage ‘aspirational’
The linkages between the United States and India remain more aspirational than accomplished, with many unfulfilled expectations. India’s post-1991 economic reforms, heavily hyped back then despite their halfway measures, have long since run out of steam. It’s now been more than two decades since the “wish” (i.e., a “natural” convergence of Indo-U.S. strategic, commercial, and “people-to-people” interests) fathered the “thought” (that all this was well on its way to fruition). To put it mildly, it has fallen short of U.S. expectations—a result that stems from talking up the place too much, versus quietly working in areas with genuinely convergent interests.
Too often, our Indian friends adopt the mien of an Oriental Potentate, reclining on a divan and signaling by body language how slowly the United States came to its senses in recognizing India as the Navel of the Cosmos. Delhi has its own reasons to be wary of China, as Modi stressed during his campaign, don’t expect allegiance to U.S. views on China or major global issues. As Modi goes, we suspect, so also will go a rejuvenated partnership with India, one based on bedrock interests, not romanticized wishes. Both countries can and should build a solid, and necessarily more modest partnership, than has been wished since 1991.
Like the US commentators, Chinese demi-official media also takes a friendly but cool view of the spectacular change of guard in Delhi. Global Times commented on 25 May: ‘Narendra Modi’s win (in Indian election-2014) has been endowed with transformative significance by public opinion both at home and abroad. India’s economy is expected to embark on a road of reform and Modi will promote infrastructure development the result of the election has infused unprecedented confidence in India’s society, bringing about a buoyant stock market and an increasing exchange rate of Indian rupees to US dollars. But one general election will not change India but only serve as a good beginning at most. Sceptics and prudent observers hold that India is blighted with an astonishing wealth gap, deep-seated social differentiation, severely insufficient industrialization, the absence of a momentous social revolution, and a stringent caste system. The real challenge facing New Delhi is that its good economic plan lacks a solid social foundation.’
US moving cautiously
In India itself, Professor Monish Tourangbam was cautious in assessing the possible convergence of US rebalancing strategy and India’s Look East Policy under Modi. He wrote in the webpage of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), India: ‘The US’ complex tango with China certainly leaves India nervous and concerned about the prospects of a power condominium between a power in relative decline and a power seeing an undoubted rise. India is wary that China’s relatively increasing power vis-à-vis the US could lead to the US accommodating China to the detriment of India’s interests in the Asia-Pacific. Moreover, domestic opposition to an overt alliance with the US also accounts for India’s cautious and ambivalent approach to the rebalancing strategy. Hence, the strategic imperatives of the India-US relationship need to be nurtured and cannot be left on auto-pilot.’
Another scholar, Kimberley Anne Nazareth, wrote in the same webpage of IPCS: “As per the QDR 2014 the US presence in the region will only increase, quelling any concerns over its commitment. At the same time, it is trying to avoid a conflict in the region by not provoking China, which would embroil the US and force it to pick sides. Though the rebalance has fostered greater military and economic relations between the US and countries of the region, it has also created problems for the latter. There are lingering questions about the commitment to the rebalancing strategy debate on the US’ decline, questioning the clarity of the rebalancing strategy, funding, legislative issues, strategic issues (bilateral relations including with China), and the manner in which it has been carried out. As for its relations with hesitant countries, steadying the course and continuing to reassure is the only option. The US rebalance cannot happen overnight, US is moving ahead with the rebalance in a cautionary manner.”
And so indeed would India under Modi’s regional policy as defined in BJP election manifesto 2014.
Source: Weekly Holiday