8th November 2013
M. Serajul Islam
The Times of India carried an article by Subhir Bhaumik in its issue of November 1 on the turbulent politics in Bangladesh. He has urged New Delhi to militarily intervene in Bangladesh to keep the Awami League in power so that the BNP and its fundamentalist allies do not assume power! The article would have been trashed except for the paper that carried it. The Times of India is not just any newspaper; it is an opinion maker in New Delhi. Therefore it is unbelievable that it published this article. Democratic India’s leading newspaper has advocated New Delhi to intervene in a small neighbour militarily so that there would be no democratic elections there and a regime that serves its interests would retain power.
The card the writer used to encourage New Delhi to intervene in favour of the Awami League is the one the ruling party has played as its final one to deal with the opposition’s demand for election under the caretaker government (CTG), which would, as politics has emerged in Bangladesh, ensure the BNP to assume power. Subhir Bhaumik’s argues: “As Bangladesh slides into a violent imbroglio, India appears nervous over the future of its east and northeast which are afflicted by violent statehood movements and insurgencies. It cannot afford a hostile government in Dhaka. This, in a way, revives the pre-1971 scenario where a similar situation forced India to back the Bengali insurrection and militarily intervene in East Pakistan, braving threats of a US naval intervention.” There is an eerie similarity between the fears that Subhir Bhaumik raises; the line that the ruling Awami League is taking to create misgivings in the minds of the people about the BNP and reports in Indian media and pro-AL media in the country. Something deceitful and calamitous is afoot that should wake up the people of Bangladesh because the sovereignty of the country is under threat.
Is it a kite flying?
Is The Times of India kite flying? The ruling party has made clear that it has little or no intention to give the BNP what it wants. It does not need a crystal ball to predict why. Public opinion polls, credible ones, have shown that the BNP’s acceptance among the people is on the rise, too dangerously for the ruling party’s comfort. A daily Prothom Alo poll in September had shown that 50.6% people supported the BNP. Another PA poll taken before the city corporation elections had predicted the humiliating defeats of the AL backed candidates. The poll conducted by Daily Star/Asia Foundation taken most recently has shown BNP’s acceptance rise to 55% against 28% of the AL. The DS/AF poll is alarming for the AL. A 55% support in Bangladesh’s once past the post system of election would mean over 250 seats in the parliament. The AL is also facing the elections as the incumbent where in the country’s history; incumbents have all failed to win. Therefore the AL has lately been playing its last card against the BNP which is an attempt to wrap the card of terrorist/Islamic fundamentalist on its back in order to explain to the people why the BNP could not be trusted and at the same time, convince the country’s foreign friends that they need to back the AL if they want to stop Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The news appearing in Indian media that Islamic fundamentalism and ISI are active is therefore designed to help the AL in making its case with the people.
Subhir Bhaumik is clearly a part of this effort, to create a scare to encourage people towards the AL. In the last five years, the AL led government has cooperated with India on security like no past Bangladesh government. Subhir Bhaumik has underlined this fact in his article correctly. As part of this security cooperation, Bangladesh and Indian security/intelligence agencies have carried out determined efforts to dismantle ISI footholds in Bangladesh. There is reason to believe that this Indian task is not yet complete. India needs another AL term to complete the task. Therefore, this sudden spate of news in the Indian media about rising Islamic fundamentalism together with Subhir Bhaumik’s article in the Times of India smells rat.
So far, the BNP has not stepped into the trap that has enhanced the ruling party’s insistence for BAKSAL type elections. It is afraid of facing the BNP in an “inclusive” election because it knows that it would lose such an election comprehensively as the opinion polls have clearly hinted. In India, a section backed by its intelligence that Subhir Bhaumik represents is also of the same opinion. Thus his article has been written with a myopic vision where he has gone into denial over the present political realities in Bangladesh. He therefore did a good job in undermining the efforts of the US Ambassador and his trip to New Delhi whose government is favouring “inclusive” election in Bangladesh. He gave the impression that Dan Mozena’s trip to New Delhi made the Indians unhappy and that he lied in the media when he said that India and the US were on the same page on the political situation in Bangladesh for which New Delhi took particular umbrage.
Washington’s page is clear to everyone. It wants a free, fair and inclusive national election. The US Secretary John Kerry has written letters to the two leaders to this effect. Therefore if Washington and New Delhi were on different pages, it would mean New Delhi supports a BAKSAL type of election in Bangladesh. However, an unnamed Indian External Affairs Ministry official had said after Dan Mozena’s meeting that the two sides agreed on “inclusive” national elections and the need for vigilance on terrorism and acts of insurgency that leads to conclude that there is difference of opinion in New Delhi between its political leaders and the intelligence sources. Subhir Bhaumik’s attempt to destroy the credibility of the US Ambassador by describing him as a member of the BNP Executive Committee was intended to pre-empt an US-India initiative for “inclusive” elections. His distortion of geo-politics underlines his ill intention, which is to ensure that the political impasse in Bangladesh should not be resolved by “inclusive” national elections that the overwhelming majority of the people of Bangladesh want. His article would thus find positive vibes only in a section of the ruling party that wants to remain in power by “hook or by crook.”
The article was not restricted to distortion of facts and geopolitics. Its theme is demeaning to Bangladeshis. Subhir Bhaumik wrote that if Washington is using all within its means to further its national interests (that is not borne out by facts), India should carve out its interests for which he thinks even military intervention is an Indian right! He thus concluded that Bangladesh is like Sikkim and foreign powers could play with it like a football!! Subhir Bhaumik has also gone into denial over US-India strategic partnership unveiled two years ago by President Obama for containing China in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. There are too many other elements of this strategic partnership that cannot be examined here but to think that New Delhi would go to denial over these to install AL by military intervention would be possible only if India’s political leadership too were in similar denial as Subhir Bhaumik. Then what about India’s case to be a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council? Would that be enhanced if India militarily intervened in a smaller neighbour to circumvent the democratic process and install a client to serve its narrow national interests?
Subhir Bhaumik’s reference to 1971 is the most absurd part of his article. The Awami League is in a political mess today where any comparison to what its position was in 1971 is ridiculous. The credible opinion polls have underlined that not to be the case with 70% and more of the people supporting “inclusive” national elections against the AL insistence of one-party BAKSAL type elections. Therefore if India intervened militarily now, it would be intervening in favour of an Awami League that is at opposite end to what its position in Bangladesh was in 1971. Today, the AL is determined upon retaining power by holding elections without the opposition whose demand for “inclusive” elections has the support of the majority of the people. The Awami League today is engaged in suppressing the will of the majority by force whereas in 1971 under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, it had united the country’s 75 million people. Therefore India’s intervention in Bangladesh now would be like India intervening in 1971 on behalf of the Pakistani military!
Intelligence directs Delhi’s policy?
If the Awami League has a few friends like Subhir Bhaumik, it wouldn’t need as, the expression goes, enemies to destroy itself. The BNP could stand by the sideline and watch its demise. Subhir Bhaumik has written his piece in complete denial of everything except the single-minded devotion of seeing Indian military in Dhaka. He has forgotten how India has left the AL in the lurch with betrayal on the Teesta and LBA deals and unabated killings in the border that has left even those who support the Awami League disappointed and frustrated. If India were to now intervene for AL militarily and install it in power, it would be the end of India’s acceptance in Bangladesh in any form and the death knell of Awami League where the two could stay together, hand-in-hand, shoulder to shoulder, not by India’s military intervention alone but by that military stationed in Bangladesh permanently by making Bangladesh another Sikkim.
That of course is not going to happen although in the short term, if insanity grips New Delhi, Bangladesh would have to fight another liberation war all over again to defeat a possible Indian military invasion as it did with the Pakistani military invasion. That is the concern of many in Bangladesh who would like to remember India for its 1971 role because so far where all friends of Bangladesh have urged the AL led government to talk with the opposition to hold “inclusive” national elections, India has not yet entered into the equation. It appears that New Delhi is under pressure of its intelligence agencies who need another AL term for a permanent foothold in Bangladesh that cannot be realized because the AL’s chances of another term in power democratically has become impossible. The intelligence agencies are therefore urging their political leaders to see their way and place the AL in power “by hook or by crook”.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador