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Political parties’ tours of India: A new dynamic

  • Published at 02:03 am August 12th, 2018
Flags of Bangladesh and India
Flags of Bangladesh and India Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Analysts say these tours are quite important for the two countries since these are taking place before the parliamentary election in Bangladesh

Representatives of the Awami League, Jatiya Party and BNP have visited India since April, ahead of the December national election. They met Indian politicians and think tanks. 

Although the parties insist that these are just regular visits to maintain friendly ties with political parties of the neighbouring country, however, analysts view them differently.

Analysts say these tours are quite important for the two countries since these are taking place before the parliamentary election in Bangladesh.

What the parties say

The political parties have all given similar statements regarding the visits. They say the visits are aimed at upholding good relations with the neighbour for the sake of national interests.

After visiting India in April, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader said India does not have any intention to interfere in Bangladesh’s election or internal affairs.

He said, the interference of any country in Bangladesh’s election is not welcome. 

The BNP at that time claimed that the Awami League’s India visit was aimed at seeking Delhi’s support in “staging another one-sided election to cling to power.”

Two months later, a three-member BNP delegation went to India. It held meetings with three well-known Indian think-tanks on India-Bangladesh relationship, ongoing political situation, and the parliamentary election.

BNP leader Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury told the Dhaka Tribune that the think-tanks organized the meetings with them.

“Think-tanks organize such interactions with other countries where they have trade relations. They invite both the ruling and opposition parties of those countries, and ours was one such visit,” he said.

“We have briefed them on our party and the current political situation. But we have not sought their intervention in Bangladesh’s internal matters,” Khosru added.

The Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) is one of the three think-tanks the BNP delegation interacted with. A VIF spokesperson said the BNP told them that India, as an important neighbour, can play a crucial role in creating a positive atmosphere in Bangladesh.

At the meeting with VIF, Khosru highlighted sharp political polarization prevailing between the two major parties which are yet to find any common ground to facilitate fully participatory elections, the spokesperson said in an email.

“He hoped that a congenial atmosphere would be created to ensure a free and fair election,” the email said.

Khosru said BNP’s anti-India stance was ‘a thing of the past’ and that it has no place in the party’s current politics and policies.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s political adviser HT Imam at a discussion in India in July claimed that the BNP “has worked against India’s interests.”

He said Bangladesh and India will have to deal with the BNP together.

After returning from India last week, Jatiya Party Secretary General Ruhul Amin Hawlader told the media in Dhaka that India wants a democratic atmosphere to remain intact in Bangladesh.

He said India has assured the Jatiya Party delegation that the country will give moral support to continue the democratic and constitutional practices in Bangladesh.

Hawlader said Indian leaders hoped the next general election will be a free, fair and participatory one. 

‘This open courtship is new’

Political analysts say there is much more to these ‘friendly’ visits than what the parties are saying.

Political scientist Dr Rounaq Jahan said: “India has long been a factor in our electoral politics. What is different this time is that all major political parties, the Awami League, BNP and the Jatiya Party are openly courting Indian support. 

“These parties have sent high-level delegations to India to talk to political and civil society leaders. These things did not happen before any other election in Bangladesh.”

She noted that during previous election campaigns, political parties would accuse their rivals of being either Indian or Pakistani agents.

“But now all the parties appear to be contesting to prove their India-friendly credentials. I do not anticipate any such visits to Bangladesh by the Congress or BJP or Trinamool before the 2019 Indian elections,” she said.

Senior journalist and political commentator Afsan Chowdhury said it was normal for political parties to put importance on international relations, and India was the most important country for Bangladesh.

“Whether we like it or not, they are a major influence. International forces have influence in all South Asian countries, and India is more important than any other country for Bangladesh,” he said.

“It is hard to say what forces work in our politics, but international forces do have an impact.”

“In the last few years we have become part of the India-China dynamic. China is not exercising much influence in Bangladesh, like it does in Pakistan or Nepal,” Afsan said.

Bangladesh is also very important for India because of China, also because of Northeast India, the analyst said.

India cannot forcefully influence an election in Bangladesh. But their support is important. This is a reality, we are not bowing down to anyone. Just like no one can do anything outside of America’s influence, India is even more influential in Bangladesh,” he said.

Former ambassador Mohammad Zamir said India holds significant importance not only in terms of politics, but also in the field of trade, economy and investment, bilateral relations, also in the field of mutual interests.

“The role of India in terms of bilateral relationship in the field of trade and socio-economic issues is the core issue here. Since Bangladesh is moving forward very fast, and it has prospects in Indian market in near future, the parties in politics want to explore those opportunities,” said Zamir, also the chairman of international affairs sub-committee of ruling Awami League.