Millennium Post

Border blues

The unprovoked killing of BSF personnel by Bangladesh Border Guards in the backdrop of seemingly strengthened bilateral relations is a repugnant act

Border blues

The unfortunate incident of the unprovoked and brutal killing of BSF Head Constable, Vijay Bhan Singh on October 17 at the Indo-Bangladesh border in Murshidabad district, West Bengal, is very disturbing for multiple reasons. To begin with, it was a flag meeting between the BSF and the Bangladesh Border Guards (BBG) on the issue of release of an Indian fisherman who was held captive by the Bangladesh guards. A flag meeting is meant to solve any matter where issues are meant to be sorted out and not allow tempers to fray leading to fatalities, as in the case under reference. Secondly, when the creases didn't seem to be getting ironed out and Indian side started returning on their motorboat, they were fired upon, killing Vijay Bhan and injuring the constable cum boatman who was steering the boat. It's an obvious case of 'shoot to kill' and not resorting to firing of some warning shots. This shows how the acrimony was at its worst and the whole atmosphere was charged with aggression and anger. This was clearly avoidable.

The aforesaid two features apart, most disturbing factor which emerges in the wake of this unfortunate incident is that Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina was in India barely till ten days back and her summit with Prime Minister Modi and the Ministry of External Affairs displayed an extraordinary form of a new cordial and harmonious relationship despite irritants like the National Register of Citizens (NRC), River linked issues, etc. Experts described Indo-Bangladesh relations at its best as Hasina was very accommodating in addressing several tough contentious matters. Bangladesh was aptly termed as the staunchest ally of India at least in the immediate neighbourhood for diverse reasons as also for her silence on Kashmir, post-August 5.

In the light of such a tension-free environment between the two countries, an incident like this where the BGB opened indiscriminate firing to kill is certainly a dampener, showing signs of hostility. It would also mean that the Bangladesh Border Force is perhaps not listening to its establishment in Dhaka or the political leadership has no effective control over its border sentinels, entrusted with such sensitive responsibilities.

While dwelling upon the discharge of their functioning, it is important to point out that the BGB (formerly known as Bangladesh Rifles or BDR) never had a track record of tranquil or peace on the borders. There was a clear absence of restraint on their part. Two glaring cases of the past support this point. In 2001, in Pirduwa in Meghalaya, 16 BSF personnel were mercilessly killed by the BDR and in a very grotesque manner, their bodies were displayed in full public view as if to give a clear signal to the Indian side that Bangladesh was capable of flexing its muscles irrespective of its small size or of a lesser military might. Worse still was the fact that such inhuman killings were perpetrated when the then DG BSF, RS Mooshahary was in Dhaka holding talks with his BDR counterparts. Such audacity possibly came from certain quarters inimical to the Indo-Bangladesh relationship. India then downplayed the murders possibly because Hasina being at the helm was leading an India-friendly government, and also, the Indian government was then perhaps heavily occupied with the visit of Pervez Musharraf diverting attention from this sad incident.

Another incident worth recapitulating was of April 2005. BSF Assistant Commandant, Jeewan Kumar belonging to the 7th battalion, was dragged inside the Bangladesh borders by the BDR barely 8 kilometres from Agartala near Lankamura. Later, his mutilated body was found abandoned near the border. Such acts are hard to be condoned by any stretch of the imagination. It was later learnt that a sitting MP was seen on the borders interacting with a few BDR personnel. This raised the doubt of a political angle to the incident.

Talking of the BGB, it's also not out of context to mention that it (then BDR) rose in mutiny against its own DG torturing him to death along with 56 other officers and 17 civilians. The mutineers had a field day for five consecutive days commencing February 25 and continuing with killing sprees, spreading to other cities, decamping with weapons and other excesses, unbecoming of a disciplined force. However, following some surgical measures, things were brought under control and it looked as if things would improve. It has been a decade now since this ugly episode.

It is hoped that the recent killing of the BSF Head Constable is only a solitary incident which shouldn't prove a spoiler in the existing cordial ties between India and Bangladesh. It's upto the governments of the two sides, the media and the intelligentsia on both sides to continue endeavouring in a bid to create a congenial and favourable public opinion between the two countries lest those opposed to the growing bilateral ties, do not succeed in driving a wedge between the two friendly nations.

This is underscored due to the fact that a section of Hasina's opponents has already gone on a tirade against her. They are propagating through media and academics that Hasina failed to extract anything worthwhile from India during her recent India trip.

A young student of a prestigious Dhaka based University was allegedly murdered by the ruling party's youth wing. The deceased was thought to have used the cyberspace criticising the Hasina government for its perceived failure to take substantial gains from India in Hasina's latest India visit. Die-hard Hasina bashers are looking to capitalise on such unfortunate incidents for political gains.

They need to be countered. Hence, a border-guarding force like BGB needs to be reined in thoroughly and sensitising it so that any provocative act on their part can have far reaching consequences, often snowballing into a 'beyond repair' situation. On its part, BSF should also carry out renewed briefings to its officers and men orienting them about the excellent relations between the two countries. Such insight should work to deal with any contingent and unsavoury situation with mindful application and maturity. It is incumbent upon all concerned to ensure that lives of BSF brave hearts like Vijay Bhan Singh are not lost for trivial causes.

(Shantanu Mukharji is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and the former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal)

Shantanu Mukharji

Shantanu Mukharji

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