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Hectic politicking in Bangladesh

With elections in clear sight, the opposition’s Bangladesh National Party is leaving no stone unturned to overthrow the liberal Hasina government

 Shantanu Mukharji |  2018-06-13 16:53:08.0

Hectic politicking in Bangladesh

Dhaka is steadily heating up with hectic political activities in a feverish pitch as parliamentary polls' dates are drawing nearer by the day. Elections are scheduled either at the end of this year or early next year. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was lying dormant and dysfunctional till late, has suddenly embarked upon a flurry of belligerent political activities and appears to be receiving direction from some powerful lobby of the Prime Minister's hostile quarters.

BNP was, till recently, in political hibernation as it's party supremo, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been in prison and is believed to have suffered a mild stroke, rendering her politically irrelevant in the context of election campaigning. As is common knowledge, Khaleda is facing serious graft charges and continues to be prosecuted notwithstanding the fact that her party has engaged a high profile British lawyer to contest the case on her behalf.

What appears significant, however, is the BNP overtures to India for support and "guidance". BNP is still undecided if it would at all contest the elections or not. To woo Indian support, BNP had sent a three-member high power delegation to India last week under the leadership of erstwhile Commerce Minister, Amir Khasru and two other senior party functionaries.

During their most recent New Delhi stay, they held long parleys with several think tanks including the Indian Defence and Strategic Analysis (IDSA), Observer Research Foundation (ORF), and Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF). The visiting BNP team vehemently criticised the Hasina-led Awami League government for their alleged role in exterminating their political adversaries in the name of nabbing drug traffickers who are involved in smuggling drugs from across the border, especially from Myanmar, drawing all-round condemnation from various human rights groups.

The BNP delegation also tried to highlight the alleged corruption cases involving Hasina and her cohorts on various counts. Their tenor, during the interactions, was not bereft of any assertions and, instead, was business-like and to the point. In sum, they wanted India to hold BNP's hand, extending support to it during the elections. By a theory of elimination, it can be safely assumed that Pakistan will extend all-out support to BNP, its longtime friend, using every possible mean to subvert Hasina and her regime.

However, the Indian hands, experts on Bangladesh, pointedly told the BNP side that BNP had pursued an opportunistic politics because as they are out of power, they were trying to warm up to India pledging all promises but once in power, they will openly support anti-India and pro-Pakistani forces and alarmingly harbour multiple Indian insurgents belonging to the Northeast.

Now, in a desperate bid to come back to power, BNP articulated several promises in an apparent attempt to elicit support. Yet, judging by the party's past performance vis-à-vis India, the issues did not cut much ice during the interactions.

In the meantime, back in Dhaka, the issues of ongoing encounters or cross firing incidents are giving much ammunition to the BNP amid credible reports that if the Hasina government does not release Khaleda before the Eid ul Fitr, that is in a couple of days, BNP would resort to street agitation subsequently galvanising it into a mass movement that would undeniably pose a threat to Hasina's government. And, if Khaleda is out of the prison, then she is expected to use all her charisma and glamour under her command, leading the movement from the front. Once in the electoral fray, BNP will prove to be a formidable opposition causing serious challenge to the government in power. Therefore, Hasina needs to tread with caution to deal with the latest developments and any minor lapse of judgement or calculation might cause a dent in her future.

One must always remember that BNP, while in power, had the right-wing anti-India and pro-Pakistan Islamic fundamentalist party (Jamaat-e-Islami) as its ally and partner in governance which had helped the latter in consolidating its grassroots cadres, abetting the radical forces' agenda to foment terror as seen in the several deadly cases in the last two years.

Meanwhile, recent reports are trickling in about killings of one or two liberals indicating that the extremist forces may bounce back and resort to a renewed killing spree targeting liberals and minority communities. This can prove to be catastrophic if BNP is out on the streets especially from the electoral point of view. To be confident, in part, the government is alright but being overconfident in dealing with the critical issues could prove to be very costly.

(The writer is a security analyst and former National Security Advisor to the Republic of Mauritius. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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