India and Bangladesh must seize the opportunity to further enhance connectivity and trade ties
The spectacular victory of the Grand Alliance led by the Awami League (AL), headed by incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in Bangladesh’s 11th general election, has delighted her supporters. This election is also a milestone for the coming of age of a new generation which is avowedly aspirational and is tired of the old political discourse that had deeply divided politics in Bangladesh. They have voted for economic progress and a secular polity.
The margin of victory has shocked and dismayed the Opposition parties that had coalesced into the National Unity Front (NUF), a coalition at whose core is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the AL’s bitter political rival. Former AL stalwart and famous jurist Kamal Hossain provided the leadership glue for the Opposition coalition. Nominally led by its Chairperson, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, currently in jail for corruption, the BNP’s guiding force is U.K.-based acting-Chairman Tarique Rahman, her controversial son who fled from the country in 2008 and lives in exile. He is convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to murder. There will be setbacks in India-Bangladesh ties, like the current Rohingya issue, which has imposed a huge economic and security burden on Bangladesh. Bilaterally, the issue of the illegal migration has already acquired a high profile in India with the publication of the draft National Register of Citizens in Assam. This will require deft handling of bilateral ties. Sharing of river waters will remain a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. China’s security and economic footprint has grown in South Asia and managing this will remain a challenge for both countries. While Bangladesh is overwhelmingly dependent on military hardware from China, India has provided a $500 million LOC for procurement of defence-related goods from India. This momentum must be maintained and intensified. India has welcomed the election results and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first leader to telephone and congratulate Ms. Hasina. Bangladesh-India relations have reached a stage of maturity and with further upgrading and integration of infrastructure, bilateral ties can be expected to grow stronger in the future. Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, is a former diplomat. He has served as High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh