Despite all appearances of stagnancy, there’s a flurry of activity behind the scenes in Bangladesh’s political arena. There is an effort to ensure the participation of all parties in the next general election. There are also efforts to create public acceptance of the various deals and memorandums of understand signed by the incumbent government.
Several options loom large in front of the government and its opposition. If all concerned quarters can reach an acceptable formula, then the elections can be held at ease. The elections are scheduled to be held in 2019 and there is little likelihood of mid-term elections as has been predicted in the past.
It became more or less certain that the elections will be held on time in 2019 after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received assurances during her recent Delhi trip. Multifaceted strategies have been employed to bring all political parties, the major opposition BNP in particular, to the elections. As part of this endeavour, there has been no resistance to BNP chief Khaleda Zia being absolved of certain cases. A number of influential BNP leaders in London and other countries are being used to take the party to the polls.
It is being said that if the agreements and MOUs signed with India during the two consecutive terms of the present government are kept in continuity, then no obstacle will be placed in the way of BNP to come to power through popular mandate. The intelligence agency of the neighbouring country is reaching out to its old contacts within BNP.
Emphasis is being placed on four aspects related to strengthening of ties with India over the past 10 years. Firstly, anti-Indian insurgent groups will not be given any support or instigation on Bangladesh soil. Secondly, all the ongoing bilateral connectivity processes, agreements and MOUs will be taken to implementation. Thirdly, sensitive issues such as war crimes and the BDR uprising would be taken as resolved and no raked up again. And fourthly, the agreements and MOUs signed for defence and anti-terrorism, will be implemented.
Outside these conditionalities, India has also unofficially told BNP not to form any election alliance with Islamic parties known to be anti-Indian. If commitment is made to adhere to these conditionalities, then all cooperation would be extended or free and fair elections. It is reported that BNP has responded positively.
However, no assurance has been made in the proposal for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down and allow the elections to be held under any interim government. Rather, in keeping with the amended constitution, the election will be held with her in office, albeit in an inert role.
The opposition party has said that even if Sheikh Hasina doesn’t step down, an interim cabinet should be put in place to supervise the election. It is to be seen how far the government will relent in order to bring BNP to the polls.
According to sources close to the prime minister, she is determined to be in power to celebrate 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence. Those who are working towards an understanding have been informed of this desire of hers. That is why there have been an effort to hold the elections in a conducive environment in 2017 she would stay another five years in power. However, the idea of mid-term polls has now been scrapped.
BNP is also not insisting on mid-term polls as it needs time to fix the disorder within its own house and prepare accordingly. As to how far BNP is confident about such an understanding, a leader of the party has said, at the end of the day there is no room for confidence. However, there are two options before BNP. There can be a movement at the final moment. Or, it can undertake a reliable and trustworthy understanding.
Past experience of launching a movement after consulting influential quarters in America has not been good. After all, it is assumed, the US has accepted India’s interests and control in the region for its own strategic interests.
Another factor has active influence on Bangladesh’s overall situation and that is the high level strategic understanding between Israel and India. When the US and other powerful western counties took a hard stance against the one-sided 2014 election in Bangladesh, India used its Israel lobby to thwart their stern position. This clout was also used for Bangladesh to join the Saudi-led military alliance. That is why even though Hasina may have wanted to take a stronger stance on certain issues, she ultimately accepted reality and gave in to Delhi.
She may have stepped up economic relations with China, but has taken no significant steps to enhance defence and strategic relations with it. Hasina used time as an excuse not to enter into a defence pact with Delhi her time. She said she would resolve the matter once she came into power the next term.
The question is, whom will Delhi trust? There are doubts within BNP itself as to how far any clandestine understanding with India will yield positive results. However, there may be a lot of changes before the 2019 election. Other than India, China, America and Russia, many other forces are becoming active behind the scenes in the political arena of Bangladesh.
Also Read: Bangladesh’s election enigma