• Friday, December 19, 2014

Freedom in the air

Dealing with Delhi under Modi

S.M. Rashed Ahmed

FROM the spate of analysis since the massive electoral victory of BJP led by Narendra Modi, and from his speeches and pronouncements, one can gauge, to an extent, his priorities in domestic and foreign policy. In the domestic sphere, his principal occupation would clearly seem to be to realise his election pledge to give serious fillip to development, boost India's sagging economy, generate employment and, crucially, empower the poor and the marginalised who constitute almost one third of India's population. This is a huge challenge.
In the domain of Indian diplomacy and foreign policy Modi will be guided by India's national interests as perceived by his government and the ruling party. He would clearly rely on professional diplomats for advice in taking vital decisions.
For us to think that Modi would have personal preference for any particular political party or parties in Bangladesh is rather too simplistic an approach We need to be pragmatic in our approach to a revitalised India with a leader enjoying unique popular mandate.
Our principal priority in relations with India is obviously to achieve resolution of the outstanding issues including Teesta water agreement and equitable sharing of the water of the trans-boundary rivers, Land Boundary Agreement, growing trade imbalance through removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers, continued killing of Bangladeshi civilians along the borders, among others. The issue of alleged Bangladeshi “illegal” immigrants came to the fore when the last BJP government was in power, so we have experience of having dealt with it then. Presently, Bangladesh is in a relatively stronger position on this particular issue.
A report from India's Bangalore-based Siliconindia magazine reported that Bangladesh is the fifth highest source of annual remittance from Indian expats amongst the top 15 countries. It says a total of 500,000 Indians live and work in Bangladesh and they sent home as much as $3,716 million last year. In an increasingly globalised, interdependent and borderless world, free movement of goods, services and people across borders is becoming an accepted reality. What is called for is dismantling of barbed wire fence, easing of visa restrictions and a peaceful border with zero tolerance for killing of civilians. This issue has agitated public opinion within Bangladesh, thereby negatively impacting on our friendly relationship with India.
The past years have been one of the most disappointing phases of Bangladesh-India relationship marked largely by one-sided concessions by us with practically no significant reciprocity from India to resolve the principal outstanding issues. If the policy of unilateral concessions continues the South Block may not be inclined to change the course as of now. But if our policy makers go for renewed negotiations with India, based on linkages and reciprocity with lessons learnt from the inept past handling of diplomatic negotiations we could see some positive forward movement.
In the ultimate analysis, foreign policy and diplomacy are extensions of domestic policies and structure; instead of worrying too much about the change of guard in Delhi our immediate priority should be to put our house in order.
Our concern has to be with the weak state of the nation threatened with the prospect of widespread instability and chaos; with clear failure of governance, near break down of rule of law, growing intolerance for dissent and the opposition. This is compounded by total politicisation of the vital organs of the state and government. There is talk of failed state, which is incorrect. Failed governance should not be equated with a failed state. Governments will come and go; the Republic of ours won through blood, toil and tears will survive.
We the people have to collectively reverse the downhill descent of the nation without delay and build a strong, stable and unified Bangladesh. Otherwise, it would be difficult for any government in power to negotiate with strength. Delhi is well aware of our weakness, particularly following the January 5 election, with a polarised nation and the party in power lacking popular mandate. There is an urgent need for sincere and serious efforts by the parties in power and in the opposition to reach an understanding on the modalities of holding of an inclusive free, fair and credible election acceptable to the people and the international community at large.
In the long run, however, we would have to ensure a new and revitalised Bangladesh to deal with a revitalised India under Modi. Our weak nation and the current national crisis is a symptom of a diseased polity based on Westminster style parliamentary democracy and winner take it all system. This is largely responsible for the twin evils of money and muscle power. This is at the root of pervasive corruption, which has affected all areas of governance. This is democracy of, for and by the rich; the poor and the marginalised have no place in this expensive exercise of mere electoral democracy minus good governance.
Prof. Yunus crafted Social Business in response to failed capitalism. It is increasingly gaining worldwide acceptance as it is proving successful in overcoming economic ills, huge unemployment particularly of the youths, social inequity, and ecological and other challenges.
Concurrently, we need to evolve a political system which will combine democracy with development, a democracy which would be inclusive and ensure a voice to the voiceless. This can be the starting point of a new Bangladesh on the bedrock of democratic good governance. A Bangladesh for all and not for a few at the expense of many. We would then be able to negotiate with all countries big or small with strength and not out of fear.
We want India to realise its aspirations of an emerging superpower along with China. In this context, it is hoped that Prime Minister Modi will demonstrate similar political will as Manmohan Singh to assist realisation of the vision of BCIM-EC, and greater physical and people to people connectivity embracing Bangladesh, India, China and Myanmar.
As the founder of Saarc, Bangladesh hopes that India under Modi would help to infuse new dynamism into Saarc to raise South Asia from being one of the poorest regions to a prosperous one. The support of our development partners including, among others, USA, China, Japan, EC, OIC and Asean will be crucial for the realisation of the vision of the new Bangladesh.
 

The writer is a former UN Regional Administrator in Kosovo and Bangladesh Ambassador to Japan.  
Email:rashed_ahmed2001@yahoo.com

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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