The hype around the dynamics of India-Bangladesh relation is often overdone. It seems that we Bangladeshis are both India-maniac and also Indo-phobic. For anything and everything happening in Bangladesh we find an India correlation, as if we ourselves are a non-entity and some mysterious pull of strings from Delhi dictates every move of ours. This fallacious obsession impacts objective reasoning and decision making.
Much of our approximation is based on the overestimation of the power of the Indian state and being completely oblivious of its inner weakness that the very state itself is afraid of. Obsession about the neighbouring big brother is a kind of small neighbour syndrome that many other smaller neighbours of bigger states suffer from. Yet our preoccupation with Delhi is extraordinarily acute.
Indian central power is much weaker nowadays with successive loosely bonded coalition governments having been being in Delhi for the last several years. Bordering provinces often dictate foreign policy, a purely union government subject as per Indian constitution. Tamil Nadu is a burning example. Demagogic Trinamool Congress is doing the same with regards to Bangladesh.
Indian foreign policy is sometimes incoherent. Few months back an Indian foreign ministry official openly admitted that it was India's fault for not being able to deliver on key bilateral issues with Bangladesh. Such a state of affairs was unthinkable in the past. Sheikh Hasina responded by not granting transit to India.
There is a perception in Bangladesh that India is calling the shots, i.e. dictating the actions of the AL government. The skeptics think that they are not doing enough to support democracy in Bangladesh despite being very influential over the Bangladeshi incumbents. But how can the Indian government can get such leverage? Trade-wise, India is more of an exporter to Bangladesh than an importer of Bangladeshi goods. Rather, the West has this economic tool at their disposal to pressurise the Bangladesh government, if they want. But that, of course, will bring sufferings for ordinary citizens as well.
India doesn't command things in relation to Bangladeshi domestic politics. Rather it seems that India, more or less, follows what Sheihk Hasina desires where Bangladesh is concerned. The intelligent Indians, like the Americans, understand that AL has indulged in a dicey gamble to mitigate the political mess they have made in the last five years through the prolonged war crimes trials and poor performance in governance.
But options for India are limited. The weak coalition government is bound to be conservative about Indian interest in relation to Bangladesh, especially in this election year. AL, reading the Indian mind, has been able to tie them in a manipulative way to try delivering on some Indian concerns. The Indian government, due to Mamata Banerjee's stubbornness, has failed to deliver on key bilateral issues. This has reduced Indian leverage on AL government t further.
The Islamist bogey and north-east Indian insurgents cards have done it all for AL. It's also true that the West values India's position on many regional issues. AL knows that, in crisis situations, India can't abandon a secular political force in Bangladesh because an abrupt fall of such a party could spell greater dangers for India. But Indian support may not be there because of AL's and stubbornness and if AL gets too unpopular and isolated. But for BNP to expect that the present Congress-led coalition government would go out of the way at this time to support their cause is perhaps expecting too much, given the incident of ten truckload arms haul in their last tenure in power.
It would be wise not to focus so much on India for the simple reason that it undermines the people's power in Bangladesh. If the people of this country genuinely want the ouster of AL, the latter will fall. That public intention could only be successful if the people came out in the streets en masse. India has no capacity to do anything in such a situation, if it arises at all.
We need to understand who is the actor who holds maximum agency in the current complex scenario of Bangladesh. With systematic cooption and politicisation of the state organs, it is the incumbent leader who has amassed all the state power and authority at her disposal. Her desperation stems from various facts, ranging from attempts on her life to the incomplete task of cleansing the anti-liberation forces out of Bangladeshi polity for good. Democratic compromise between AL and BNP is almost a certainty in the near future in this West-dominated world system. The AL supremo is the one who is indeed calling the shots; the Indians are an ancillary to her in this game.
The writer is Associate Research Fellow, BIPSS.