Indian domestic politics and Bangladesh | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 22, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 22, 2012

Indian domestic politics and Bangladesh

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From recent developments of Indo-Bangladesh relation, it appears that we are being caught in a limbo due to domestic political impasse of our big neighbour India. The rise of a high demanding regional party, The Trinamool Congress, in historically moderate West Bengal and the very nature of the federal structure of Indian polity have compounded the Indo-Bangladesh situation. With secular Awami League in power in Bangladesh which is considered more pragmatic and less rhetorical about our relation with our big neighbour in one side and the secular UPA coalition led by the Congress party of India on the other, it was a natural expectation that the relation between the two nations would flourish in the light of the worldwide trend of increased regional cooperation. What is going wrong? No political pundit would probably label Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab leadership of the present Indian government as belligerent towards smaller neighbours; yet there goodwill fails to deliver. If we take a closer look at the evolution of the party system of Indian democracy and the fresh change of political atmosphere in West Bengal we will probably be able to see where lays the gridlock. Although, in one sense, internal political intricacies of India is not ought to be the concern of Bangladesh, we are entangled in it against our wish owing to the reduced capacity and internal strife of the multiparty conglomerate in power in India at present. Other than the Congress no other party in the coalition is a national party and the primary focuses of these parties are their local power bases at the provincial level where they want to grasp or maintain the political clout. These parties share lesser responsibility in terms of some important union government functions like foreign relation. The situation is worse when a foreign relation in question involves some conflict of interest between the federal government and the coalition partner regional party and the latter is unwilling to demonstrate a rational sense of responsibility as coalition partner of the central government and rather remain arrogant to score a high political point at local level. Mamata Banerjee is not even ready to recognise the broader benefit of West Bengal itself in an enhanced Indo-Bangladesh cooperation on bilateral issues like transit, anti-terror cooperation, reordering of border enclaves etc. For the moment, it appears that the key to the gridlock is her coming of age as a responsible leader. It appears that Ms. Banerjee is all out to orchestrate a show to the West Bengal electorate; perhaps thinking of her long-term gain, that she, not the Left Front leadership, is the real hardcore protector of the provincial interest and West Bengal's well being is only safe in her hands. Given her state of temperamental mindset and hasty political behaviour, worsened by the weaker strength of UPA government in the face of it, it is prudent for Bangladesh government to take cautious steps. Pushing the central government too hard may not yield as they will not like to risk the survival of their coalition by pushing Mamata in turn. Moreover, the union government of India tend to follow the federal polity norm of trying to take the concerned provincial leadership aboard while dealing with neighbouring nation. The same policy also applies in case of Sri Lanka when the central government endeavour to take the Tamil Nadu provincial government and the provincial allies into confidence. So, there is a rationale for being reasonably patient.
There may not be a dominant party situation, similar to the past in India ever or for a prolonged period. It seems that the Indians themselves have come already to terms with this reality. We, therefore, need to learn to cope with this fact of our indispensable neighbour. The truth is, regardless of our undesirability to be tied to India's domestic political configuration and reconfiguration in respect to the bilateral relation between us, we are being drawn into the equation due to our unique geographic, commercial, cultural and historical linkage to them. It is not unnatural that many in Bangladesh would feel irritated by the situation as it stands. At the same time it is important that both the secular government do as much logically possible as they can to further ties for better cooperation and peace in the region. There are irrational and hawkish quarters on both sides of the border and they would not mind to exploit any chance to their own political ends and keep uttering their habitual and useless rhetoric.
Being swayed by a host of facets like provincial ethnicity, caste, communalism, and secessionism at some places and, in the positive side and mass aspiration for much publicised economic emancipation Indian domestic politics has turned into a complex affair. India is no unitary republic and its federal structure has distributed political power centres across its length and breadth. The demise of the dominant party era of Indian National Congress has not done much good to its coherent entity and effective actor as a nation. Again, India is an emerging force in international politics and its animosity with precariously troubled Pakistan, silent competition with China and ameliorating terms with the US shapes and reshapes her regional and international objectives. Her troubled north-east makes Bangladesh and Myanmar naturally important to her. Convenient and cost-effective communication, transhipment and transportation are vital for the economic catching up of the Indian north-east with the spectacular development of many parts of the rest of the country. This is politically crucial for her as well.
We have no escape from India and all her internal, regional and international political and economic ambition, compulsion, needs and offerings; neither can she ignore or suppress us arbitrarily. India is a mammoth constellation of numerous and diverse sub-national identities with hostile neighbours in the north and north-west. Bangladesh needs to keep a watchful eye on Indian domestic and international politics. It is no denying that, in broader perspective, we both need each other mutually , despite domestic political hurdles, and we have to work towards comprehensive relationship equilibrium based on rational mutual benefits and keep reconstructing it as and when it gets off-balanced.

The writer is a voluntarily retired Army Officer. Currently, he is studying political sociology at post-graduate level in School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in the UK.

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