Opinion: Has BNP forgotten its anti-Indian past?

BNP's spokesperson Asaduzzaman Ripon's claim that their party has never done anti- Indian politics in the past is a complete denial of the truth.

The party’s anti-Indian politics has been evident in numerous ways. Prominent political scientists see the party's traditional anti-Indian stance as one of its foundational positions.

-- Modi lucky as anti-Indian politics dying
-- BNP always labeled Mujib-Indira treaty as a treaty of slavery
-- BNP also termed Ganges treaty as deal of slavery & opposed CHT Peace deal
-- BNP long opposed trade and communication connectivity
-- BNP blamed Congress govt for giving AL “undue support”

So, when the BNP's spokesperson on Wednesday at a press conference denied this historic truth, it surprised us. What does the BNP exactly seek to achieve by denying the facts? Will a mere denial without acknowledging their wrong political strategy pave the way for correcting BNP's politics?

In independent Bangladesh, the anti-Indian politics started getting momentum after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the overthrow of his government on August 15, 1975.

The bloody changeover brought back the politics of Pakistan era, when for a quarter century since the partition of India, the people were conditioned by the then Pakistan's propaganda showing India as their number one enemy.

As the anti-Indian politics returned to dominate Bangladesh's politics, the military and strategic friendship treaty between Bangladesh and India signed by Mujib and Indira was portrayed as "a treaty of slavery." The BNP continued to label the treaty as against the interest of Bangladesh until the deal expired in 1997.

When the Awami League assumed state power after 21 years in 1996, it could not dare to move to renew the Indira-Mujib treaty. Fighting strong propaganda, the AL, in the run up to the 1996 general election, was compelled to promise that it would not renew the treaty if it were voted to power.

But the treaty was immensely significant for the newborn Bangladesh. Political scientist Chowdhury M Shamim, a teacher of political science at California State University, Fullerton, in his article, "The Bangladesh-India Friendship Treaty" has examined the importance of the treaty. He writes, many countries were withholding recognition of Bangladesh because of the presence of Indian troops in its land.

The immediate circumstance, he says, that led to the signing of the treaty was the need to withdraw the bulk of Indian armed forces from Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib thus became aware of the necessity for the withdrawal of Indian forces from Bangladesh, he asserts.

He says, "The military and strategic ‘friendship’ between the two countries envisaged in the Bangladesh-India treaty of 1972 evaporated in the post 1975 era and the trend continued during Ziaur Rahman regime and Ershad era."

The trend however continued even after the AL returned to the power in 1996. Signing the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty with India in 1996 and the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord in 1997 with Parbatya Chattgram Janasanghati Samity were considered as two major achievements by the then Hasina-led government.

BNP, under the leadership of Khaleda Zia continued its anti-Indian politics and opposed both treaties. They termed the Ganges water sharing treaty as a “deal of slavery.” They also claimed that the Chittagong Hill Tracts areas had become a part of India after signing the peace accord. The party had also agitated on the street against the peace accord.

The BNP had threatened to cancel these two treaties if the party returned to power. However it has refrained from doing so after assuming the state power in 2001 general elections.

All through its history the party has also opposed closer trade and communications connectivity with India which was a manifestation of its anti-Indian politics.

Eminent political scientist Professor Rounaq Jahan in her recent book "Political Parties in Bangladesh", says these political stands were inspired by the BNP's traditional anti-Indian posture which was one of its foundational positions under Zia.

In a major demonstration of anti-Indian politics, BNP chief Khaleda Zia had refused to have a courtesy call on the Indian President Pranab Mukharjee when he was visiting Dhaka in March 2013.

At that time, Congress, which has a historically good relation with the AL, was in power. The BNP blamed the Congress-led government for giving "undue support" to the Hasina-led government in Bangladesh.

When Congress was voted out of power and BJP leader Narendra Modi was sworn in as the Indian premier, many BNP leaders were happy expecting a change in the Indian policy on Bangladesh.

Narendra Modi’s steps to resolve long pending bilateral issues between India and Bangladesh and to boost the relationship between the two countries, have already generated high hopes and the relationship between the two nations is set to reach a new height.  

Now the BNP seems to have changed its traditional tune. It has started preparing to meet Modi in efforts to build a good relation with India.

The prevailing political situation has made Modi a fortunate Indian leader. After Indira Gandhi's visit to Dhaka in 1972, he is set to be the first Indian premier who is drawing huge attention and generating high hopes ahead of his visit. The traditional anti-Indian politics seems to have died down as well!

Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz and the Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau had once suggested that the nearness of their countries to the USA was a blessing and a curse.

Political scientist Professor Ahrar Ahmad of Black Hills State University in South Dakota says, Bangladesh's relationship with India has a similar complexity. Citing Paz and Trudeau in an article in the book "Political Culture in Bangladesh" on Bangladesh-India relationship, he says, on one hand, there is closeness to a great and glorious civilisation that Bangladesh can also claim as its own heritage; there are economic complementarities that both countries can explore to mutual advantage; there are bonds of fraternity and gratitude for India's considerable help in Bangladesh's struggle for independence.

On the other hand, he says, there are anxieties stemming from the unequal power of the two states; there is cynicism about India's motives in helping Bangladesh in 1971.

The anti-Indian politics has long shown the nearness to India as a curse for Bangladesh.

Now, it depends on our leaders whether they will take the country forward benefitting from our nearness to India seeing it as a blessing or engage in the same old politics portraying closeness to India as a curse.





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