Mohammad Hossain - Bangladesh
When Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi came to Bangladesh on the 6th of June, 2015, expectations were sky high in Bangladesh. This was in part due to a much hyped role of the media, both in Bangladesh and India, where media analysis induced level of excitement surrounding the maiden visit of the Indian premier reached a crescendo.
But the initial euphoria faded as it became widely recognized that the visit did not bring any real outcome in terms of any breakthrough regarding the myriad problems facing the two neighbours, atleast for Bangladesh. Not only that, the visit by the Indian premier also exposed a more darker side to Bangladeshi politics, something that many in Bangladesh have tried to avoid talking about, namely the increasing dependency of Bangladeshi politicians and their politics upon the favourable blessings of the Indian Big Brother.
An analysis of the give and take ratio in the bilateral agreements signed between Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart exposes some relatively major worrisome issues. The two countries signed and exchanged 22 instruments — 4 deals, 3 protocols, 14 memorandums of understanding and 1 letter of consent — on various matters on the first day of Modi’s visit on Saturday.
An analysis of the 22 agreements between India and Bangladesh clearly establishes the tide in the favour of Indians, as 19 of these agreements clearly are in the interests of India, while the others are simply too insignificant to work in Bangladesh’s favour.The strength of this statement can be derived from simple facts. The agreements on the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus service, Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala bus service have been and Coastal Shipping between India and Bangladesh, use of Chittagong and Mongla Ports among others means that Bangladeshi diplomats, with the stroke of the pen, have enabled their Indian counterparts to fulfil their long-standing desire for transit and transshipment facilities through the Bangladesh territory and for the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports, an issue which has also raised eyebrows in China.
Not just that, as a editorial in a leading English based Bangladesh daily reveals, India also sealed a deal, that too without any tender process, on lucrative power business for its companies such as the Adani Group and Reliance, which enjoy a huge clout from Modi and allegedly played the major role in pricing out power consumers belonging to low-income groups in the Indian state of Gujarat in particular.
Similarly, the agreements regarding exporting of internet bandwidth to India, at a notoriously cheap rate nonetheless, is simply part of necessity for the development of the landlocked North Western Indian region while the extending of the much hyped new Line of Credit (LoC) of $2 billion by government of India to government of Bangladesh is but an eyewash, since under the line of credit (LOC) a minimum of 75% of goods and services needs to be of Indian origin and must be procured from India. In addition, it is expected to create 50,000 jobs in India under the Indian government initiative “Make in India drive”, whereby a line of credit is a promise to provide loans at subsidized rates from specific agencies, and are normally conditional on the recipient using the loan amount to buy equipment and services from Indian entities such as BHEL, RITES, small and medium enterprises.
But what did Bangladesh get in return? Probably nothing to boast about, but among the breakthroughs hailed by some suspect India loving media included a few “words” and “promises” by Modi. These same media had hailed the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) Treaty with great pomp and splendor, capitalizing on Modi’s remarks when he said that signing the LBA treaty between India and Bangladesh was akin to the “fall of the Berlin Wall”. The people of Bangladesh were not impressed, especially considering the fact that the Indian government had refused to ratify this agreement for the past 41 years after being both signed and ratified by Bangladesh, while Modi had hailed it as a breakthrough in a manner that implied that a great deal had been accomplished, despite it clearly not being the case.
Putting aside obscure land boundary agreements that were just inked to reflect the prevailing realities on the ground, the most important concern for the people of Bangladesh at the moment had been a solution to the sharing of the river waters, especially Teesta. The visit of the Indian premier was however, a disappointment in this regard, as nothing transpired in that direction. All that Modi was able to muster was to express confidence to have a "fair solution" to the Teesta and Feni river water sharing issues with Bangladesh "with the support of state governments in India".
Despite all of the above, the political landscape in Bangladesh has remained surprisingly apathetic if not criminally silent on Modi’s visit. Whether an indication of the increasing influence of India in the socio-political realm of its small neighbor or simply due to the lack of political will, opposition parties who had traditionally been critiques of Indian role and at times hegemony in Bangladeshi affairs were not to be seen anywhere.
A beleaguered opposition BNP chief lobbied for a chance to meet the Indian premier and state her concerns regarding the absence of democratic norms in the country, while the largest Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, an otherwise staunch critic of the Indian domination in the region, welcomed the Indian premier, communicating that like the BNP, it too had high hopes pinned on the visit. The only political entities protesting Modi’s visit were a handful of communist parties (doubtless over their affiliation regarding communist ideology with China), several of whose members were arrested by law enforcers.
Needless to say, the blatant serving to Indian interests by the ruling Awami League party was well expected, especially in lieu of Indian support and offering of legitimacy for sham national elections in Bangladesh early in January last year, which the Awami League won, not by public support, but on grounds that the elections were boycotted by all other major parties. However, the attitude of the BNP and Jamaat, traditionally having the approach to critique India’s self seeking attitude, exposed more issues than it solved them, as it became clear that the policy of appeasement and endorsement of all acts by Modi during his visit was aimed at gaining his government’s approval, perhaps in the hope that appeasing the Indian establishment would help in their return to power.
Meanwhile, issues close to the heart of the Bangladeshi people, especially the resolution of disputes over common rivers, including the ever important Teesta, narrowing the yawning trade deficit between the two countries and stopping the killing of Bangladeshis by India’s Border Security Force remain neglected.
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