Bangladesh will be watching the Indian elections for five reasons

Last Updated on March 21, 2024 12:51 pm

Md Khayrul Bashar, Senior Reporter:

India’s Lok Sabha elections are going to be held three and a half months after Bangladesh’s national elections. All opinion polls in India before the polls say that there is no chance of a change in power in India’s elections like in Bangladesh.

This is probably the reason why the interest of the people of Bangladesh in this election is somewhat dampened. Yet historically what happens in Delhi always affects Bangladesh.

Right before India’s elections, the ruling Narendra Modi government has issued a notification to implement the controversial Citizenship Act (CAA). As a result of this move, whether the minority Hindus in Bangladesh are victims of religious persecution or not has become a political agenda in India.

Many international relations analysts say that after the implementation of the CAA, the BJP also plans to implement the NRC or National Register of Citizens.

They fear that many Muslims in Assam and West Bengal may lose Indian citizenship if this NRC comes into force, and as usual it will have an impact on the Bangladesh border.

Due to this new law, the ‘Bangladesh issue’ is more closely involved in this election of India than in any previous election.

International relations analyst, Professor Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University said that there is already a debate about this law. The impact of this citizenship law will be in Bangladesh before the election.

Recently, there has been a kind of discussion-criticism about the role of India in Bangladeshi politics in the politics of Bangladesh. Because of this, before the election in India, there are various discussions and analyzes among the people of Bangladesh.

Whether or not there is a change in India’s power structure, at least five reasons can be identified for which the people of Bangladesh will be keeping a close eye on the upcoming elections in India.

Citizenship Act

Since the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India last week, many debates have been going on in various parts of the country including West Bengal and Assam.

According to the Act, all religious minorities such as Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis who migrated to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan due to communal persecution and persecution will be granted Indian citizenship by December 31, 2014.

Now this means, if the law comes into effect, those who have left Bangladesh and taken refuge in India in the last nine and a half years after 2014 will have to return to Bangladesh. Then the question will arise that how much can this number be?

Meanwhile, the Awami League government has been in power in Bangladesh for more than 15 years.

During the tenure of this government, the uncomfortable question of why religious minorities have left the country for security reasons may also come to the fore. With that, the question will arise, if they want to return to Bangladesh, will Bangladesh agree to accept them?

As a result, as this law was introduced just before the Indian elections, the common people of Bangladesh are discussing the issue in various ways.

Political and diplomatic reasons

Voting for the Lok Sabha elections in India will begin from April 19, which will continue for more than a month and a half.

As a neighboring country, Bangladesh’s political, commercial and diplomatic relations with India have been very close for more than a decade and a half. But the possible change of government and policies in the country after the election may affect Bangladesh as well.

That is why the big political parties of Bangladesh keep a watchful eye on India’s elections.

Analysts say, during the elections of the two countries, which party comes to the state power, it was always important for the two countries. However, if Awami League is in power in Bangladesh, it is a relief for India’s BJP or Congress, both parties.

Former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh. Tauhid Hossain said, when Awami League came to power in 2009, Congress was in power in India. Awami League has traditionally had good relations with the Congress for a long time. But after BJP came to power in India in 2014, Awami League also got strong support from that government.

When the BJP government came to power under the leadership of Narendra Modi, many thought that the support of the new government of India to the Awami League would not be so absolute.

But there has been no change in the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India in the last ten years. On the contrary, Bangladesh’s relations with India have become much closer than at any time in the past.

The national election of Bangladesh was held in January this year. Before that election, Western countries including the United States showed great interest in Bangladesh elections. The United States also imposed a visa ban to make the elections fair.

In the face of the pressure from the western countries, India finally clarified its position before the Bangladesh elections.

Many observers think that it is because of India that Western countries including the United States are forced to take a more flexible position towards the Awami League government.

That is why the Awami League finally won the election on January 7 and came to power for the fourth time in a row.

The opposition political camp of Bangladesh believes that the Awami League in Bangladesh is able to stay in power day after day with the direct support of India. All in all, India has become the biggest deciding force in determining who will be in the atrium of power in Bangladesh.

Teesta Treaty and uniform river water sharing

Common river water sharing is a long-term and complex issue between Bangladesh and India.

Although the Ganges water sharing agreement was signed between the two countries in 1996, there is still no solution regarding the water sharing of the 8 rivers under discussion including the Teesta.

Although the relationship between Bangladesh and India is very strong on various issues during the 15 years of the Awami League government, the crisis regarding the distribution of common river water remains. Two important issues on which there is a gap between the two countries are the implementation of the Teesta Treaty and the renewal of the Ganga Treaty.

After the Ganga Treaty, the issue of Teesta river water sharing gained the most importance in the negotiations.

In 2011, during the tenure of the then Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, all preparations were completed for the signing of the Teesta Treaty, but it could not be implemented due to the opposition of the West Bengal government.

On the other hand, in 1996, a 30-year agreement was signed between the two countries for the sharing of Ganga water. This agreement will expire in 2026. Apart from this, although there have been various discussions on the proposed agreement for sharing the water of six more identical rivers, they have not yet been executed.

Meanwhile, if the government is formed after the election of Bangladesh in January, the new foreign minister. Hasan Mahmood visited India the very next month.

On his return home, he said that after India’s election, Dhaka and Delhi have agreed to work together on the renewal of the long-stalled Teesta water sharing agreement and the Ganges agreement.

Meanwhile, although the BJP has been in power in India for the past decade, the Trinamool Congress under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee has been ruling West Bengal continuously for more than a century.

The diplomatic analysts of Bangladesh do not think that the new central government of India will make a water sharing agreement with Bangladesh, including Teesta, ignoring the opinion of that state government.

Killings at the border

Geographically, Bangladesh is surrounded on three sides by neighboring India. There is a land border of more than 4000 kilometers between the two countries.

According to the calculations of the Bangladeshi human rights organization ‘Ain O Salish Kendra’, 30 Bangladeshi citizens died at the hands of the Indian border guard force BSF in 2023 alone.

The previous year, i.e. 2022, the number of people killed on the border was 23. 16 of them were killed in BSF firing.

And in 2021 this number was 17. Also, there are often reports of abduction of Bangladeshi citizens at the border.

In fact, although the relationship between the two governments of Bangladesh and India has improved greatly over the past few years, there is no reflection on the border.

In such a situation, there have been several rounds of talks between the two countries to stop border killings, but there has been no change in the border situation.

A bilateral agreement was signed between the two countries in April 2018 aimed at stopping the loss of lives along the border. The two countries also agreed not to use lethal weapons in border crossing incidents.

But even then, questions have been raised about why these killings on the border could not be stopped. Analysts say that it is not actually decreasing due to the lack of sincere efforts or goodwill on the part of the two countries to reduce border killings.

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University’s International Relations Department said that India and China have signed an agreement to stop killings on their border that no weapon can be brought within two kilometers of the border of the two countries, and no firing will take place.

He is raising the question, if India and China can do it, why Bangladesh-India can’t do it?

Transit and port usage

Awami League is now in power for the fourth consecutive term in Bangladesh. Since Awami League came to power, there has been quite a visible change in the relationship between India and Bangladesh.

During this period, various agreements have been signed between the two countries, including the exchange of enclaves, land border agreement, road transit, permission to use Chittagong and Mongla sea ports.

There have been many arguments and debates in Bangladesh for a long time regarding the provision of transit and transshipment facilities to India.

In 2010, the then government formed a committee comprising experts and bureaucrats to review the matter.

The committee’s report reviewed various aspects including infrastructural constraints and recommended providing transshipment facilities to India.

At that time there was also a debate about the transit-transshipment fee or fee. Some of Bangladesh’s policy-makers have come under fire for taking a stance in favor of no levy.

Bangladesh has recently given India the opportunity to use Chittagong and Mongla ports. Even though India has been given that opportunity, Bangladesh has not yet received permission to export goods to Nepal or Bhutan using land ports, airports and seaports.

As usual, there are various discussions in Bangladesh about what Bangladesh gets in exchange for providing transit and transshipment facilities to India.

Analysts say that in the 15 years of Awami League’s rule, all the agreements between Bangladesh and India, including transit and port usage, have never happened in the past.

However, there is also the allegation that although India was given a lot ‘unilaterally’, Bangladesh ‘did not get that much’ in return.

Naturally, before the elections in India, the question arises, if a new government comes to power in India, how much will the interests of Bangladesh be fulfilled?

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