Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2014-01-08 04:25:04 Published on Jan 08, 2014
Beyond personalities and politics, there is one basic question we need to ask ourselves: Why even 66 years after independence, is New Delhi's influence in its region shrinking instead of expanding?
India losing its clout in South Asia
"Things have been bad enough for India in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and we now face the prospect of our relations with Bangladesh going down the tube in the coming months.

After having a friendly government preside over a stable neighbour in the last five years, we are now confronted with the prospect of violence and anarchy in a country with which we share a 4000-km border.

The cause of this alarming development is not too difficult to find - the continuing and debilitating quarrel between the two Begums of Bangladesh - Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her predecessor, Khaleda Zia, the chief of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

People gather in front of a burnt and vandalised house after Bangladesh Jamaat-E-Islami activists attacked a Hindu village in Jessore


The events in Bangladesh have also brought out an uncharacteristic rift between New Delhi and Washington DC. In the past year, the Americans have been warning against the holding of elections in a climate of violence, while India has made it clear that all its eggs are in Sheikh Hasina's basket.

Had the two countries put forward a united stand on the elections, perhaps things would not have come to this pass. On Monday, the United States issued a statement that categorically called on the Awami League government to fix the situation.

In Washington DC, Marie Harf, the official spokesperson, denounced the violence and said: "We believe Bangladesh still has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to democracy by organising free and fair elections that are credible in the eyes of the Bangladeshi people."

The American statement was in sharp contrast to the Indian official spokesperson's comment on the election, which was also delivered on Monday. In his daily briefing, the official spokesman said that the elections in Bangladesh were a "constitutional requirement" and that it was for the people of the country to "decide their own future and choose their representatives in a manner that responds to their aspirations."

Ignoring the issue of the legitimacy of the elections, the spokesperson said that "violence cannot and should not determine the way forward." This was not a blanket endorsement of Sheikh, but it was close enough, given the universal criticism she has otherwise faced.

India's predicament is manifest. Sheikh Hasina is one of the few friends we have in the South Asian region. In 2013, we have had trouble-prone relations with Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives; and ties with our adversaries Pakistan and China remain unchanged.

But in the last five years, with Sheikh Hasina as prime minister, relations between India and Bangladesh were warm and friendly. She cracked down on the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) sheltering in Bangladesh, as well as on domestic Islamists who were used by the ISI for anti-Indian activity.

Moreover, stable Bangladesh enjoyed a handsome six per cent rate of growth.


Sheikh Hasina's added virtue was that she took on the Jamaat-e-Islami and had it on the run. Equally important, the Awami League's control of the government provided New Delhi some comfort with regard to the advancing Chinese influence in the region, even though India was not able to reward her sufficiently.

On the other hand, Khaleda Zia and her BNP are allied to the Jamaat which is virulently anti-Indian. Begum Khaleda's own attitude towards India cannot but be deeply skewed by the perceived closeness between India and Sheikh Hasina.

As far as India is concerned, the issue of Bangladesh cannot be handled by a lame-duck government in New Delhi.

But beyond personalities and politics, there is one basic question we need to ask ourselves: Why even 66 years after independence, is New Delhi's influence in its region shrinking instead of expanding?

(The writer is Contributing Editor, Mail Today, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

Courtesy: Daily Mail, UK, January 7, 2014

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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