Decoding BNP’s ceaseless propaganda over Hasina’s Delhi visit

Hasina's handling of big neighbour India is a classic example of persuasive rather than coercive diplomacy which would never work

Sukharanjan DasguptaSukharanjan Dasgupta
Published : 13 Sept 2022, 00:02 AM
Updated : 13 Sept 2022, 00:02 AM

Soon after the announcement of Sheikh Hasina’s recently concluded visit to India, the BNP top guns, including Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, unleashed a heap of smears against the Awami League chief. “Hasina is unable to deal with India" and "Nothing has been achieved from the visit” are some classic smears peddled by the party.

The extent of such smears on social media with assets of the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami alliance going gaga peddling such name calling would help one draw a single conclusion: they are on an overdrive to belittle Hasina when she is on a visit to India. But these high-pitch allegations clearly run out of any substance.

Let's ask Mirza Fakhrul what his leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia managed to accomplish during her visits to India. The answer is simple: a big zero. During Khaleda's two terms in office, not a single agreement of any significance was signed on her New Delhi visits.

Let’s revisit some historic facts

Right after Bangladesh’s independence, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed as many as eight agreements with India during his four years in office. Then came the long two decades of military rule during which bilateral relations with India nosedived.

Hasina, immediately after assuming office in 1996, managed to sign the landmark Ganges water-sharing agreement. Then with some classic backroom diplomacy, Hasina managed to iron out differences with the Parbatya Chattogram Jana Samhati Samity rebels and sign another peace treaty in Chattogram Hill Tracts that returned peace for a long time.

If these agreements reflect an "inability to deal with India", Mirza Fakhrul should go back to history classes. Both these agreements have held, despite allegations that the CHT agreement has not been properly implemented.

India's proposal to allow Bangladesh access to third countries through its territory to dispatch goods, talks for trade agreements, a fresh impetus to connectivity and commitments of new investments from Indian businesses are key takeaways from the recent visit. A water-sharing agreement on the Kushiyara river has also been signed.

It is true the Teesta agreement is still hanging fire. But Hasina has been relentlessly pushing for an early resolution of the agreement, cleverly putting the onus on her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to keep India's commitment on the issue. It is also well known that the problem over the Teesta agreement lies in West Bengal, not in Delhi or Dhaka.

In sharp contrast to Jyoti Basu's pragmatic role in shepherding the Ganges water treaty, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee played spoilsport by torpedoing the agreement in 2010 during former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's Dhaka visit. Hasina has tried her best to discreetly placate Mamata without having been seen as interfering in Indian politics.

Instead of resorting to sound and fury, Hasina has put India under pressure by actually responding to India's bonafide security and connectivity concerns. What else could she do? It is by this policy of friendship and by addressing India's concerns that Hasina has managed to settle the tricky enclaves issue with a land boundary agreement.

Hasina has also relentlessly pushed for an end to border killings. The number of killings has sharply come down over the last three to four years, and the director general of India's BSF has recently issued a blanket order to his eastern formations to exercise maximum restraint and "fire only when left with no option." Despite the recent incident, expectations can be raised that it would come down and needless to play up the odd incident of BSF firing, some of which are clearly provoked by criminal movements.

Hasina's handling of big neighbour India is a classic example of persuasive rather than coercive diplomacy which would never work.

Khaleda and her husband Ziaur Rahman created problems for Bangladesh by provoking India when both sheltered Northeast Indian rebels like in the days of East Pakistan. Given Bangladesh's power differential with India, such needling can only provoke a big neighbour into harsh reactions. Doing it because some other country wants it (Pakistan in this case) is also unacceptable.

Hasina knows how the Indian mind and the country's systems work. She has lived in India for six long years after the assassination of her father and much of her family. Some veteran Indian politicians like the late Jyoti Basu and Pranab Mukherjee treated her as part of the family.

Her fondness for India has not prevented her from bargaining hard when Bangladesh's interests have been at stake. She cleverly plays on the Indian policy elite's realisation that giving Bangladesh important concessions will boost Hasina's credibility and help a friend remain in power, which is good for its own interest.

So when Fakhrul and his cohorts attack Hasina for her "inability to handle India", they actually reflect their deep frustrations over how well Hasina has actually handled India. They depend on their Western friends to pull off a regime change operation but they know in their hearts that so long Hasina's equations with India stay as they are, the hopes of a repeat of 1975 are rather remote.

[Sukharanjan Dasgupta is a Kolkata-based commentator, BBC stringer and author of ‘Midnight Massacre’ on the Aug 15, 1975 coup.]

[This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of editors or and its owners.]

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher