Why Should India Act Decisively In Bangladesh And Myanmar, And How? – OpEd


One would ask why should India even worry about Bangladesh since its trusted friend Sheikh Hasina is in power a record fourth time?

As someone who has closely monitored Bangladesh for Indian intelligence, I would strongly argue:

(a) Hasina is no longer India’s friend and is much closer to China, our bete noire, than ever before;

(b) by allowing her crony business allies like Salman Rahman to loot freely — that has been detailed by both Bangladesh and overseas media — which has ruined the country’s economy, Hasina has set up the stage to make her country another Pakistan which runs to Beijing with a begging bowl every now and then to bailout from impossible payments crisis;

(c) by economically heading for dependence on China like the Rajpaksas did in Sri Lanka, Hasina is offering China a huge leverage in both projects and positions that could compromise.our security both of the vulnerable Chicken Neck and the Northeastern states

(d) as Hasina refused to listen to India this time and go for a fair election (I have knowledge of such requests made by our bigwigs) and took China’s “democracy no need, be strong” pitch much too seriously.

India should feel worried because the end of a democratic Bangladesh and the rise of a police state under Hasina means the end of Awami League as a serious political party capable of mobilizing the masses in the most adverse of situations because with no fair polls needed anymore, the Sheikh family and their cohorts like Salman Rahman can straightaway plunge into the lucrative “nomination business” and bring to parliament and cabinet moneybags like Asadul Islam Titu (now junior commence minister) who is closely connected as Rahman’s buddy in the major stock market scams that rocked Bangladesh and may rock it again in near future. Or the China-backed cabal of junior ministers like Nasrul Hamid Bipu, Mohammed Arafat and Zunaid Ahmed Palak who are already seeking more telecom, IT and energy projects from China. 

Sheikh Hasina’s utility for India is past — transit and coastal shipping agreements, action against Northeast Indian rebels and more have been well reciprocated by Delhi not only through deals like integrated powergrid that helps Bangladesh buy power from Nepal and Bhutan but also by regime support since 2009 without which Hasina would not have survived in power. India has helped Hasina survive by helping legitimize controversial elections and thereby earned the wrath of millions of Bangladeshis (our natural friends) who cannot be sure of a meal of meat even in the forthcoming Eid.

India should stop cultivating a rank corrupt regime drifting towards China in future economic woes in mind and pitch for  a restoration of democracy in Bangladesh. That does not mean India supports the Islamist coalition of BNP-JAMAAT as it did in 2001 at great cost to our security, which the likes of then NSA Brajesh Mishra realised only after the huge arms seizure in Chittagong in 2004. 

India needs to look at a third option in Bangladesh– back a platform created to uphold the spirit of 1971 which can push for a return to 1972 secular Constitution and greater gender and minority rights, an uncompromising crusade against corruption which now is the hallmark of the Hasina regime and huge public pressure to curb the upward moving price line by firm action against the syndicates backed by Hasjna cronies. This should be India’s second 1971 moment, a new crusade of liberating the people of Bangladesh that Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw inspired his soldiers to prepare for in the days leading to the final offensive.

This platform should be led by the strong GenNext leaders, specially who derive lineage from the powerful figures of the Liberation War, whose legacy seems to have been shamelessly monopolised by the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman family even when questions remain why he gave himself up to the Pakistanis as no Subhash Bose or Mao Zedong would do on the night of “Operation Searchlight”.  Awami Leaguers upset with Hasina who can be bought off with a ministerial berth should be kept out and the Tarique cohorts as well. Or else, no bar on party affiliations though civil society and non-party youth  activists preferred. Moncho Ekattor, like the Delhi Nanch that became Aam Aadmi party is a viable project for India to back before the Western powers move in.

China-funded and Paris-based Youtuber Pinaki Bhattacharyya cannot fool his countrymen by blaming India for destroying Bangladesh democracy while absolving China which backed Hasina as strongly as India does. That his political understanding is as clouded as his spoken abusive Bangla is evident from his ‘Bangladesh, the next Sikkim” pitch. Sikkim after merger sent one MP to India parliament — Bangladesh with its present population will send 70. Together with West Bengal and other Indian states with sizeable Bengali population, this will mean 120 or more Bengali MPs in Indian parliament. A Bengali PM in India will be an inevitability. Mamata Banerjee or Sheikh Hasina may enjoy that prospect, Indian leaders from Modi to Yogi Aditya Nath to Rahul Gandhi (whose mother stopped Pronob Mukherjee from becoming PM which even PM Manmohan Singh described as a huge mistake) will not. 

From Sardar Patel to Sonia Gandhi and now Narendra Modi, the determination to stop a Bengali Prime Minister is as driving if not as blatant as the some Pakistanis in1971. No Indian leader, BJP, Congress or Communist, wants a Bengali PM — evidence being the Jyoti Basu case. So may Allah bless neo-convert Pinaki in his China-funded Paris home but his “medical treatment.in Pakistan” is the height, considering his claims as a doctor.

India’s future in the East lies in a democratic, secular and economically strong and friendly Bangladesh, not in backing a corrupt regime driving down the national economy that will force the country to end up as a Chinese satellite. 

In Myanmar, India seems to be missing out on a huge chance to play the peacemaker because it has access and credibility with all major stakeholders — army,  ethnic rebel groups, democratic parties like NLD and the parallel National Unity Government — which neither China, nor the ASEAN or they Western powers have. But India’s Foreign Finister S. Jaishankar,  otherwise brilliant in dealing with Big Powers, seem to be squandering the opportunity by his ‘wait-and- watch’ approach, which is another name for strategic inaction.

India needs to send a Gandhi Peace Mission led by its northeastern bigwigs like junior foreign minister R K Ranjan Singh, former Mizoram CM Zoramthanga and an an active former ambassador like Gautam Mukhopadhyay. The mission can provide the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) an exit strategy out of the crisis if it agrees to restore democracy, honor the 2020 polls or call for a new one soon, and settle for constitutional changes that establishes an authentic federation in Myanmar and sends the army back to the barracks forever and pave the way for a new professional non-political military under Indian stewardship and training that can stop China’s southward March.

In diplomacy and intelligence, as in war, there is no place for a laid-back lazy approach. India needs a proactive rather reactive neighborhood policy and that should begin from the East. 

Benu Prasad Ghosh

Benu Prasad Ghosh is a former officer of India's Intelligence Bureau and has closely followed Bangladesh and Myanmar during his long tenured in India's troubled Northeast.

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