Bangladesh’s paradoxical estrangement

Bangladesh is standing up to India to stand down the Islamic fundamentalists

Prem Shankar Jha calls for India to be more mindful of Bangladesh’s apprehensions for the relations between the two countries to improve.

Paradoxically, Bangladesh’s creeping estrangement from India is rooted in an attempt by its political leaders and elite to shield their secular heritage from the creeping Islamisation of their society. Over three decades, millions of its workers have returned from West Asia infected by the austere Sunni and Wahhabi Islam they found practised there. The percolation of this imported Islam into Bangladeshi society has turned the Jamaat-i-Islami into a potent political force, and given rise to a still-small terrorist movement that is targeting communist and other ‘heretical’ elements.

The fear that these fundamentalists will succeed in enlisting Bangladeshi nationalism to overwhelm its secular polity is the main reason why every government in Dhaka has felt obliged, at least in public, to adopt a less than cooperative attitude to India. This was as true of the Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina as it is of the BNP government of Begam Zia. In 1997, the Awami League government agreed to close down the Ulfa camps in Bangladesh. But after closing down around 50 of them, it found that it could not go any further because of determined resistance from within the Bangladesh army. Since 2001, most of these camps have been reopened. Bangladeshi sources confirmed to me that the majority are permanent encampments whose presence is known to their government and security forces. [HT]

Jha also points out that India’s misguided economic policies of the 70s and the 80s had pernicious effects on the Bangladeshi economy, the legacy of which is haunts bilateral trade relations to this day. This again suggests that the route to improved bilateral relations between the two countries may lie through the trade route. More reason to hope therefore, that Tata’s investment plans become a successful reality.

2 thoughts on “Bangladesh’s paradoxical estrangement”

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  2. Many Bangladeshi political parties (and their supporters) have apprehensions against India, which was developed bit-by-bit since the 70s because of India’s autocratic policies and specially the Farakka issue as elaborated in the HT article:

    Farakka has halved the water available to Bangladesh from the Ganges. But what is even worse, India took the decision to build the barrage without first consulting Bangladesh, and overrode every one of its objections. What is to stop it from doing so again and again?

    This was not supposed to happen; many Bangladeshis are ever grateful to India because of its role in the war of Independence in 1971. Many Indians also died in that war. But after a number of incidents, a theory has been developed by many that India by its big brotherly attitude has all the intentions to hamper the sovereignity of the country (to an extent citing its influence on Nepal) and make it a market for Indian goods. BNP with its Bangladeshi nationalism and Islami parties for their affiliation to Pakistan are tormenting Awami League with this issue every time so that AL is also cautiuos and not open about the dealings/ communications with India. It is upto India to clear these misconceptions to have a easy relationship with Bangladesh. As I told before, India will capitalize most on the good relationship with Bangladesh e.g. in trade sector as Bangladesh still depends a lot on foreign imports.

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