It’s a hat-trick for Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party, the Awami League. In what has proved to be a watershed election for India’s neighbour, the ruling Awami League has registered a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections held on Sunday and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is all set to lead her country’s government for a third consecutive term.
Not many had anticipated an overwhelming majority for the Awami League which along with its ally the Jatiya Party won 288 of the 300 seats being contested and an electoral rout for the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which managed to win just seven seats.
Sheikh Hasina’s victory is being attributed to the significant improvement in development indices during her party’s rule and the fact that the people of Bangladesh are looking for stability and economic growth.
Indicative of New Delhi’s relief on the pro-India Sheikh Hasina’s return to power was the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first foreign leader to call her up and congratulate her on Monday. During his conversation with Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister Modi “expressed confidence that the partnership between India and Bangladesh will continue to flourish under her far-sighted leadership”.
Prime Minister Modi also took the opportunity to reiterate to his Bangladeshi counterpart, “the priority India attaches to Bangladesh as a neighbour, a close partner for regional development, security and cooperation, and a central pillar in India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy”.
He also conveyed his congratulations to the people of Bangladesh for “reaffirming their faith in democracy, development and the vision of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”.
Sheikh Hasina, on her part, “thanked India for their consistent and generous support which has benefited Bangladesh’s development, and appreciated the Indian Prime Minister’s reiteration of this commitment”.
It’s noteworthy that New Delhi-Dhaka ties, particularly on the security front, have been robust under the Sheikh Hasina government with the latter even cracking down on insurgents from India’s north-east who had taken shelter in her country.
Bilateral relations under the previous pro-Pakistan Khaleda Zia-led government which was in power a second time between 2001 to 2006 weren’t as cordial. Therefore, the defeat of the BNP which had put its hat in the ring after boycotting the 2014 elections for the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) has undoubtedly set to rest New Delhi’s anxieties.
The BNP had also fielded the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami’s candidates under its symbol as the Jamaat was deregistered by the Election Commission and could not contest on its own. The Jamaat at least had been expected to pose a stiff challenge to the ruling party given its committed cadres and strong commitment to its ideology. But all Jamaat candidates dropped out of the electoral fray during polling when they sensed defeat.
Amidst the Awami League’s thumping victory, Opposition parties including the Jatiya Okiya Front (JOF)–an alliance of parties that had joined hands with the BNP–called foul and demanded a repoll while claiming the elections were rigged. The charges of authoritarianism against the Sheikh Hasina government which has already ruled Bangladesh for a decade now also resurfaced following the Awami League’s victory.
Asked what the Sheikh Hasina government’s return to power meant for the future of bilateral ties between the two neighbours, former Bangladesh high commissioner to India Tariq A Karim when contacted in Dhaka said, “It will signal continuity. What the two countries embarked upon needs to be consolidated. The two sides are familiar and comfortable with each other and they now need to sustain the forward movement and deepen the roots”.
Karim who served a long tenure of five years as his country’s envoy in New Delhi and is now a Distinguished Fellow with the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute said there was need now for the two countries to focus on getting the BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) Motor Vehicles Agreement operational.
The pact has not been implemented as Bhutan is yet to ratify this agreement that will promote sub-regional connectivity. Karim said the pact once operational will also aid cooperation among these countries on rail and waterways connectivity. Further, he said the activation of BBIN will also lend an impetus to Bimstec as it’s an integral part of this sub-regional grouping.
Asked about the proposed Teesta pact between India and Bangladesh which almost came to fruition in 2012, the former envoy said it wasn’t an election issue in the just-concluded polls. “But it will be resolved in due course as we move forward on cooperation on rivers and holistic river basin management,” he said.
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