In a landslide victory, wiping out any remnants of radical opposition, Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League has established a firm grip on the riverine nation, on the back of her sweeping socio-economic reforms.
Amidst the innocuous clamour, accusing the Awami league lead alliance of the age old bogey of unfair means, Prime minister Sheikh Hasina & her allies have proved too big for the opposition in the recently concluded national elections. Rising on a very popular wave of economic reforms, growth & development & humanitarian stand on Rohingya refugees, she has been voted back to power a record 4th time & this is certainly good news for India, simply put. For now, she is the undisputed leader who has promised to take Bangladesh up on the growth trajectory of close to 9% per annum.
With Hasina back in the saddle, the same bodes well for us in India on multiple counts. Bangladesh, under Awami league has been our steady ally & both the countries shall now be looking forward to enhance trade, bilateral cooperation on terrorism & exports as well as building bridges to North eastern states & to the outside world of South East Asia via Bangladesh. Ever since her being elected to office for the first time in 2008, she has shown some inherent empathy with New Delhi, even while forging a robust relationship with China. She has been more than a willing partner in India’s fight against terrorism. With a near 4,000km border that the two countries share, this region has witnessed lot of tension, ethnic violence & upheaval inflicted by various insurgent & other terror groups. We have seen the Awami League Government being pro – active in its endeavour to crack down on such terror networks, sharing intelligence with us & even handing over militant leaders including Anup Chetia to India. It is strongly hoped that such measures & cooperation shall continue in time to come.
The domestic politics of Bangladesh has been marred by intense personal rivalry & competitiveness between two feisty ladies; Hasina and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of the BNP who is now languishing in jail on charges of corruption. On the outside front, Dhaka is sandwiched between two economic giants in India & China with India having maintained its foothold, sans major economic cooperation. Hence the most critical factor that shall determine which of the two would hold sway over its international politics, is going to be trade & commerce. It would be the quantum of investments by India that shall put it ahead of the marauding dragon, whose tricks, more & more nations are feeling wary about more so after Malaysia, Maldives & Sri Lanka have found themselves under a mounting debt trap engineered by the China dominated OBOR.
Under the circumstances, Sheikh Hasina, mind you has a very deft job at hand & she has to carefully tread the path & balance the strategic interests of its neighbouring giants. With an over enthusiastic China, a more laid back India must use its diplomatic & economic calculus meticulously in order to stay strategically relevant to Bangladesh in the emerging scenario. India must position itself in such a manner that Dhaka does not have to make an either or choice in relation to India & China. For its very existence and an equitable socio- economic growth theory, coupled with a moderate Islamic outlook as compared to other Muslim majority nations, India must use such a matrix & juxtapose its own track record to its advantage, anchoring the eastern island partner to its pride & philosophy.
It is Sheikh Hasina & her Awami League that has overseen the steadiest progress in areas of economic growth & per capita income over the last decade or so. Currently the country’s GDP is now US$265 billion and per capita income at US$1062 much higher than anticipated by domestic naysayers & international analysts. This has largely been made possible by the textile & other industry exports which have consistently been supported & nurtured by her successive governments. This government now has a very ambitious plan of raising wages for its workers in this sector along with doubling the exports which stand at @30 odd billion dollars, roughly 80 % of the GDP.
Notwithstanding the withering criticism that Sheikh Hasina has withstood over decades of her rule, she has held the riverine state economy & social indices high in comparison to most of the developing nations. To keep a Muslim majority state focussed on the path to economic prosperity, gender equality, infrastructure development, improvement in education, aviation, textile, tourism & health sector, it needs the resolve of a great leader to make such things happen & then be shown faith by her countrymen & women. She has shown to the countless smaller yet gullible nations how they could divorce their narrow political compulsions from the more critical issues, confronting society at large & yet be able to strike a balance in all the spheres with ease. That perhaps explains Dhaka’s affinity to China as a major trading partner and top military supplier, but not at the cost of its all weather friendship with India. Although the picture isn’t as rosy & as so leaning towards India, yet India can leverage its strategic importance to gain more traction in the Bangladesh of tomorrow.
China, the regional trickster that it is, would be happy playing a waiting game & even be ready to assuage India’s feelings. Since it has its eyes fixated on long standing projects including supplying submarines to Dhaka, China would not wish to vitiate the on-going chemistry between the two close neighbours. The mercantilist approach that China has exhibited in recent times shall persuade its think tank to manage its relations with Dhaka in such a manner that Indian anxieties look misplaced. Who knows that in the fast emerging paradigm between trading partner countries, a regional win-win framework linking China-Bangladesh-India can become a possibility. And there in lay the lever to the most vexed yet most desirable partnership, a possibility of a China-Pakistan-India love triangle too.