NEWDELHI: Failure and frustration have marked the conversation between India and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), particularly its Chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is possibly one opposition politician of a neighbouring country every important Indian leader met in the past two years but with no results to show.
So as New Delhi threw its weight behind Zia’s opponent Sheikh Hasina in the just-concluded elections — which BNP boycotted — South Block is filled with disappointment that its attempts to appear even-handed counted for little.
The conversations began with the Vice-President meeting her in 2011. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted an exclusive lunch for Zia when she visited India a year later. External Affairs ministers SM Krishna and Salman Khurshid too held talks with her. And then there was the failed attempt to get her to meet President Pranab Mukherjee when he visited Bangladesh in March, 2013.
But each attempt was followed by a setback.
In November 2012, when Zia met the PM, she told him she had come with an “open mind” and with the “hope of a new era” that would include overcoming “past wounds” and “past bitterness”.
The visit was seen as a success by New Delhi until she returned and it was back to acerbic statements about Hasina being an Indian stooge.
What, however, got New Delhi agitated was Zia supporting the Jamaat-e-Islami’s line that Hasina was like Lhendup Dorjee, the first chief minister of Sikkim. This formulation was often used in Jamaat publications, but last month Zia became the first mainstream leader to say so publicly: “Do you want to be a slave? Will you be a lackey? This slavery will not save you.”
This was just weeks after she had met Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and India had urged her to start negotiations with Hasina. At one point during the discussions, sources said Zia even mentioned that Jamaat was a “temporary ally” but still went on to take the Jamaat line on Dorjee.
This gave the opportunity to hardliners on the Indian side to make the point that the BNP leadership was insensitive to India’s concerns on its northern borders.
In March, Zia refused to meet Mukherjee at the eleventh hour during his first visit as President, citing protests and disruptions as a reason for not being able to make it. Incidentally, the protest had been organised by the Jamaat, further agitating Indian interlocutors.
According to reliable sources, the two demands that Zia always made in her conversations was that Hasina should form a caretaker government and herself resign from the PM’s post.
India’s response was that it could do little since the constitution had been amended to do away with the provision of caretaker governments, an issue also settled in Bangladeshi courts. And as for resignation, it was simply beyond New Delhi’s remit.
As a result, the conversation failed to find any common ground despite such high-level approaches by India.
Even now, as India calls for a dialogue among all parties, the fact is that there is no room Hasina is willing to give, having won Sunday’s lopsided elections. And reports of minorities being allegedly targeted in the latest violence in Bangladesh have made matters more intractable.
Pranab Dhal Samanta, Journalist, The Indian Express
BDST: 2053 HRS, JAN 08, 2013