Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

[op-ed snap]: Burden of Victory


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nothing much

Mains level: India-Bangladesh bilateral relations.


  • Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina has won a fourth term in the just concluded elections, which makes her the longest serving head of government that the nearly 50-year-old country has known.

Details of the elections

  1. Awami League took 288 of the 300 elected seats in the 350-member JatiyaSangsad, the Bangladeshi Parliament, and as a result will get to nominate its candidates to most of the remaining seats, all of which are reserved for women.
  2. With just seven seats of its own, the Opposition Jatiya Oikiya Front has been wiped out.

Why Sheikh Hasina Won?

  • Economic progress:Despite all the troubles in Bangladesh, one reason why voters have reposed their trust in her for the third consecutive term — one term was in the ’90s — is because of the country’s economic progress which has provided jobs and in turn contributed to what are South Asia’s best social indicators.
  • Weak opposition: The main opposition leader Khalida Zia is in jail

Importance of the Victory for India

  1. As a friend of Hasina, Delhi is clearly happy at the election outcome.
  2. PM Modi was the first foreign leader to call and congratulate her on the victory.
  3. Ties between the two countries have never been better, leading Modi to describe it as the “golden era” in bilateral relations.
  4. India has made trade concessions to Bangladesh, invested more money in the country, and is in the midst of several infrastructure and connectivity projects.
  5. The Hasina government has shut down camps of terrorist groups operating in India’s Northeast from safe havens in Bangladesh. The only outstanding issue between the two is the Teesta river waters sharing agreement. India has rightly stayed out of the internal tumult over the last five years or more.

Way forward

  1. With great power comes great responsibility.
  2. It is now up to Prime Minister Hasina to ensure that her government uses its sweeping mandate not to stamp out, but to strengthen, a multi-party democracy, individual freedoms, and the rule of law in Bangladesh.
  3. The last five years saw the Hasina government take an authoritarian turn, jailing opponents, stifling dissent, and generally responding to all criticism badly.
  4. Repression can lead to a rejection of democratic politics.
  5. The alternative, as is evident at many places in the world, could be much worse than what Bangladesh has experienced in the past.
  6. To begin with, she has to heal a country rattled by political divisions and violence.
  7. The Election Commission should conduct a fair investigation into allegations of rigging to restore faith in the poll process.
  8. Hasina should reach out to the Opposition. Her otherwise impressive record has been marred by her government’s authoritarian character.
  9. The victory is a chance for Ms. Hasina to mend her ways, to be more inclusive and run a government that respects the rule of law, the basic rights of citizens and institutional freedom.
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