What 5 years in jail for Bangladesh ex-PM Khaleda Zia means for India
The development has assumed significance with parliamentary polls in the neighbouring country scheduled at the end of this year.
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The sentencing of former PM and BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia by a Dhaka court on February 8 seems to have plunged Bangladesh into severe political chaos. The development has assumed interesting significance as the parliamentary elections are scheduled at the end of this year.
Even though the ruling Awami League supporters are already celebrating, given the history and political culture of Bangladesh, the entire development merits a close examination of the political scene expected to emerge ahead of the elections.
Political pundits are not off the mark when they say that no opposition should be underestimated or written off due to a court sentence or an imprisonment. This is also an unconcealed feature of the political ethos of the Indian sub-continent as recorded in the history of Pakistan, India as well as Bangladesh.
Examples of Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto and Sheikh Hasina bear testimony to these facts. In the same vein, Khaleda Zia, cannot be ignored. She and her party are capable of bouncing back. Although they may not clinch a resounding victory, they will certainly register their presence and pose a tough challenge to the ruling Awami League.
In other words, the recent judgment has made Khaleda Zia, a kind of "hero", resurrecting her career after years in political oblivion. Her popularity could be easily judged from the volume of crowd gathered in the court during the dates of her hearings as well when she returned from London, a couple of months ago. Her own personal charisma, though on the wane, has not evaporated completely. Her fan following outside Bangladesh remains noteworthy as seen from her party activists holding violent protest demonstrations before the Bangladesh mission, barely 48 hours ago. That also indicates the ground reality.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh watchers reckon that if free and fair elections are held, Hasina might just scrape through. In the meantime, Zia is suspected of receiving enormous political and material support from Pakistan and her present political roadmap is being prepared by the forces in Pakistan opposed to India, as well as to the liberal and secular elements within Bangladesh.
In the light of the above, it is imperative to dwell upon the likely political scene in Bangladesh, especially with regard to India in the event of BNP assuming power. As it is, BNP leadership is believed to be sending overtures to India for support. So far, India seems non-committal. Judging by the its track record, in its both the spells (1991-1996) and (2001-2006), BNP harbored insurgents from India's Northeast on the Bangladesh soil. This apart, it had partnered with the far-right fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) party and strengthened communal forces and further Islamised the country, causing a major setback to the forward-thinking lobby in Bangladesh.
It is also reported that West Asia-based fugitive Indians, wanted in India for acts of terror, had warmed up to Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman acting in a concerted manner, to harm Indian economic and security interests.
All such forces need to be kept at a distance and hence, Khaleda and the BNP do not appear to be the best choice from the Indian point of view.
Also, Khaleda, if in power or while canvassing for elections will mount pressure on India to resolve the Teesta and Ganga barrage issues and try to regionalise the matter drumming up support from most of the SAARC countries in an obvious attempt to alienate India. It may be recalled that Zia's late husband and former president Ziaur Rahman, was the architect of SAARC.
Reverting to legality of zia’s sentence, she will have to stay in the prison for at least three days that is up to Sunday (February 11). If her lawyers apply for certified copy of the verdict on February 9, bail may be possible. Also, according to Bangladesh law, if someone is convicted for at least two years, he or she cannot contest elections for the next five years.
There are 37 cases against Khaleda Zia, and most important is the charge that she had misappropriated huge sums of money from an orphanage. Things look difficult for Khaleda Zia as the legal stranglehold seems to be closing in. She, in the meantime, is believed to be contemplating to nominate Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir or Amir Khusrau Mahmud to take over the party helm in case she is barred from contesting the elections.
However, even without Khaleda Zia, the party is expected to follow a blueprint which may not be palatable to Indian interests.
The other political party, Jatiya Party (JP) under former president HM Ershad, is waiting in the wings to seize an opportunity to bounce back to power as he has good support in the northern belt of the country as well as the armed forces. Recently, he was seen hobnobbing with former Indian president Pranab Mukherjee during the latter’s visit to Bangladesh in mid-January.
Against this backdrop, Indian options seem varied, but tricky to act upon. Only Hasina and her party deserve complete support from India to marginalise her anti-India opponents and stand behind her employing all possible measures of the statecraft to ensure that she remains in power for the next term as well.
Nevertheless, Hasina has a tough road ahead and needs to tread with abundant caution to continue further.