India’s Citizenship Amendment Act and ‘power relation’ in Bangladesh

Traditionally, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is known as anti-Indian force. Prominent political scientists see the party's traditional anti-Indian stance as one of its foundational positions.

by Arun Kumar Goswami

Which actors and their interests were affected due to existing ‘power relation’ in Bangladesh and India? How ‘power relation’ in the respective neighbouring countries help evolving Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India and India-centric politics in some other countries of South Asia? These questions are important and need to be addressed to gain a clear understanding about the current India-centric uproars in Bangladesh. While some elements of Bangladeshi society are engaged in anti-India campaigns, on the contrary, there is a strong public opinion against these campaigns. On the whole, the India centric interactions consist of anti-Indian and pro-Indian ‘power relation’ in the society, politics and economy.

Dhaka, Bangladesh [Photo: Ahmed Hasan/ Unsplash]

‘Power relation’ affects how we understand our surroundings and the world around us. At the same time power relation affects political participation by making some actors appear credible while others are framed as being less so. Thus, some actors and their viewpoints may be left without any legitimacy due to power relations. A ‘power relation’ is formed the moment someone desires something that depends on the will of another. This desire establishes a relationship of dependence of individuals or groups on others. According to French Philosopher Michel Foucault (2002), ‘power relations are a set of actions upon other actions’.

Traditionally, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is known as anti-Indian force. Prominent political scientists see the party’s traditional anti-Indian stance as one of its foundational positions. However, for quite a while it has been trying to change its ‘power relation’ with India. Observers view, ‘a powerful faction of the BNP wanted to end the party’s historic hostility to India and build sustainable ties with the neighbouring country based on more than a short term “election-centric” relationship.’ Failing to change Indian stance about  BNP-Jamaat alliance’s positions, they again (informally) started anti-Indian campaigns.

  Dependence of BNP’s interests on the funding and instructions from ISI of Pakistan, made the party anti-Indian. Currently in social, political and economic aspects Pakistan’s position is gradually deteriorating. Bangladesh’s status has remarkably improved under the Premiership of Sheikh Hasina.  At the same time, India’s power, position and status in the world has significantly increased. This change has brought a corresponding change in BNP’s attitude towards Pakistan and India. Accordingly, on June 3-10, 2018 a three-man BNP delegation, led by Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, member of BNP National Standing Committee; Abdul Awal Mintoo, the party’s vice chairman; and Humayan Kabir, its international affairs secretary visited New Delhi.  Media reports said, the BNP leaders have taken the initiative for engagement “on the advice of the party’s acting chairman Tarique Rahman.” Rahman was even quoted as saying, “The hostile policy attitude (towards India) was ‘wrong and misguided’,” implying they were looking for a change.

 On 16 March 2023 night a five-member BNP delegation attended a dinner hosted by Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pranay Verma. The BNP delegation, led by party Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir. The other members of the BNP delegation are its standing committee members Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury; Vice-Chairman Abdul Awal Mintoo and Organising Secretary Shama Obaed.

On 31 August 2023, while going to Singapore for medical treatment, three top BNP leaders, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir,  Mirza Abbas  and Khandkar Mosharraf Hossain met three Indian diplomats. According to eyewitness accounts, they first had a half-hour meeting in the cafeteria of a shopping mall adjacent to Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Later they met in the lobby of Marina Bay Hotel. The third meeting took place in the suite room of a five-star hotel. Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was present in all the three meetings.

Why such a meeting was held in Singapore instead of going to India had raised the question in diplomatic circles. Various sources said that India did not want to have a formal meeting with BNP for various reasons. And that was why the meeting place was selected in Singapore.

However, at that time, BNP’s demand for elections under a non-partisan caretaker government was repeatedly cited as a condition for its participation in the elections. Although this position had not received international support. India, on the other hand, described the Bangladesh elections as their internal affairs and emphasized that the democratic stability of Bangladesh should be integrated. Indian envoys repeatedly mentioned it’s believes that elections in Bangladesh should be conducted in the same way as elections are conducted in other democratic countries. That is according to the constitution. So it became quite clear that India was rejecting the caretaker government’s demand of BNP. After that, all the programs announced by BNP to resist the 12th JS elections ended in failure. Thus BNP became angry in the context of holding the election properly. The party continued to announce various destructive programs but that all failed again. Thus the recent uproars of India-centric politics are the consequences of ‘power relation’ based on the ‘set of actions upon other actions’ by the respective actors in Bangladesh and India.

In recent times, the warmth of India-centric politics is also being noticed in the small island nation of South Asia, Maldives. Surprisingly, the  uproars of India-centric politics have been the manifestation of electoral competition between two or more political parties and/or personalities to change ‘power-relations’. Accordingly, this India-centric politics has started around the  elections in the respective country.

The presidential election held in the Maldives in September last year was contested between pro-Indian candidate of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Ibrahim Mohammed Solih and anti-Indian President candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives(PPM) and seating Mayor of capital city Male, Muizzu..

During election campaigns of Maldives the PPM candidate used #India Out. However, after being elected as president, Muizzu faced harsh reality of #Boycott Maldives campaign from Indian tourists. Realizing the ground-level reality the Muizzu government has announced a number of measures to curb Indian discontent and anti-India activities in the Maldives.

On the other hand, it is known from the social media that after being failed to get Indian support, the Bangladedh Nationalist Party (BNP) had attempted to resist 12th Jatiyo Sangsad(JS) election in Bangladesh. Why India did not extend support to BNP-Jamaat alliance of Bangladesh? The main reason for the lack of Indian support for the BNP-Jamaat alliance lies in the internal ideological conflicts of Bangladesh.Whereas the current government of Sheikh Hasina is trying to establish the ideologies of  non-communal Bangladesh achieved through the liberation war under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Hasina’s government has to do this ideological struggle against two ideological enemies, Jamaat and BNP. The first one is the defeated forces of the 1971 Liberation War and the another is the mastermind and beneficiary of the assassination of Bangabandhu and jail killings in 1975. In addition, BNP has been constantly playing an anti-Indian role, since it’s establishment in 1 September 1978.

It may be mentioned that when military ruler Gen. Ziaur Rahman established the BNP, one of its goals was to form an anti-Awami League platform. So, it brought beneath its crease all the religious and political elements against Awami League. The Awami League led the Liberation War of Bangladesh. In that war, India wholeheartedly supported the freedom loving Bengalis with money, military training,  compassionate, and political help. The largest democratic nation India, battling with a not-so-good economy at that time, had given not only shelter to 10 million Bengali men, women, and children but also intervened militarily to battle beside the Muktijoddahs. Finally, within nine-month war 93 thousand Pakistani soldiers surrendered and the crimson sun of victory rises in the sky of Bengal on 16 December 1971.

With the victory of Indo-Bangla Allied Forces the friends of Pakistani defeated forces in independent Bangladesh were cornered. In independent Bangladesh, the anti-Indian politics started getting momentum after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the overthrow of his government on August 15, 1975. Ultimately, the anti-Indian force has come ahead again and call for #Boycott Indian Products.  While the economic outcome of the ‘Boycott India’ campaign is yet unknown, the political and symbolic impact is palpable. However, for obvious reasons, majority people of Bangladesh did not support this anti-India campaigns.

The CAA in India is also the consequences of ‘power relation’ based on communal campaigns conducted by anti-Indian elements in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Due to weak and marginal position in their societies, the religious and ethnic minorities of some South Asian countries have been the helpless victims of communalism. Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wanted to bring an end of such cummunalism, that’s why he has been assassinated. The communal forces of different parts of South Asia are the main strengths of anti-Indian campaigns. As the largest democratic nation, India is the vital support-base for building a democratic and non-communal society in the sub-continent. It’s a matter of sorrow to observe that the communal forces have come-up again with their anti-Indian campaigns. However , on the whole, the recent India centric uproars in Bangladesh are the consequences of ‘power relation’ of BNP and it’s like-minded groups with India. After the brief analysis on the issue with the approach of power relation, it will be proper to mention Goutam Buddha’s quotation “Everything is changeable nothing is permanent, everything appears and disappears…”. As Bangladesh’s friendship-relations with India grows, the equation of present ‘power relation’ will also change. Until then we have to wait and see.

Dr. Arun Kumar Goswami, former Chairman of Political Science and Director of the South Asian Study Circle at Jagannath University, Dhaka