Strategic relations with Dhaka (Column: Political Calculus)
By Jayanta Ghosal
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina just returned from her first official visit to China after the formation of her government in Dhaka. She was there for 4-5 days in establishing Bangladesh's strategic relationship with China that attracted the attention of the entire world.
This strategic relationship, however, is not very sudden as its inception was in the 2016. But this time, Sheikh Hasina has received a special diplomatic status in China. In consonance with that, different questions have also arisen in India at different diplomatic levels, along with a few news items from Dhaka. According to them, Bangladesh is trying to overcome the dependency on India. In other words, India's overbearing attitude to Bangladesh may reduce after Hasina's visit to China. These are some views that have concerned India about the visit.
After reading these articles, I tried to accumulate the government of India's actual reaction in this regard, whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his External Affairs Minister Jayashankar are really annoyed over Hasina's China visit. I would like to inform you my experiences have been gathered through diplomatic sources. In brief, India is treating this visit from a very positive perspective. Rather, foreign ministry sources say that India is the biggest gainer in improving relations between China and Bangladesh. India would be happy if there is no misunderstanding between Dhaka and Beijing.
Global politics is rapidly changing. Today, with modern thinking, it is for sure that we have come a long way since 1971 and the formation of Bangladesh. The war of liberation was the main reason behind the formation of a new country. The fight of Bengalis living in East Pakistan against the then West Pakistan was historical. There was also the politics of projecting the war as one between India and Pakistan giving less importance to the liberation movement. Today, I should say, it would be unfair for Pakistan to carry the burden of wounded history after so many years. The huge barrier of old thinking can only be broken through proper dialogue.
Bangladesh is India's friend and Pakistan's guardian is China. Therefore, the naive idea is that China and Bangladesh are in opposition. But it would be a very simplified version at the diplomatic level. This simplification can only be wiped out if all countries speak with each other. Sheikh Hasina should meet President Xi often. Likewise, I want India to talk to China again and again, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing. One of my favourite teachers at our college, Satyabrata Chakraborty, had once explained how the roof over so-called sovereign countries had blown away. Everyone should maintain a close relationship with each other. Moreover, the Cold War period is over.
Nowadays, the world is polycentric. Rather, if China's relationship with Dhaka is sweetened, India's tension will also decrease. Because Modi has started bilateral discussions with China, in connection with trade relationship, in his second innings. Whatever happened in Bhutan's Doklam, India has left it behind and is willing to move forward. China's relations with Bangladesh at this juncture should not be negative. The way the Chinese leadership accorded a red carpet welcome to Sheikh Hasina is not very common. Chinese Premier Li hosted a special dinner for Sheikh Hasina. Nine bilateral agreements were signed during this visit. But the biggest issue is China's offer of help to Bangladesh on the Rohingya problem. Two of the countries also issued a joint statement based on the agreements and negotiations.
The master stroke of Sheikh Hasina's visit was the dialogue with China on the Rohingya issue. China's huge financial grants for Rohingyas are very important. But it seems to me that the strategy of increasing Chinese influence over Myanmar is bigger than the monetary help.
The Rohingyas, who left Rakhine amidst severe torture, were pressured to get back to their own country. Hasina build the pressure. Myanmar is particularly dependent on China financially. So, putting pressure on Myanmar through China is remarkable diplomacy on Hasina's part. Besides, activating China on the Rohingya issue is not diplomacy of opposing India.
Hence, whoever is thinking that India is unhappy with Hasina's China visit is wrong. Diplomacy does not go in a straight line. Since 1971, the India-Bangladesh relationship has not always been linear. The diplomatic relationship between these two countries doesn't depend on their sizes and capacities. Diplomatic bilateral relations are inverted. Narendra Modi understands this fact.
In order to keep the relationship between the two countries intact, the relationship needs to be looked at so that it is not taken for granted. In this modern era of globalization, no state can stick with the "walk alone" principle. India accounts for 78.86 per cent of Bangladesh's total borders, whereas Myanmar accounts for only 6.05 per cent. In terms of size, India is twenty-three times bigger than Bangladesh and more than four times larger than Pakistan.
Yet, Modi understands how important Bangladesh is to India today. In Bangladesh, some the fundamentalist and vulnerable people question Awami League why friendship with China has not been deepened to pressure India. In fact, not only the Awami League, also Khaleda's BNP doesn't want anti-India politics. On the contrary, a BNP delegation is trying to establish bilateral trade with India. Since the assassination of Mujibur Rahman, Dhaka has been active in opposing India.
Even in India, in this regard, some motivated people still want to oppose Dhaka under pressure with a strong attitude about Bangladesh. In my opinion, both of these approaches are wrong. After Mujibur Rahman's assassination, there was rough weather in both the countries' politics. Lack of stability was noticed. A government was formed under Morarji Desai in India. Border issue, Farakka problem, illegal immigration problem on the border were points of concern.
After death of Mujibur Rahman, the then government tried to criticize the Indo-Bangladesh treaty but now it is a bygone story. Past is past. Today China also praised the agreement and Hasina's visit simultaneously.
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)