For long as India by and large believed Sheikh Hasina Wazed was the better bet, with the other choice being pro-Pakistan Begum Khaleda Zia, as Bangladesh’s prime minister, rebel novelist-activist Taslima Nasreen would say that the head of the Awami League maintained a façade of secularism, which should not be taken seriously. If Indians had drawn the conclusion of Hasina’s ‘tolerance’ based on her regime’s active pursuit of the cases against the war criminals of 1971 — who were hardcore Islamists — her romance with Hefazat-e-Islam and flirting with Jamaat-e-Islami as the next election draws close in Bangladesh must challenge the semi-educated inference. Worse, the minority rights group in Bangladesh called Jatiya Hindu Mahajote reports murders of 107 Hindus, mysterious disappearance of 31 and desecration of 235 temples last year. While Nasreen has had an axe to grind, India thought, as the AL government’s inability to ensure her safe return to her home country must be clouding her judgement, the R&AW now reports that Hasina’s popularity rating is below 20% in her country following the widespread uprising by school students who are protesting the lack of road safety in their country after a bus belonging to a relative of a minister mowed down two of their peers. The best argument that the current Bangladeshi regime could come up with in its defence is a conspiracy theory that the protests are spiralling out of control because the opposition is instigating the rioters to flare up emotions for electoral gains. And, as a knee-jerk reaction, the government is contemplating the death penalty for drivers involved in fatal accidents. This is a sorry commentary on the seriousness of the government of a country that fails to avert the loss of more than 85 lives for every 10,000 motor vehicles. The sleuths say, as the ruler of Bangladesh is seen by many as an acolyte of India, her continued rule threatens to sully the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well among the citizens of our eastern neighbour.
This, because the Hasina rule is not only witnessing tumultuous days owing to road accidents but is also being seen as a thoroughly corrupt dispensation where kickbacks in defence deals have gone up to 30% and the country ranks 143 out of 174 nations in honesty and probity in the conduct of people’s representatives. What should particularly concern India is the fact that Hasina increasingly deals with China for questionable projects that Beijing secures by bribing Bangladesh’s power brokers — to New Delhi’s utter chagrin — helping our northern neighbour consolidate the ‘string of pearls’ it casts around the subcontinent to corner India. Given Hasina’s domestic failures, scant regard for the lives and freedom of minorities and atheists in her country as well as treachery with India by hobnobbing with China, the Modi government must chalk out a plan to gradually distance itself from the party that has been ruling Bangladesh for the past 10 years. As Khaleda is incarcerated, the Bangladesh National Party is rendered weak and Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s Jatiya Party is discredited as a prop of AL — and because the rationalists in that country are asserting their presence — India need not remain stuck with the facile reckoning that Hasina alone ensures better bilateral ties. As such, the next, logical step to our National Register of Citizens would be deportation of infiltrators, and Hasina has given no hint it is in the mood to accept its malcontents back. Diplomacy dictates that India be seen by Bangladeshis not as a puppeteer making Dhaka dance to its tunes. From that position where distance and interest is balanced, the BJP-led NDA must ensure that the next government of Bangladesh makes our NRC a worthwhile exercise.