Bangladesh General Elections results augur well for India with the emergence of Begum Sheikh Hasina's Awami League alliance inflicting a crushing defeat on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by Begum Khaleda Zia. In her last tenure as Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia's governance was dominated by the Islamist fundamentalist parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Islamic Okiya Jote who were her alliance partners. The end result of such a coalition was a virtual confrontational attitude towards India, a creeping Talibanisation of Bangladesh and Bangladesh territory being used as a springboard by Pakistan Army's ISI and anti-Indian insurgent groups to destabilize India's North East.
Begum Sheikh Hasina has won an outright victory in the General Elections by securing more than 260 seats out of about 290 plus seats. Begum Zia's party could secure only about 30 seats. The Islamic fundamentalist parties have virtually been wiped out. The Awami League on its own strength has a comfortable majority which would contribute to better governance.
The political message that seems to be coming out of Bangladesh in the present electoral verdict is that the Bangladeshis are yearning for a political change in governance. That they have not given a fragmented electoral verdict and given an absolute victory in favor of Awami League and in the leadership of Begum Hasina is a strong pointer in this direction and also that the people desire political stability.
Before one moves to the significance of this election victory, some pertinent points need to be highlighted which augur well for Bangladesh's political dynamics and these are (1) The General Elections held on December 29 were free and fair without rigging. This fact stands testified by international election observers. (2) The Bangladesh people this time came out in large numbers to vote with some reports suggesting that the turnout about 59%or so (3) Both of the preceding two factors would indicate that the Caretaker Administration backed by the Bangladesh Army and its Chief. General Moeen U Ahmed had taken adequate steps and ensured a violence free election environment.
The first major declaration of Begum Hasina after her electoral victory was that her Government on assuming power would not permit Bangladesh soil being used for terrorism and insurgent activities against India. Coming as it did in the wake of Mumbai 9/11 and the earlier record where the Jamaat-e-Islami prot'g' HUJI was instrumental in many of the major terrorism incidents in India on behalf of Pakistani intelligence agencies, this should be a welcome move from India's point of view.
Joint cooperation to fight the terrorist menace between Bangladesh and India can therefore now be expected to become meaningful with Begum Hasina's declaration and a groundwork for this already stands laid by the Bangladesh Army Chief in the last two years . It needs to be pointed out that in the last two years the Bangladesh Army Chief has virtually brought to an end the Talibanisation of Bangladesh by swift action against Islamic fundamentalists including execution of over half a dozen of them. What a comparison that while the Congress Government in India dithers on the execution of Afzal Guru, in an Islamic country like Bangladesh, swift execution of Islamic militants accused of violent crimes could take place.
Bangladesh's cooperation would be required by India to get the safe havens enjoyed in Bangladesh by anti 'insurgent groups like the ULFA which in a way signaled its potent power by the latest bomb blasts in Assam (Guwahati) soon after the Bangladesh Election results were out. In fact the elimination of ULFA sanctuaries from Bangladesh should receive priority attention in the Indian Government's approaches to the new Dhaka Government as this would deprive the Islamic terrorist groups operating in Assam of making use of the ULFA network. It may be also more easier for the new Dhaka Government to assist India in the elimination of ULFA as it is a non-Islamist organization and would therefore not cause any domestic ripples.
While India would expect that the new Dhaka Government would assist India in eliminating the twin menaces to India's national security in the North East by not allowing Bangladesh to be a springboard for anti-Indian terrorism and insurgent activities there would be a corresponding responsibility on India to remove some of the irritants that bedevil Bangladesh-India relations.
This is crucial as inherent in Begum Hasina's landslide victory lie dangers that her political opponents may attempt an early destabilization of her regime by co-opting the very elements that India wants to be eliminated and external backers of such elements like Pakistan and China.
As I had written earlier that if India's policy establishment and foreign office spends even half the time they spend on Pakistan on improving relations with Bangladesh, the political landscape of South Asia could change in India's favor.
The present is an opportune time to begin this change as Begum Hasina's emergence in power in Bangladesh with an absolute political victory in the recent General Elections augurs well for India.