There is a good reason why our parents warned us against friendships that make us unpopular and unaccepted. India has much to weigh on that count as Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks later this month on a visit to Bangladesh, the part of neighbourhood where he is both a friend and an enemy by association. Currently, more the latter, if one honestly gauges public opinion.
The Sheikh Hasina government, behind which India solidly stands, has been busy accruing anger of its people in the last couple of years despite some serious developmental work to its credit. An increasing number of Bangladeshis view it as a corrupt, arrogant and vindictive regime. It rode back to power in 2018 riding allegations of wanton rigging, stifling of dissent and forced disappearances.
It should strictly have been the neighbour’s problem if there were not a stubborn perception that Indian agencies covertly helped Hasina get back to power. Ironically, before the elections, Indian officials privately estimated Hasina government’s approval rating to be less than 20 percent.
India’s and Modi’s image started taking a hit in Bangladesh before the elections. The Hasina regime unleashed a harsh crackdown on an agitation in which students had come out on the streets protesting government apathy in traffic management. Photographer Shahidul Alam was jailed for 107 days for speaking out. It was then that ire started being directed towards India, mainly on social media.
The election, widely seen as unfair, deepened popular anger.
But it was the night of 6 October, 2019 that drove dark ice into the heart of this relationship, more than leaders and diplomats on both sides may realise or admit.