by R Chowdhury 14 June 2023
“The biggest priority of India’s foreign policy-cum-security establishment is to get Hasina re-elected in January 2024 for a fourth successive term at any cost.”
That was the advice SNM Abdi gave the Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. He said so on June 6, 2023 in an article titled “India’s Stakes at Risk as the US Armtwists Bangladesh Over Election ” ‘in the quint world, an online Indian media. (India’s Stakes at Risk as the US Arm-twists Bangladesh Over Election (thequint.com).
Abdi was not alone. Indian Think Tanks, paid or unpaid agents, have continued trumping the similar rhetoric for a longtime, more so after December 2021 when the US imposed sanctions on Dhaka’s notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite controlling tool in the hands of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. RAB’s crimes included extrajudicial murders, enforced disappearances, unauthorized arrests and torture. Local and international rights organizations dubbed it as a “Death Squad” with impunity. Their repeated protests to the Hasina regime against its human rights violations remained unheeded.
The US sanctions had a negligible impact on the fascist governance, illegally running since 2009. As the next national election is nearing, the State Department came up with another of its tools: visa restrictions on the violators of election integrity, a core foreign policy objective of President Joe Biden.
Abdi acknowledged, “Washington’s intention is crystal clear. It has put Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government on a tight leash to dissuade it from resorting to undemocratic, illegal, and extra-constitutional methods to win the upcoming general elections like the previous rigged elections in 2014 and 2018.” He candidly admitted Hasina’s crimes. Yet, he didn’t hesitate to expose the criminal intent of his government: “New Delhi wants Hasina to win by any means,” meaning legally or illegally.
The writer left few things to the imagination of the readers and observers what his country thought of and treated its eastern neighbor: to remain at its behest, if not its own territory. In fact, it has been so since January 1, 2007 when a suspected India-led conspiratorial putsch ousted the constitutional administration and installed a pseudo-military emergency rule. The temporary administration extended its life from three months to twenty-four months and staged an election in December 2008 to facilitate a Hasina victory. It is widely believed that the key to Hasina’s staying power and her fascist conduct in administration is in New Delhi’s hands. In return, the Chanakyas get everything they want, almost free, in geopolitical and economic terms. That is the Indian ‘stakes’ Abdi was hinting at.
Meanwhile, six US Congressmen wrote a hard-hitting letter to the president to impose stricter sanctions on the Bangladesh ruling regime for its failure to comply with earlier penalties. It also recommended that Bangladesh be excluded from the UN Peacekeeping Missions. Bruno Stagno Ugarte of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on June 12, 2023 also called on the UN to exclude for its missions Bangladeshi security officials with proven human rights violations. (UN Should Enhance Screening of Bangladesh Peacekeepers | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org). He timed the call when UN Under Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix was to raise the topic to Bangladesh officials during a visit there soon.
The European Union and many other democratic countries joined the US’ chorus in urging for a credible election in Bangladesh. In fact, six EU parliamentarians wrote to their top authority to follow suit on the US punitive actions on the abusive wayward regime in Bangladesh. Their observation statement was explicit.
The two national and thousands of local level polls under Hasina were total shams, farcical. They were managed and manipulated to make the ruling candidates win. In the parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2018, the ruling regime garnered an almost unbelievable 100% conquest, unseen and unheard of anywhere in the democratic world. The political opposition is now united on its demand not to participate unless the election is held under a Caretaker Government (CTG).
Scope of Restrictions
The US has categorically explained that its sanctions or restrictions are not to favor any party, nor are they directed against any particular political group.
The objective of the US visa restrictions is specific. They are meant to ensure the next election to be free and fair, paving the way for a democratic governance that the South Asian country missed in the past 15 years of Hasina rule. The new visa policy will apply to those who are found guilty of obstructing the electoral process. The obstruction includes a wide range of activities that go against one’s exercise of free franchise: –anything from vote rigging to obstructing political activities or free dissemination of information. The restrictions go for ruling and opposition parties, as well as people in the government–past and present– and their family members. No ambiguity.
Let any party– be that the Awami League (AL) or Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) or Islamist or any other entity– win the election in a free and fair system under a neutral CTG. Why should anybody, least of all, India have a problem with that? It is people’s democratic right to exercise free choice.
Points to Ponder
- If any regime, group, entity or even an external authority, feel hurt or affected by the restrictions, they in turn confirm that they are at fault.
- By challenging the US measures for a free and fair franchise, they doubly confirm their complicity to wrongdoings and evil designs.
- Those who are objecting to the sanctions/restrictions, they express their desire for the continuation of wrong and illegal practices to the detriment of the people and the nation.
Modi to Plead for Bangladesh
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India will make an official visit to Washington at the end of June 2023. Reportedly, Modi will take up the sanctions and restriction issues with his hosts on behalf of Hasina. In other words, New Delhi is against free and fair elections in Bangladesh and wants the continuation of Hasina’s fascism, human rights violations and undemocratic practices under its tutelage. Nonetheless, Bangladeshis desire to develop a friendly relationship with India on sovereign equality and mutual benefit.
While the Biden administration will surely handle the matter as it deems appropriate, it is, however, hoped that it does not sacrifice its core values of democracy, human rights, freedom and election integrity for Bangladesh under any excuse or equation with India,