Bangladesh polls: Democracy must find a way

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India's eastern neighbour Bangladesh is set to go to national polls on Sunday but given the turmoil in which the country is undergoing, not many are optimistic about the post-poll scenario in that country. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami have continued with their strike and violence even on the day before the polls, which makes the elections look not more than a grand farce.

But can Bangladesh afford to deny democracy a chance on its soil? The Sheikh Hasina government has thought of making it more difficult for the opposition by imposing an emergency and continue with its move of putting the 1971 war criminals on trial. It also believes that the western powers, although have expressed scepticism about such a farcical election and its consequences for the country's not-so-strong democracy, will not be able to continue with their reservation vis-a-vis the Hasina government.

A peaceful polling in Bangladesh is very crucial for India's security interests

The West is not confident about the elections and the US and EU have also refused to send observers in the face of the non-stop violence and the opposition's boycotting the polls. All elections in the country since 1991 have been held under a neutral caretaker administration but the system was abolished by the current Awami League government in 2010, a year after coming to power, with the help of its overwhelming majority.

This time, the opposition has demanded the elections under the observation of a neutral caretaker administration but the government has refused. A special envoy of UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon went to Dhaka in December to get the two sides reach an agreement but it didn't succeed. Now, it looks a cakewalk for Sheikh Hasina while many leaders of the opposition remain in jails.

The situation is threatening for not only Bangladesh's internal politics but also for India's security.

Why proper elections are important for Bangladesh

The country witnessed a historic uprising in Shahbagh in the wake of the war crime trials and the counter-reaction from the Jamaat supporters over sentencing its leaders over war crimes of 1971 show that two opposite forces are at play there at the moment. It is very important that the authorities succeed in staging a fair election where the younger generation and the conservative forces get an equal chance to express their respective opinions through the ballots. If the outlet is not available at the moment when Bangladesh is at the crossroads, then there could be even worse consequences waiting for its people.

Why proper polls are important for India

Farcical polls will mean that the instability in Bangladesh will continue and the long eastern borders of India with it will remain vulnerable and make the task of Pakistan-backed terrorists easier. New Delhi, hence, will want the Hasina government to rein in the Jamaat and the conservatives in a moderate manner.

For, if it takes a strong stand on them and the elections are held in an unsatisfactory way, the acceptability of the government may not be high and fresh election could become imminent in some time. According to India, if a new government led by the BNP and backed by the Jamaat comes to power in Dhaka as a backlash to the Awami League's strong steps, then it lead to mass exodus of the minorities and secular Muslims from Bangladesh into India, raising serious alarm about its internal security.

Theories doing rounds

A number of theories are doing the rounds before the crucial polls, like, India trying to reach out to the BNP against the latter's promise of not taking a strong stand vis-a-vis New Delhi or that the Research and Analysis Wing backing former President Ershad.

It is also being said that the Jamaat could align with the Awami League if it returns to power so that its leaders associated with war crimes are treated leniently. A third theory says in case the Awami League versus BNP clash intensifies further, the country's army might intervene with a tacit backing of the League for the latter would feel that the rule of the army would shield its leaders from a possible retaliation from the BNP.

But whatever be the actual outcome, it is important for Bangladesh to find a way out of the mess and go ahead with a democratic functioning. That's the only way to save Bangladesh, a country ridden by a fierce clash of personality politics, from a complete breakdown.

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