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I. Background:
  1. Formation: Bangladesh’s history of democracy is very volatile. Bangladesh was formed with India’s help in 1971 on the ruins of what was then the East Pakistan.
  2. Assassination of Mujibur Rehman: In 1975, the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, was assassinated along with 15 members of his family, in an army coup. This led to a series of coups. In its 30 year history, Bangladesh has been ruled for 16 years by the army.
  3. 1991 General Elections: In 1991, the country’s first caretaker Government took over from General Ershad, who had ruled for nine years and had to resign after a relentless agitation. General elections were held the same year and the BNP of Begum Khaleda Zia, the widow of the slain army chief-cum President, Gen. Ziaur Rehman, won the elections.
  4. Victory for Awami League in June 1996 Elections: General elections were held in Bangladesh in June 1996. The Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, won 146 seats in the 300 member Parliament, but fell short of a simple majority. The party received unconditional support from the Jatiya Party led by the jailed former President, Gen. Ershad, which got 31 seats.
  5. Landslide Victory for the BNP Alliance in 2001 Elections: The four party alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia won a landslide victory in the elections held in Bangladesh on October 1, 2001. The four-party alliance led Ms. Khaleda Zia won 202 seats in the 300-member Parliament. The ruling Awami League won 62 seats. The BNP led alliance includes the fundamentalist parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ) as its major partners.
  6. January 2007- Bangladesh Under Emergency Rule: Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since January 2007 after disputes between the Opposition led by the Awami League and the Ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) over electoral reforms resulted in massive street protests, forcing the cancellation of scheduled elections.

II. Parliamentary Elections in Bangladesh (December 29, 2008):
  1. Landslide Victory for Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League:
    • The ninth Parliamentary elections were held in Bangladesh on December 29, 2008.
    • The Awami League of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina secured a landslide victory reminiscent of the historic 1970 election in the then East Pakistan, that led to the birth of Bangladesh.
    • The Awami League won 230 seats out of the 299 seats. The Jatiya Party of former President H.M. Ershad won 27 seats and other Awami League allies won five seats bringing the total seats won by the Awami League-led Grand Alliance to 262.
    • The voter turnout was above 80 per cent.
    • The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia won only 27 seats. Among its allies the Jamaat-e-Islami won two seats and the Bangladesh Jatiya Party one.
  2. Significance of the Landslide Victory by the Awami League:
    • Biggest Landslide Victory in a National Election in South Asia: Since the last two decades no alliance or political party in South Asia has won in a free and fair national election the kind of landslide victory the Awami League and the Grand Alliance recorded in Bangladesh in December 2008.
    • The mandate gives the Awami League the power to rewrite Bangladesh’s Constitution and bring about the promised reforms.
    • Verdict a Rejection of the politics of Religion, Extremism and Militancy and Endorsement of Secularism and Religious and Political Tolerance: The crushing defeat of the BNP and its ally the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami was politically significant, according to analysts. The election results were seen as a rejection of the politics of religion, extremism and militancy and endorsement of secularism and religious and political tolerance.
    • Larger Voter Turnout Indicative of People’s Aspiration for Democratic Governance: Analysts point out that the large voter turn out witnessed the ninth Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh could be viewed as a manifestation of people’s rejection of authoritarian rule and their aspiration for democratic rule.
    • Verdict Reflects the People’s Urge for Change: The defeat of the BNP-led alliance is seen as a verdict against the corruption and tyranny that marked its five-year rule. The young and the first-time voters were looking for change as the BNP-led alliance was incapable of addressing vital issues.
    • The Parliamentary elections were free and fair and were unusually peaceful.
  3. Sheikh Hasina Sworn in as the 12th Prime Minister of Bangladesh:
    • On January 6, 2009 Sheikh Hasina was sworn in as the 12th Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
    • Sheikh Hasina assumed the Prime Minister’s office for the second time. Her first term was from 1996-2001.
  4. Zillur Rahman Elected as the 19th President of Bangladesh: In February 2009, veteran Awami League leader Zillur Rahman was elected as the 19th President of Bangladesh by the Election Commission. Mr. Rahman was elected unopposed.

  5. Priorities of the Sheikh Hasina Government:
    • During her campaign the new Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina had promised to improve the economic conditions of the people, provide better governance, quality education and carry the benefits of information and communication technology to every village to allow the next generation to face the challenges of the 21st century.
    • Government to get Rid of Poverty: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina termed poverty as the prime enemy of the country and assured the people that her Government would fight hard to get rid of it.
    • The first task of the Government would be to bring price of essentials within the reach of common people, according the Prime Minister.
    • Sheikh Hasina promised to ensure a role and participation of the opposition in Parliament and governance. The Opposition would be allotted the position of deputy speaker and proportionately the chairmanship of the standing committee in Parliament.
    • New Bangladesh Government to Fight Terrorism: The new Bangladesh Government would involve neighbours in working out an effective mechanism, a task force to fight militancy and terrorism for peace and stability in South Asia.
  6. India’s Reaction to the Change in Bangladesh:
    • Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated Sheikh Hasina for her victory in Bangladesh’s Parliamentary elections.
    • The successful conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections was a reflection of the desire of the people of Bangladesh for democracy, development and progress, according to Dr. Singh.
    • The new Bangladesh Government was assured of India’s commitment to further strengthening and deepening of relations with Bangladesh.
    • Dr. Singh invited Bangladesh Prime Minister to visit India at the earliest possible convenience.
    • External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee would visit Bangladesh at the earliest.
  7. Significance of Sheikh Hasina’s Victory to India:
    A. The Awami League could Lead Bangladesh towards Social Stability and Economic Prosperity:
    • India and the international community are hopeful that the change in Bangladesh will bring in stability and economic prosperity to that country.
    • The Awami League has been followed a policy of intercommunity harmony within Bangladesh and its foreign policy has been based on regional and international cooperation.
    • Bangladesh has been vulnerable to forces of religious intolerance and has witnessed a rise in terror outfits. The Awami League Government could lead Bangladesh towards social stability and economic prosperity, according analysts.
    B. The Sheikh Hasina Government could Reverse the Trend of Providing Safe Sanctuaries to Militant Groups Hostile to India:
    • The previous BNP-led Government rarely targeted groups which were hostile to India including Islamist terrorists who used Bangladesh as a launching base for covert actions against India, according to analysts.
    • Pan-Islamist militant groups such as the Harkut-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), which played a key role in various terror attacks in India, and anti-India groups like United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), were provided safe sanctuaries, according to analysts.
    • The Awami League has been historically more pro-India than any other political party in Bangladesh.
    • The Sheikh Hasina Government, which has pledged to fight against terrorism, could reverse the trend of providing safe sanctuaries to anti-India elements.
    C. Cooperation in fighting the menace of terrorism and militancy offers a new opportunity to strengthen Indo-Bangladesh relations, especially in areas of security, according to analysts

    D. India Looks for Normalisation of Political and Economic Relations:
    • Indo-Bangladesh relations have witnessed many highs and lows. The period between 1996 and 2001 when Sheikh Hasina was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh is considered as a period of good bilateral relations.
    • India is looking forward to normalisation of political and economic relations with Bangladesh under the Sheikh Hasina Government.
    • Economic cooperation, especially providing greater share of the Indian market to Bangladesh’s products, is one of the best ways to improve bilateral relations, according to analysts.
    E. The Return of Sheikh Hasina Government can be used by India as an opportunity to resolve border disputes, strengthen internal security and increase trade in the region.
III. Mutiny by Troops of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR):

  1. Mutiny: A mutiny means an open rebellion against authority, especially by soldiers or sailors against their officers.
  2. Mutiny by the BDR Jawans at the BDR Headquarters in Dhaka’s Pilkhana Area:
    • On February 25, 2009 heavily armed Jawans of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) sprayed bullets on officers during an annual conference at the BDR headquarters in Dhaka’s Pilkhana area.
    • The BDR jawans killed their commanding officers after taking most of them hostage and tortured their family members at their residences. The armed rebels took control of the BDR headquarters, killing a number of civilians as well due to indiscriminate firing.
    • The mutineers raised a number of issues including long-pending grievances over pay, welfare and benefits and rampant corruption.
    • The key issue was that of Army control over the paramilitary forces.
    • Analysts believe that the revolt was not spontaneous and could be the work of vested interests within the BDR to damage the new democratic government.
    • The Bangladesh Army cordoned off the BDR headquarters.
    • On February 26, the rebels surrendered following Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ultimatum that they would face tough measures if they did not go back to the barracks.
    • The government declared a general amnesty for the rebels.
    • The rebels in districts who had sided with the BDR jawans in Dhaka also heeded to the Prime Minister’s warning.
    • On February 27, 2009 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that those who had committed the killings would not come under the declared amnesty. They would be tried under law and punished.
  3. Killing of Large Number Officers by Mutinous Jawans Unparalleled in the History of Bangladesh:
    • According to the Bangladesh Army estimates, of the officers present at the BDR headquarters, 63 were found dead, 33 had survived and 72 were missing.
    • The killing of such a large number of officers by mutinous jawans was unparalleled in the history of Bangladesh, according to analysts.
    • Since its independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has witnessed 19 coup attempts and the killing of two Presidents - Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, and his family members and the former President Gen. Ziaur Rahman.

  4. Mutiny a Critical Test for the Sheikh Hasina Government:
    • The mutiny by the BDR jawans was a critical test for the newly appointed democratic government under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
    • The Bangladesh Prime Minister handled the situation with calibrated firmness. The government held talks with the rebels with a mix of accommodation and firmness that paid off. The government managed both the mutineers and the Army and stopped further bloodshed.
    • The Sheikh Hasina government declared a three-day national mourning in honour of the dead officers. The officers were buried with state honours.
    • A six-member high-powered committee headed by the Home Minister was constituted to investigate the massacre.
    • The Sheikh Hasina has vowed to fight Islamic terrorism and build a secular democracy.
    • The Government has to find out the reason behind the mutiny and the masterminds behind it. Solutions have to be found to avoid such incidents in future which had a devastating effect on the country’s future.
  5. Bangladesh Army Shows Remarkable Restraint during the Crisis:
    • The Bangladesh Army showed remarkable restraint during the crisis despite mounting tension.
    • The Army respected the chain of command and followed the decisions of the civilian leadership.
    • The Chief of Army Staff of the Bangladesh Army Gen. Moeen U Ahmed stressed on the Army’s loyalty to democracy by saying that the Armed Forces were always subservient to the government.
IV. Implications for India:

  1. India Expressed Solidarity with the Sheikh Hasina Government:
    • India expressed solidarity with the Sheikh Hasina government and conveyed its readiness to extend whatever support and assistance that Bangladesh may require.
    • India unequivocally condemned all efforts aimed at destabilising a democratically elected government in Bangladesh.
  2. Instability in Bangladesh has a Direct Bearing on India as It Shares a Long, Porous Border with Bangladesh:
    • Analysts point out that India shares a 4,096 km porous border with Bangladesh and instability in Bangladesh has a direct bearing on India’s strategic interests.
    • India needs to ensure that its borders with Bangladesh are secure and there is no laxity in controlling access along the long border, only a part of which is fenced.

  3. BDR is Crucial for Addressing India’s Security Concerns:
    • Defence analysts point out that the BDR is crucial for addressing India’s security concerns as it guards the borders.
    • Clashes between the BDR and the Bangladesh Army would undermine the assurances given by Bangladesh on India’s security interests.
    • The repercussions of the BDR mutiny could lead to skirmishes on the border helping terrorists planning attacks against India to cross over making use of the confusion between the BDR and the Bangladesh Army.
  4. India Hopes the Sheikh Hasina Government would Clamp Down on the Terrorist Groups in Bangladesh: Bangladesh was turning into a hub for terrorist groups due to rising fundamentalism and abject poverty, according to analysts. However, with the formation of a new government under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, India hopes that things would change and there would be a clampdown on jihadi groups. India also wants to strengthen ties with Bangladesh.
  5. Pakistan’s ISI could use the dissensions in the ranks of the Bangladesh Armed Forces for Its own Purpose: Analysts point out that a growing concern for India is that Pakistan’s ISI and terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami have been using Bangladesh territory to launch terror attacks against India. The trail of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks point in this direction. Fears have been expressed that the ISI could use the dissensions in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Bangladesh for its own purpose.
  6. Issues Concerning its Own Security Forces May Hamper Bangladesh Government’s Resolve to Address India’s Security Concerns: Analysts point out that issues concerning its own security forces could hamper the resolve of the Sheikh Hasina government to address India’s security concerns. It could also restrict the Bangladesh government’s ability to strike any deal with India on the exchange of ULFA leaders operating from Bangladesh.
  7. Bangladesh Government Identifies 12 Militant Outfits for Close Watch:
    • In late April 2009 Bangladesh government identified 12 militant outfits operating in the country to closely watch their activities.
    • The Bangladesh Home Ministry was working to update the information on militancy, its patrons, funding sources, links to political parties and international connections, according to the State Minister for Home Sohel Taj.
    • The Bangladesh government would seek cooperation from friendly countries to tackle militancy if required and it was preparing guidelines for foreign assistance in dealing with the issues, according to the Bangladesh State Minister for Home.
V. War Crime Trial of 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh:

  • Government Appointed an Investigation Agency for War Crime Trials of 1971 Liberation War: In April 2009 the Bangladesh government appointed an investigation agency to probe the atrocities committed by collaborators of the Pakistan Army during the 1971 War of Liberation.
  • Bangladesh urged Pakistan to apologise formally for alleged atrocities committed by its army during Bangladesh’s liberation struggle in 1971. According to Bangladesh officials, three million people were killed during the fight for independence for Bangladesh which was then East Pakistan.
  • On November 19, 2009, the Bangladesh Supreme Court upheld the High Court verdict confirming death sentences for 12 former military officers in the assassination of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.
VI. Conclusion:

  1. The Landslide Victory for Awami League indicates a popular desire for political stability: Analysts point out that the landslide victory for the Awami League in the Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh indicates the popular desire for political stability. However, there is cautious optimism in South Asia as political stability has proved to be as fragile in Bangladesh as in Pakistan. It remains to be seen if the Bangladesh army completely withdraws from the governance process.
  2. Challenges before the Sheikh Hasina Government: The three-fourths majority secured by the Awami League brings in tremendous responsibility on the Sheikh Hasina Government in Bangladesh, according to analysts. The challenges facing the new Government include the following:
    • Climate change
    • Rising militancy
    • Economic problems
    • Large population
    • Weak administrative structure
    • Periodic natural calamities
    • Uniting the politically divided country
Published date : 05 Jan 2010 03:20PM

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