Opinion | Columnists

Bangladesh coup bid or conspiracy?

India must take some bold steps quickly to let Dhaka know that as a friendly neighbour it is committed to help the country and its people

  • By Kuldip Nayar, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 January 28, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Gulf News archive
  • Prime Minister of Bangladesh Shaikh Hasina

As the dust over an attempted coup or conspiracy in Bangladesh settles, it is confirmed that the Indian intelligence agencies warned army top brass in Dhaka about the conspiracy hatched against the Shaikh Hasina government. On this occasion, the Bangladesh army acted in time and nipped the defiance in the bud.

In 1975 too when Bangabandhu Shaikh Mujibur Rehman and 15 of his family members were killed by the army, Indian intelligence had warned about an attack on Shaikh Mujib. But then the top brass were themselves in the midst of coup and the army deliberately did not act. The result is known to all.

That the Bangladesh army is not interested in taking over the country was clear when it gave back power to the civil authority in 2008 and held free and fair elections which returned Shaikh Hasina with a three-fourths majority in parliament. When the army was backing the caretaker government and cleansing the stable, it found the top politicians of both Shaikh Hasina's Awami League and Khaleda Zia's Nationalist Bangladesh Party involved in corruption. Many in the army were worried that the revival of the political process would bring in its wake the same old graft. Yet the army preferred civil rule and bowed to the prerogative of the people to have their representatives in power.

Things are not what the electorate expected and the administration has been found wanting in many ways respects. Corruption and nepotism are back with a vengeance. Yet it is the people who have to fight against such evils. The army cannot do the job because this is the difference between democracy and dictatorship.

Disgruntled elements

"Instigated by some non-resident Bangladeshis, a band of fanatic retired and serving officers led a failed attempt to thwart the democratic system by creating anarchy in the army, banking on others' religious zeal," said the army statement, adding that "such heinous attempts are being foiled."

It is apparent that the coup was attempted by a few elements representing religious fanaticism and disgruntled army officers. The fundamentalists are unhappy because they have been firmly suppressed by the Hasina government which is liberal and secular. Yet there are other forces which are inimical to India and they resort to all kinds of methods to foul the atmosphere. That was also the case when Shaikh Mujib was killed. He too did not show any quarter to the extremists and the forces that were unhappy over the creation of Bangladesh.

Shaikh Hasina has regretted that the Islamists have penetrated the army. It is ominous because this is what has happened in Pakistan as well.

My information is that the coup leaders this time were helped by forces operating from India. The rump of United Liberation Front of Asom was there and so were the hostile Nagas. The Manipur insurgents were also part of the conspiracy. It is strange that while Bangladesh does not allow any anti-India forces to operate from its soil, as it used to happen in the past, India is lethargic and inactive.

For the larger picture, New Delhi must share the blame. It fails to have connectivity with Dhaka. Promises made in the fields of trade, power and business have remained unfulfilled. Shaikh Hasina has done so much unilaterally to foster good relations that there are many people in Bangladesh who are resentful. Yet bureaucrats in Delhi are not allowing the implementation of what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had signed with the Bangladesh prime minister in terms of trade, power and money. Bureaucrats are not anti-Bangladesh but they represent the red tape which retards progress of any plan or project.

I recall when Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan, Delhi made a five-year plan which would dovetail Dhaka's economic projects with those of India. It was an undertaking to develop the region as a whole. New Delhi was reminded often but there was little follow-up.

The failed coup is not only a warning but also an opportunity for the government in New Delhi. It must take some bold steps quickly to let the people disillusioned in Bangladesh with Shaikh Hasina's government know that India r will go to any limit to help Bangladesh in its needs and, at the same time, foster closer relations with Dhaka.

Singh transferred a few tracts of land in Assam to Bangladesh, its rightful owner. He should bring the constitutional amendment in the next session of parliament to make what is de facto as de jure. The BJP and some elements in Assam are opposed to the transfer. But they must realise that this is the territory which belongs to Bangladesh and has stayed wrongly with India for some 40 years. One recurring complaint of Dhaka is that border police is cruel to any Bangladesh national who even strays into India by mistake. Television channels have shown recently how the border police was beating a boy mercilessly because he had crossed the border by mistake.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would be well advised to visit Bangladesh where she is popular and where the expectation is that she would make amends for her absence from the Prime Minister's team that visited Dhaka a few weeks ago.

 

Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.

Gulf News