While street violence is par for the course in the run-up to a Bangladesh election, a boycott by the main opposition party is not. As things stand, Bangladesh is set to hold a general election on January 5 that will produce a sweeping but wholly illegitimate victory for the incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has sought to force the postponement of the elections but has failed to achieve the necessary critical mass of violence.
Noticeably, the BNP’s Khaleda Zia has elicited minimal international sympathy for her reasonable demand for a neutral caretaker to oversee the polling process or for her less reasonable demand that elections be postponed beyond their constitutionally mandated deadline.
What is deafening is New Delhi’s silence on the developments. Because of its outsized relationship with Bangladesh, the world has tended to let New Delhi take the lead when it comes to goings on in Dhaka. India has taken the stance that it should not be seen to be interfering in Bangladesh’s domestic politics.
But there is a sense that New Delhi is not unhappy with the idea of another Awami government being in power.
This is not merely because Sheikh Hasina has had a record of being friendlier towards India. It also reflects a desire in New Delhi for a few more years of a Dhaka regime that will continue cooperation on issues like North-eastern insurgencies, Islamicist terrorism and cross-border connectivity.
While the latter desire is understandable, India should understand that its long-term interests lie in the creation of a stable democratic polity in Bangladesh.
A Dhaka which swings from being pro to anti-India each election makes nonsense of India’s neighbourhood policy. The caretaker regime was a construct designed to end the country’s polarised political system.
There was evidence that the BNP’s business backers were benefitting from bilateral trade that the party’s India bashing was starting to fade. An election marred by a boycott undoes much of what has been gained as far as Bangladesh’s political maturity is concerned and is no gain for India’s long-term strategic interests.