It did not take the complicated art of psephology to have predicted the outcome in Bangladesh’s parliamentary election held on Sunday. With the main opposition party, Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), boycotting the election, it was a foregone conclusion that Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League would win a second term.
Even after bagging more than 230 seats out of the 300 in the Jatiyo Shongshod (Parliament), it might not be smooth sailing for Sheikh Hasina. Sunday’s election saw widespread poll-related violence, resulting in the death of 18 people. And with just 22% polling (down from 87% last time) there are concerns about the validity of the process.
History will be at the back of Sheikh Hasina’s mind when she holds talks with the opposition on future polls. In February 1996, the BNP won a landslide victory after the Awami League boycotted the election. Following massive protests from the Opposition, fresh elections were held in June, in which the Awami League won.
For the time being, however, Sheikh Hasina and her party have emerged victorious and this is good news for India — under her rule Dhaka-New Delhi ties have strengthened, especially in boosting trade and tackling terrorism. Early in 2013, Bangladesh had replaced Sri Lanka as India’s largest trading partner in the subcontinent with trade close to $5 billion.
After the general elections this summer, whichever party that forms the government in New Delhi should focus on building on these ties with Dhaka. Rather than giving too much importance to smoothening ties with Islamabad, where there is not likely to be any light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon, New Delhi should focus on its neighbour on the eastern border.
Also, the equation is not easy with Colombo after the frequent arrests of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and the picture is not yet clear with a change of government in the Maldives.
The Centre should reach an agreement on water-sharing from the Teesta River with Bangladesh. Good ties with Dhaka will also help in tackling insurgency and strengthening the economy in the Northeast.
We can’t chose our neighbours but we certainly can do our best to keep them as close to us as possible.