A slow-motion crisis is unfolding in an already politically dysfunctional Bangladesh. Retired Chief Justice KM Hasan, the person who was to take over as interim head of government, and whose task is to conduct the elections before January 2007, has failed to do so claiming that he is ill. Since Prime Minister Khaleda Zia ended her term last week, Bangladesh is headless. In the meantime, the Awami League, which is opposed to Mr Hasan’s nomination as head of the caretaker government, has taken to the streets.
While Bangladesh’s economic and social indicators are doing well, there seems to be no end to the debilitating rivalry between Begum Khaleda of the Bangladesh National Party and her predecessor, Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the Awami League. Their chosen tactic is to place impossible demands on whoever is in power, and then take to the streets to press their case. The Awami League has threatened to boycott the elections if they are conducted under an administration headed by Mr Hasan. It has also demanded that the entire Election Commission be recast. Begum Khaleda did make an effort to resolve the situation, but as many as six sittings between leaders of the two parties failed to thrash out the problem. If the current events are a guide to the future, we can only imagine what the situation will be like in the coming months.
This is a country with which we have a shared history and culture, not to mention a porous 4,000 km land border. In recent years, it has had the dubious distinction of providing shelter and bases for separatists and terrorists who seek to harm India. While the Bangladeshi government strenuously denies that it is soft on terrorists, the dismal fact is that perhaps Dhaka’s writ does not run across the land. There should be no doubt that New Delhi also has a massive clout in the nation that is virtually India-locked. Given our huge stake in the stability and prosperity of Bangladesh, we cannot sit by as the crisis unfolds. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee must treat this as a priority issue and bring pressure to bear on the two leaders to work out a compromise.