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India monitoring Dhaka developments

It feels that prolonged instability could cause an exodus of people into India, says Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2006 21:19 IST

India is closely monitoring events in neighbouring Bangladesh a day after President Iajuddin Ahmed, the BNP appointee as President, took over as caretaker Prime Minister. Not only will Ahmed (who was not a consensus candidate but nevertheless assumed power) aim to ensure peaceful national polls within 90 days in Bangladesh, he will also have direct control over the armed forces, diplomats said. This would not just make it possible for him to summon troops to quell violence rocking the country, but also concentrate all power in his office.

New Delhi is concerned that a prolonged period of violence and instability could cause a spill-over of people from the neighbouring country into India, senior officials said. It could also allow terrorist elements that have gained considerable strength in Bangladesh during the tenure of the Khaleda Zia and BNP-led coalition (that included the Jamaat-I-Islami) to increase their subversive activities against India.

Several of the factions aligned to the Khaleda Zia-led government, which handed over the reins of government on Saturday, have a pronounced anti-India stance and maintain close links with Jihadi parties targeting India.

India on Sunday voiced its concern at the prevailing instability in Bangladesh and hoped people there would be permitted to freely exercise their franchise. Newly-appointed External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has also been directly monitoring events there. The absence of an Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka at this crucial juncture has complicated matters, a senior diplomat said.
The government has intensified patrolling along the international border with Bangladesh after Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon met West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya on Saturday.

The prevalent instability and violence, that have claimed over 25 lives in Bangladesh so far, would also adversely affect bilateral trade, which, in 2005-2006, already topped $1751.20 million ($1.75 billion). The trade balance, according to the Ministry of Commerce, is heavily weighted in India’s favour. Indian exports so far this year amount to $1632.44 million, while imports from Bangladesh were valued at $118.76.

The main opposition alliance of 14 parties led by the Awami League, headed by Sheikh Hasina, is also watching Ahmed closely before it makes its next moves, based on its perception of whether he will ensure impartial polls. The Awami League is also strongly opposing the continuance of M.A.Aziz as Chief Election Commissioner, saying he is “biased”.

So far, analysts said, the bulk of the violence within Bangladesh has been directed at breakaway factions of the BNP, which recently split, though the threat of opposition-sponsored violence also looms. Troops are on standby in the capital, Dhaka, news agency reports said.

The homes of some senior ministers who have broken away from the BNP to form the Democratic Reform Party, have been attacked and several had to flee, reports said.