Beset with serious concerns about security and mass migration of minorities into India in the run up to national elections in Bangladesh, the government has been completely taken aback by the recent alliance between the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Khelafat-e-Majlish (BKM).
"Certainly, we were not consulted," a senior diplomat said, when asked how India viewed the AL's alliance with the fundamentalist Islamic group. "I am shocked, angered and more than slightly confused," a former High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh said.
Officials said the shift in the AL's traditionally secular orientation was more electoral in nature than ideological. The five-point Memorandum of Understanding between the AL and BKM outlines the primacy of Koranic rule, permits the issuance of fatwas and a parallel Shariat system of law, and says Ahmediyas (a minority community within Islam) are not Muslims.
Mahfuz Anam, Editor-in-Chief of the leading newspaper, The Daily Star' said in a signed editorial on Wednesday, "Now AL has shown that it is equally capable of betrayal of values and ethics in politics."
What was more worrying, according to diplomatic sources in Dhaka, was Sheikh Hasina's meeting with Pakistan's Ambassador to Bangladesh, Alamgir Babar, in Dhaka on Saturday (December 23) before announcing the alliance with the BKM.
The Awami League, headed by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, has traditionally been viewed as more pro-Indian than its rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by Begum Khaleda Zia, who relinquished the post of Prime Minister in October to permit elections to take place.
The BNP's alliance with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami in the 2001 elections set a precedent that has allowed Islamic fundamentalist groups like the Jagrata Mussalman Bangladesh (JMB) and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HUJI) to spread within that country. That alliance has been blamed for allowing terrorist organisations affiliated to Al-Qaeda to take root in Bangladesh.
According to Army Chief, General JJ Singh, terrorists are using new routes from Nepal and Bangladesh to sneak into India, while security agencies are taking steps to block these entry points.
"As terrorists are finding it hard to penetrate the fence and new anti-infiltration systems placed all along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and in Punjab," Singh said on Wednesday on the sidelines of a meeting. Terrorists were now exploring new means to sneak into India, via Nepal and Bangladesh, he said.
"There are three serious security concerns with Bangladesh," a former Indian envoy to Bangladesh told HT. "The first relates to insurgency," the diplomat said, with insurgents from the Northeast getting shelter there.
"The second relates to Islamic fundamentalist groups and their targeting of India. Every recent terrorist attack in India (like at Varanasi and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore) has a Bangladeshi footprint," the former envoy said.
"The third relates to illegal immigration." As long as the 14-party alliance headed by the AL appeared headed for a majority in the forthcoming polls, due on January 22, the minorities felt secure, reducing the likelihood of an influx of refugees.
But this weekend alliance with the BKM has got minority communities, including Hindus, who make up 11 per cent of the population, worried, a Dhaka-based diplomat said.
Over a million refugees, mostly Hindus, fled into India after the 2001 polls that swept the BNP-Jamaat combine into power. According to estimates by leading social activist and poet, Shahryar Kabir, more than 90 per cent of them remained in India.
Mohammad Rafi, a scholar and member of BRAC, probably the world's largest NGO, in his book "Can We Get Along," published last month, has documented rising atrocities and the increasingly strained communal relationship in Bangladesh. This, Rafi says, is primarily responsible for Hindus leaving their homes and fleeing to India.
A Bangladeshi diplomat in India dismissed suggestions of a communal divide and said the issue of mass migration into India after the last elections related to law and order and was not communal.
Even Begum Khaleda did not deny the migration, but denied they were communal in nature.
"There are no Hindus or Muslims in Bangladesh. All are Bangladeshi."