The current political turbulence in poll-bound Bangladesh is more of an ideological battle than an electoral one – and India is part of the picture.
General elections in the country are to be held on January 5, 2014, but main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has decided to boycott the polls.
While the ruling Awami League is perceived to be a moderate political force, the BNP is seen as pitching for a pan-Islamic identity for the nation.
“It is an ideological battle which is unfolding now. It is also existential in nature for the country,” said Muntassir Mamoon, professor of history at Dhaka University.
Besides, many observers feel the BNP has outsourced much of its political agitation to Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami.
Meanwhile, the BNP has accused India of backing the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League.
The Hasina government has indeed been good for India. Although New Delhi says it will do business with the government of the day, India has traditionally seen Hasina’s party as a friend.
However, BNP vice-president Shamsher M Chowdhury has said the party will have a “forward-looking policy with India and will build on what the present-day government has achieved with India.”
New Delhi too has been urging the BNP to take part in the elections.
But the BNP says the elections cannot be free and fair unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina steps down.
The situation is reminiscent of 1996, when BNP leader Khaleda Zia was Prime Minister. The Awami League had boycotted the polls held in February. The BNP was then forced to create a caretaker government for re-elections, won by the Awami League.
Under the caretaker system, the ruling government must resign three months before its term ends. After demanding a caretaker government in 1995 when Hasina’s party was the opposition, she overturned the move in 2011.