The successful conduct of elections in Bangladesh is a matter of satisfaction not only for its citizens but also India. The victory of the Awami League has revived hopes for the formation of a government that will check and rein anti-India forces in that country.
The Awami League’s victory in the elections held on 29 December has been comprehensive. It has won 260 of the 300 parliamentary seats. Its main, and bitter rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) could barely muster 31 seats. The Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, an ally of the BNP, was wiped out at the hustings.
It may be tempting to say that the return of a secular party will now ensure the defeat of Islamist militants and terrorists such as the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). That will be a facile conclusion. The years of misrule by the BNP, the abject developmental failures in far-flung corners of the country and the deep inroads made by Islamists in rural Bangladesh preclude this.
At the same time, the means available to coax the new government to eliminate these terrorists root and branch are limited. Bangladesh is what many call an “aid-dependent” country. The use of aid to ensure political ends may sound a good idea. But in the context of the dangerous political polarization between Islamists and secular-minded nationalists, it is sure to backfire. Apart from wounding the sense of pride of Bangladeshis, the use of such tactics is sure to give a fillip to the BNP to launch extra-parliamentary resistance to the government. This has been the bane of Bangladesh politics and is sure to prove counterproductive.
In the end, however, it is for the new government to educate its people that radical Islamist ideology is least likely to work and will only isolate Bangladesh internationally. At the same time, the task for the Awami League government is a punishing one: Limiting the influence of Islamists in a poverty-stricken country, one whose government has limited capacity at developmental efforts, is a gigantic task. In this endeavour and the return to the secular nationalist ethos of its past, Bangladesh deserves the unstinting support of India and the international community.
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