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Bangladesh politics cannot escape the India question. It has always been there. For a long time, it can be assumed for obvious reasons, the issue will remain alive in politics. No one, if the person or the factor means politics in Bangladesh, owns any sense to ignore the issue.
History and geography, culture and society, psyche and practice, and economy and interests have made the question an important one in Bangladesh. All of these are entangled while each one influences the others. One cannot deny the way history shaped the related geographical and economic issues, the issues of culture and society. And culture covers practices, custom and ideas while ideas are part of ideology, which is influenced by dominant interests. The interests play with the ideological issue.
In all spheres, whether one likes or not, people are central. But people are hoodwinked, confused and pushed aside by dominant interests. However, whatever is done, people remain central. The acts — bamboozling and creating confusion, excluding and making mum — are proof of people power as those ‘noble’ acts would not have been required if people were powerless.
People, silent at times under certain circumstances and vocal at moments of historical juncture, influence everything and everybody. None — dictators, comical characters on socio-cultural-political stage, men with murderer’s ‘spirit’, shrewd horse traders in political houses, insignificant people in all historical phases, powerful personalities doing and undoing a lot, chatterers with their politically obnoxious words, man-slaughterers with mundane mind and obedient political pied pipers seeking petty perks — have the power to deny the existence of people, most of whom are poor, most of whom are working hands and most of whom live in the lower tier of the long ladder of dramatically increasing inequality. This — the people — has a central role in the issue, the India question.
The India question was played like an ace by a part of Pakistan politicians, a band representing a historically immature ruling elite, since this part of the subcontinent was turned a neo-colony in mid-August of 1947. The issue was virtually turned into one of the pillars of the ideology that the state was selling to survive.
But that political caricature collapsed. The 1971, the period of our Great War for Liberation, saw a tide opposite to the politics the Pakistan rulers strove to create. Actions of brutal ‘heroism’ and ‘purification’ that began on the midnight of March 25, 1971 in Bangladesh created an opposite reaction, which was more than an exact. An episode concluded.
And, India appeared as an ally to the people searching a survival-ground in the face of beastly aggression on the Bangladesh people’s peaceful life and land. Actions of the Pakistan ruling elite accelerated the job. In those days of our war for liberation, tales of the Pakistan army’s ‘bravery’ in the Sialkot and Khemkaran sectors during the 1965 Indo-Pak war stood as skeletons. The undaunted Bangladesh people were writing an epic of their courage, pain and supreme sacrifice. India, depending on wishes of none, got a place in the hearts of millions. It was not only the ruling elite of India, the ordinary citizens, the people on streets in the country were extending care and love within their capacity. Sources, or reasons of the two, of the ruling elite and of the commoners, were different. But a factor was emerging deep in the Bangladesh mass psyche while the neo-colonial Pakistani rulers failed to perceive the contradictions. The Pakistani rulers resorted to a military machination of a political problem. It was their limit. It was impossible for them to act in a different way at that juncture of history. Failure to perceive that limit is a failure in studying society with its class content. It is equivalent to purchasing or eliminating individuals with the hope of brushing out contradictions between social classes as money or fire power cannot bury contradictions within society.
The India question during the days since the historic December 16, 1971 victory of the Bangladesh people experienced high tide and ebb. Facts and fictions, real and fabricated stories, deals and diplomacies, water withdrawal and sharing, border killings and border market places, gradually increasing trade and decreasing protectionist measures, Bangladesh ordinary person’s educational and medical requirements, and, most important of all, capitalist alliance between part of capitals in Bangladesh and India played a role in shaping the issue. Factions within the dominant part of gradually growing up Bangladesh capital were also reckoning the issue: where lies the better interest?
Geopolitics joined those. Aspects of geostrategy and geotactics obviously are not absent. Naked imperialism, outright imperialist acts of intervention, spread its eagle-wings over the sky of all the continents, especially Asia-Africa-Latin America. The world now bears signs of dwindling influence of an old imperialist power. The phenomenon has coupled with a few other phenomena: increasing global competition, emerging economic powers and trade blocks, advancements achieved in the initiative to replace the old world-money — the US dollar, new theatres of military mobilisation, the Pacific-Indian Oceans are one of those, maze-like equations simultaneously taking shape in regions. The increasing military competition does not recede with the change in terminology: ‘pivot to’ or ‘rebalancing to’ Asia. A few of these equations are yet to take full shape.
This perspective now compels all to recognise the fact: Bangladesh is strategically important. Bangladesh is a basket case, a Kissingerspeak, is now only a ‘gem’ in the rugged modern political history, a show of a lack of political far-sightedness of political scholars from a particular school. It is the Bangladesh people that demolished the political assessment made immediately after Bangladesh emerged victorious in one of its phases of struggle towards liberation. That — basket case — was Kissinger’s assessment. That Bangladesh was war ravaged, victim of scorched-earth, literally, policy of the occupying Pakistan military. Relevant commission report of Pakistan tells a part of the fact.
But the Bangladesh people busted the propagated myth — a hopeless people, an idle people, a dumb people, a worthless people.
All these, the history, the present perspective and the people, make the India question an urgent reality, a reality all in Bangladesh politics, trade and finance have to deal with. These, the circles in economy and politics, will define the rest. And, the residue, whatever will be left there, will turn insignificant.
Expecting an overnight change of the policy of a state, especially of a state like India, is nothing but an exercise in utopia, or a child-like perception of state machine. A state commanded by a ruling class matured over centuries through economic and political struggles, and having command over a huge capital that passed its days of infancy long ago does not change policy overnight other than a dramatic life-and-death issue. Similar change, if any, is a sign of decay within the ruling machine. Even, management or procurement plan of a single manufacturing plant owned by a group of matured capitalists is not changed overnight.
An election result does not make a fundamental change in policy of a matured state if the class commanding the state does not face a crisis within. A dramatic change in state policy is found in states yet to get organised as a state with essential institutions for dominance. Banking on election result within a matured class is an utter failure in perception of politics and state craft, and a self-reflection on mirror, an image of self-immaturity. Encountering the India question, whether pro- or anti- , requires the lesson.
Very naturally, a political organisation’s abrupt policy shift shows not only its heart but also its brain and shows many aspects: (1) a long, vigorous, intensive exercise with policy; or (2) an exigency; or (3) a desperate situation; or (4) an attempt to abandon a few allies and court new friends. There are other aspects also. Meanings — interests — are there whatever of these or all of these play as reason or cause of the shift. Interests are first of all related to economy, and that reaches class(es) or factions of one or many classes. A shift thus impacts class or faction allies. Thus any shift turns sensitive in politics with far-reaching impact. Pro- or anti-India position in Bangladesh is thus related to domestic politics.
It is not only a question of an external ally or appeasing or befriending an external power for the sake of political power. Its first consideration is allies or adversaries within home. In simple term, it is a cost-benefit analysis.
On the other hand, it is a strategic question, not a tactical move. To deal a strategic question in a tactical style is the first condition of befooling self. The befooling will be done for the second time if a tactician considers that a matured state can be fooled by mere moves tactical in nature.
Turning pro- or anti-India has some other issues to be solved. One of these is: credibility, internally and externally, will be lost if it ultimately turns out that the position is not real and meaningful, but a simple opportunistic vocalisation.
Not fake, but a real position — pro- or anti-Indian — signifies shift in interests of factions of capital or classes involved. It is a real show or an indicator in the entire politics.
A sudden tact or quick policy shift has the other side: the target of the shift — India. Does the state take decisions within a short time span? Is the machine involved with policy formulation that immature? Are not elaborate exercises and detail analyses done by institutions of the state over a long period? Is memory of the machine so short that mere utterances can make it move in another direction? Does not the targeted state machine look at connections of the tactician? Moreover, does not maturity tell that an abrupt shift is unreliable as today’s abrupt shift can abruptly make an about turn tomorrow?
At least two recent announcements by two Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders on India are thus significant. They said: the BNP is not anti-India, the BNP was not anti-India and the BNP shall not be anti-India. It is significant if it is real. It is significant if it is not real. It is significant if it is tactical. It is significant if it is a tactical move to face a strategic issue. It shows the inner-condition of the party, its relations with its constituents, the interests it prefers to serve, and some other conditions.
It is thus a major question to others, left and right, in the Bangladesh political arena also as still the party – BNP – is considered one of the two major political parties. Thus it turns out a foolish yearning as one leader claiming to be people-oriented and left recently chided the party — the BNP — for its inactions on a number of political and social issues. An utter failure in political learning with a theatrical posture!
Farooque Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance writer.