A Bangladesh ‘one-party state’ and India’s options – India Caught Between Strategic Interests and Democratic Values: Navigating Bangladesh’s Troubled Elections | 12 January 2024 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • This article delves into India's complex relationship with Bangladesh, particularly the challenges posed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's increasingly autocratic regime.


  • GS2: India and its Neighborhood- Relations


  • India's recent congratulatory message to Sheikh Hasina on her controversial re-election in Bangladesh raises questions about its commitment to democracy and regional influence.
  • While Hasina's rule assures continuity in bilateral relations, her increasingly autocratic regime and rigged elections pose challenges for India's image and regional leadership.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina:

  • Sheikh Hasina Wazed is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the longest-serving in the country's history. She has been in office since January 2009, winning four consecutive terms, most recently in the January 7, 2024 election.
  • Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, and has been involved in politics since her early life. She was actively involved in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 and served as her father's political liaison during his imprisonment by the Pakistani government.
  • Hasina's tenure as Prime Minister has been marked by both significant achievements and controversies. On the one hand, she has overseen a period of rapid economic growth, poverty reduction, and infrastructure development. Bangladesh is now considered a lower-middle-income country by the World Bank, and its economy is one of the fastest-growing in the world. Hasina has also been praised for her leadership in tackling climate change and promoting gender equality.
  • However, Hasina's government has also been criticized for its human rights record. There have been allegations of widespread extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and crackdowns on dissent. The recent election, which was boycotted by the main opposition party and saw a low voter turnout, has raised concerns about the state of democracy in Bangladesh.
  • Despite the controversies, Hasina remains a popular figure in Bangladesh, particularly among the rural poor who have benefited from her government's development programs. She is a strong and charismatic leader who has played a pivotal role in shaping Bangladesh's recent history.

India-Bangladesh Relationship:

  • The relationship between Bangladesh (mostly under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina) and India is multifaceted and complex, marked by both strong historical ties and persistent challenges.
  • Positive aspects:
    • Historical friendship: India played a crucial role in Bangladesh's liberation war in 1971, providing military and diplomatic support. This shared history forms a strong foundation for the relationship.
    • Close strategic partnership: Both countries prioritize security cooperation and counterterrorism efforts. India is also a major development partner for Bangladesh, providing aid and trade opportunities.
    • Personal connection: Hasina personally regards India as a “great friend” and sought refuge there during a turbulent period in her life. This personal bond fosters warmth in the bilateral relationship.
    • Economic cooperation: Trade and investment are thriving, with India becoming Bangladesh's largest trading partner. Initiatives like cross-border power lines and connectivity projects further strengthen economic ties.
  • Challenges:
    • Water disputes: Sharing of transboundary rivers, particularly the Teesta, remains a contentious issue, often causing friction and hindering water resource management.
    • Border security: Concerns over illegal migration and border skirmishes persist, requiring continuous dialogue and cooperation.
    • Trade barriers: Non-tariff barriers imposed by India sometimes hamper Bangladeshi exports, causing economic resentment.
    • Political dynamics: Domestic political situations in both countries can influence diplomatic relations, affecting bilateral cooperation at times.
  • The relationship between Bangladesh and India is dynamic and evolves constantly. While historical ties and shared interests form a strong foundation, addressing outstanding issues and navigating sensitive areas remain crucial for a stable and mutually beneficial partnership in the future.

Bangladesh's Political Landscape: Bangladesh's political landscape is a complex one, with a variety of actors vying for power and influence.

  • Major Political Parties:
    • Bangladesh Awami League (AL): The dominant party in Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The AL is center-left, secular, and nationalist. It has been in power for most of the past two decades.
      • Salman F. Rahman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's advisor for private industry and investment, wields significant influence in Bangladesh's political and economic landscape.
      • Rahman enjoys direct access to and significant influence over the Prime Minister's decisions. He is reportedly considered the “de facto Prime Minister” by some due to his close association with policy-making.
    • Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP): The main opposition party, led by Khaleda Zia. The BNP is center-right and often seen as more Islamist-leaning than the AL. It has been in power for several terms in the past, but boycotted the most recent elections.
    • Jatiya Party: A smaller party led by former military dictator H.M. Ershad. It is center-right and has sometimes been a coalition partner of both the AL and the BNP.
  • Other Important Actors:
    • The Military: The Bangladesh Armed Forces have traditionally played a powerful role in Bangladeshi politics, although their influence has diminished in recent years.
    • Islamist Groups: Several Islamist groups, such as Hefazat-e-Islam, have a significant presence in Bangladesh and can exert influence on the government and society.
    • Business Community: The Bangladeshi business community is growing in power and influence, with some wealthy businessmen playing a significant role in politics.
    • Civil Society: A vibrant civil society exists in Bangladesh, with NGOs, human rights groups, and other organizations playing an important role in advocating for democracy and good governance.
  • Current Political Situation:
    • The current political situation in Bangladesh is tense, with the AL in power and the BNP boycotting the most recent elections. There are concerns about the erosion of democracy and human rights, as well as the rise of religious extremism.


  • India's Dilemma: 
    • Strategic Partnership: Hasina has addressed India's security and connectivity concerns, making her a valuable partner.
    • Double Standards: Supporting an autocracy contradicts India's democratic values and attracts criticism from allies like the US.
    • Anti-India Sentiments: Rising anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh due to perceived interference threatens regional stability.
  • Hasina's Controversial Rule:
    • Fourth Consecutive Term: Won amidst allegations of irregularities and opposition boycott, raising concerns about a one-party state.
    • Economic Mismanagement: Rampant corruption, money laundering, and price hikes under Hasina's rule fuel public discontent.
    • Erosion of Secularism: Awami League's alliance with Islamist groups and plans for Islamic cultural centers raise concerns about Bangladesh's secular identity.
  • Salman F. Rahman's Influence:
    • Crony Capitalism: Rahman's Beximco conglomerate is implicated in various scandals, casting a shadow on the Awami League.
    • Islamist Agenda: Rahman's role in Awami League's Islamist shift poses a long-term threat to Bengali cultural fabric.
  • India's Limited Leverage:
    • Pro-India Elements Diminished: Hasina's consolidation of power weakens India's influence within Awami League.
    • Pressure to Induct Pro-Indian Leaders: Limited option to retain some influence by pushing for cabinet appointments.
  • Regional Repercussions:
    • Strained Relations with Allies: Supporting Hasina creates friction with western allies, hindering China containment efforts.
    • Loss of Influence: Declining influence in Bangladesh and across the region undermines Modi's “Neighbourhood First” policy.
  • Possible Solutions:
    • Diversify Engagement: Look beyond Awami League to engage with civil society, minorities, and youth groups representing secular values.
    • Reassess Strategy: Avoid putting all eggs in Awami League basket and consider alternative partnerships for long-term regional stability.

Way Forward:

  • India's support for Hasina comes with a hefty price. To safeguard its democratic image and regional leadership, India must re-evaluate its strategy and engage with a broader range of actors in Bangladesh who espouse democratic and secular values.

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