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  • Context (IE l IE l LM): Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won the re-election for a fifth term.
  • The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), boycotted the polls.
  • Western nations, including the US, UK, and EU, have urged Bangladesh to hold free, fair, and participatory elections.
  • The BNP demanded elections under a caretaker government, which the government rejected.
  • This election became a high-stakes arena because of several international interests
    1. India’s buffer state priorities
    2. China’s Belt & Road vision
    3. Strategic interests of the United States
    4. Russian infrastructure interests.
  • Authoritarian Practices: The Awami League’s (AL) authoritarian measures, including arrests and harassment of opposition leaders, have fueled resentment among the masses.
  • Corruption and Nepotism: Perceived corruption and nepotism within the AL have widened the gap between the government and the impoverished population.
  • Islamist Influence: The AL encouragement of Islamist groups like Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh has created a toxic environment within the ruling party.
  • Radicalization: Islamist organisations, through religious schools and mosques, have radicalised a significant portion of the population, especially the youth.
  • Islamist Opposition: The Islamist parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami, Hefazat, and Islami Oikyo Jote, now fill the opposition space.
  • Political Analyst’s Perspective: Political analysts argue that the AL’s crackdown on the BNP has inadvertently strengthened Islamist parties, which seek to implement strict Sharia laws and turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state.
  • Economic Crisis: Falling forex reserves, currency depreciation, and mounting external debt have created a looming debt crisis.
  • Chinese Loans: Much of the infrastructure development relies on high-interest loans from China.

Election in Bangladesh and India’s Interests

Security Interests

  • A stable, prosperous and friendly Bangladesh is in India’s best interests.
  • The previous BNP-led government was quite hostile to India — and provided a haven to numerous anti-India terrorist and militant groups.
  • It allegedly also had links to Pakistan’s ISI.
  • The Present Government’s crackdown on anti-India elements and counter-terrorism cooperation with India has single-handedly improved India’s overall security situation over the last decade.
  • Bangladesh’s action resulted in the arrest of many top leaders of the NE insurgent groups like the ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland.
  • Also, Given the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, it becomes even more important that India and Bangladesh remain close security partners.

Economic Interests

  • Bangladesh has replaced Pakistan as the second-largest economy in the South Asian region.
    • As per World Bank data, the GDP of Bangladesh was $460 bn in 2022, and Pakistan’s was $375 bn.
  • In 2022-23, Bangladesh was the fifth largest export destination for Indian goods after the US, the UAE, the Netherlands, and China.
  • It accounted for over 2.7 per cent of all Indian exports, worth $12.2 billion.

Regional Connectivity & Cooperation

  • Protocol on Inland Water Trade and Transit (PIWTT), operational since 1972, permits the movement of goods over vessels from India through Bangladesh’s river systems on 8 specific routes.
  • Under the present regime, Bangladesh facilitates efficient connectivity to India’s Northeast through overland transit and inland waterways.
  • Securing sea lines of communication: Bangladesh strategically places nearby essential sea lanes. It can play a significant role in containing piracy in the Indian Ocean.
  • Bangladesh is also crucial for economic integration within the subcontinent, especially since Pakistan refuses to support regional economic cooperation.
  • Bridge to Southeast Asia: Bangladesh is a natural pillar of the Act East policy.
    • It can act as a ‘bridge’ to economic and political linkages with South East Asia and beyond.
    • Bangladesh is an essential component of BIMSTEC and BBIN initiatives.
    • Dhaka hosts the secretariat of The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which connects Myanmar and Thailand.
  • Beyond the subcontinent, India wants Bangladesh to become a fulcrum for regional cooperation in the Bay of Bengal littoral linking South and South East Asia.
  • India’s friends, such as Japan, have invested heavily in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh-China Relations

  • Bangladesh’s two-way trade with China exceeded $25 billion in 2022.
  • Bangladesh aligns strategically with China, helping transform its landscape through mega projects.
  • Chinese investments in BRI-financed infrastructure projects have surpassed $10 billion.
  • Bangladesh has significant military relations with China, and it is the second-largest importer of Chinese arms.
    • India, too, gave Bangladesh $500 million credit for defence imports.
  • Bangladesh has granted port access to India and China, fostering modernisation in Mongla port under the banners of the BRI and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor (BCIM).
    • Pyra Port– A similar cooperative enhancement was undertaken, but India backed out due to the PPP being granted to a Chinese company.
  • There are around $450 million of Chinese investments into 1,845 MW of domestic power generation as of 2021.

Bangladesh-USA Relations

  • Bangladesh has had tense relationships with the US and the UK, given their proximity to Pakistan and their damaging role in 1971.
  • The present regime unsurprisingly views the US with tremendous distrust.
  • The US has been relatively inconsistent regarding calling out authoritarianism. While the Americans seldom talk about democracy in Pakistan, they tend to bully Bangladesh.
  • The US has begun to appreciate India’s interests in Bangladesh (After the G20 Summit) and is toning down its hostility toward Dhaka.
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