by Lutful Haider in Montreal
If you care to remember, in 1990, just before the fall of General Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s regime, the then General Secretary of the ruling Jatiya Party, Shah Moazzem Hossain, when asked to give his reaction to resignation of two ministers from the regime said, “Two puny rats have jumped off from a capsizing ship in deep sea”. His fury was understandable, as the ministers had abandoned the party when the party was on the verge of annihilation in the face of mass upsurge.
But does the recent defections of six Trinomul Congress’s (TMC) MLAs and other lesser leaders to BJP just before the visit of BJP’s second in command Amit Shah signal the imminent downfall of Trinomul Congress led by Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal?
For quite sometimes BJP had been eyeing covetously the lucrative vote rich political ground of West Bengal. Besides 294 seats in state legislative assembly (Rajjya Sabha), West Bengal is third largest seat rich states (45MPs) in India’s central Legislative assembly (Lok Sabha). Though BJP had already painted saffron almost all thestates in Northern India, West Bengal continues to remain a thorn in their way to dominate whole of Northern India. Slowly but surely BJP is making inroad into West Bengal.
While BJP’s share of vote in West Bengal was only 4% in 2011 in Provincial assembly elections, it is now hovering around 40%. BJP strategists believe in next election, to be held shortly, BJP has a very fair chance to defeat TMC, though they have a formidable opposition led by Mamata Banerjee. So they have already started aggressive campaigning, engineering defections and embarking on massive propaganda to tarnish the image of TMC and Mamata Banerjee. Mamata Banerjee is also a feisty campaigner. One day after Amit Shah’s visit, in a press conference Mamata called BJP as “Cheater party” (party of cheats) and allegations levied against TMC by Amit Shah as “garbage of lies”. The situation has been complicated by the expressed intention of Asaduddin Owaisi to field candidates under the banner of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). This, like in the case of Bihar, will certainly eat away votes from Trinomul as Muslims are deemed to be vote bank of TMC. One thing is certain, it will be a very contentious elections. We will witness more of pre and post-election horse trading. Indian journalists are calling this as ‘open season of poaching’.
For Bangladeshis usually the results of poll in West Bengal is nothing but a passing fancy. Bangladesh is more concerned with policies of the Central government in Delhi and the party in power in Delhi. But this time it is predicted that the results of poll in West Bengal Rajjya Sabha will have far reaching consequences for Bangladesh. Though Mamata Banerje’s refusal to endorse Teesta water sharing agreementproposed by Modi government has irked many in Bangladesh yether government’s vociferous opposition to controversial NRC (National Registration of Citizens) and CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) has shielded Bangladesh from false allegations by Modi government’s ministers concerning Bangladeshis. India’s heavy weight Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly called Bangladeshis astermites (Ghuspatyas in Hindi) who are eating the fabric of India by infiltrating in drove – an utter and brazen lie, since Bangladesh’s economy is doing much better than Indian economy.
Recent BSF’s yearly report shows that the number of Indians trying to enter Bangladesh illegally is three times more than Bangladeshis trying to enter India illegally. Amit Shah’s rallying cry in West Bengal had been to stop infiltration through citizenship registration. Mamata Banerjee’s TMC had maintained communal harmony in West Bengal and has been often accused by BJP as pandering to minority Muslims to safeguardTMC’s vote bank. But if TMC is defeated in spite of its commendable achievement in economic and social sectors, a BJP government will certainly enforce NRC and CAA. And it will also give consent to Teesta Agreement. One can hazard a guess that perhaps on the basis of expected BJP win in West Bengal, Indian Ambassador in Dhaka reiterated recently, that Teesta Agreement will be signed very soon.
Following signing of Teesta Agreement,it is certain, India will demand that Bangladesh shelve the proposed Chinese offer of loan and technical Assistance to manage Teesta river flow. Already a section of Indian media has expressed concern that Teesta being so close to India’s Chicken neck corridor, the only narrow conduit that connects seven eastern provinces called seven sisters with Indian mainland, the presence of Chinese personnel even though civilian, will be perilous to India’s security. Chinese proposal to assist management of Teesta water has many positive aspects, withdrawing from the proposal would be detrimental for Bangladesh.
Though India still maintains that NRC and CAA are India’s internal matter, the rhetoric of BJP stalwarts should be of concern to Bangladesh. The possibility of perpetuation of the false narrative that the undocumented inhabitants in West Bengal are from Bangladesh, may turn into matter of policy should the relation with India get sour in future.
Like Rohinghya issue, Bangladesh will then face another catastrophe. It is unlikely that so long Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in power, India will try to push back illegals into Bangladesh because of her stature and the degree of esteem with which she is held internationally and also in India. We cannot but brace ourselves for any eventuality.
Lutful Haider is a former economics post-graduate from the Dhaka University, analyst, and columnist.