India is bracing for a major diplomatic challenge over Bangladeshin the days ahead with New Delhi deciding to take the lead in securing as much support for the Sheikh Hasina government after the elections on Sunday.
India,it is learnt,plans to step up diplomatic efforts with all major powers and within relevant multilateral forums to prevent any significant international backlash or censure after the elections.
With the main opposition,Khaleda Zias Bangladesh National Party
,staying away from the polls,elections are being held in only 146 of the 300 constituencies where others like the Jatiya Party have candidates.
While Hasina has promised dialogue with other parties after she returns to power,the problem is that many Western countries,particularly the US,have voiced concerns over such elections lacking legitimacy.
In fact,sources said,some US interlocutors have even indicated to Indian officials that Hasina could have accepted opposition demands and resigned for the sake of upholding democracy.
The Bangladeshi prime minister,however,did not want to leave a vacuum that may allow a third force to seize power and wanted to fulfill this constitutional requirement. She has indicated that her party is agreeable to holding elections again if that is the outcome of the dialogue with other parties after the polls.
The fear in New Delhi is that many countries like the US may go to the extent of not recognising the Hasina government,leading to a host of negative repercussions. In 1996,Khaleda Zia was in the same situation as Hasina and at that point,no major power had raised serious concerns. However,the Zia government fell because of a massive popular unrest.
It is learnt that in several meetings between South Block and US interlocutors at one stage the US ambassador to Bangladesh came here for talks the main point of difference has been over the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami,a BNP ally.
US officials,sources said,have been more positive about the Jamaat,even conveying that it had begun to emerge as a legitimate Islamic party. But for India,the Jamaat is a security issue and its radical elements constitute a serious terror threat to Bangladesh and India.
In fact,for the past month or so,Indian interlocutors have been in touch with Bangladesh National Party leader Khaleda Zia urging her to participate in the elections and even assuring full Indian support as long as she moved away from the Jamaat.
However,Zia never agreed,largely because the Jamaat provides significant cadre support to the BNP.
With Hasina deciding to take on any opposition after the hanging of Jamaats Abdul Qader Mollah for war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war,the lines for India were clearly drawn. Since then,it has been an effort to engage other countries and explain the Indian position but in a quiet way so that India does not become an election issue.
But after Sunday,India is likely to take the initiative in the international arena. While dialogue with the US will hold the key,the other forum issues such as these play out is the Commonwealth. India is currently a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group,which puts it in a position to intervene in case there is a move to censure Bangladesh by terming these elections undemocratic.
National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon had discussed this issue some time back with his British counterpart and the Indian side returned with the impression that London may be more accommodating than expected.
But it is Washington from where New Delhi is expecting retaliation as this issue figured prominently during Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singhs first visit there. It is learnt that there was significant divergence of views,one which reflected the concerns being voiced by the US post in Dhaka.
The other problem for India is that this diplomatic effort will have to be undertaken at a time when parties here have appeared divided on sending a positive signal to Bangladesh.
Also,sources said,with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announcing that he will not return for a third term,the impact of any political push is likely to be limited.