March 30, 2020
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Hasina Maan Jayegi!

One man's adventurism is being milked for political mileage

Hasina Maan Jayegi!
The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) may have pulled out of Padua village (Pyrdiwah to Indians) and though Bangladesh's foreign secretary Shed Moazzem Ali declared that "we would now try to get it (Padua) back through negotiations", questions are now being asked as to what prompted the bdr personnel to occupy the village which had been under 'Indian occupation' for the last 30 years.

The incident has reportedly shaken the Sheikh Hasina government which, according to a key functionary, is "upset, dismayed and surprised". The bdr, he says, certainly didn't have the political sanction to act the way it did. Hasina's crisis managers immediately went into a huddle to see if there was a broader plot to destabilise the government.

"We're still assessing the whole situation and it's too early to pass any judgement," says the official. Political and military analysts are as puzzled. "I'm not sure why it happened," says Prof Serajul Islam Chowdhury, a leading political analyst, who feels the ground situation on the border could have sparked the conflict.

Similarly, Maj Gen (Retd) Moinul Hossain Chowdhury, though puzzled, criticises the bdr leadership for its non-professional attitude and foolhardy utterances. "He must not make those kind of statements. That's not his job," he says of Maj Gen A.L.M. Fazlur Rahman, the bdr director-general, who wanted the Indians to tender an unconditional apology for initiating the attack. Indeed, Rahman is now under scrutiny and there are many who would want to know what prompted him to issue intemperate statements. But Rahman's indiscretion could be because of his poor professional skills. Says a former colleague, "He's a mediocre chap and didn't deserve to be a general in the first place."

So, could the general have acted alone and indulged in such brinkmanship? Those who know him think he is incapable of orchestrating a grand plan and, more important, unlikely to have been part of any plot to destabilise the Hasina government.

But analysts feel the Padua incident could hurt Hasina's political fortunes, unwittingly giving a handle to her political rivals who thrive on anti-India rhetoric and her alleged India tilt. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Khaleda Zia described the incident as an aggression by India; the Jamat-e-Islami's Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami saluted the bdr for their "heroic" action in recapturing Padua. The Opposition's attempt, as always, is aimed at portraying Hasina as a lackey of New Delhi.

It couldn't have been more inopportune for Hasina, facing as she does the combined Opposition might in a general election that is due in October. Her response testified to her nervousness. For instance, the complete blackout of the news from the state-run television could have been guided by her fear of a backlash, though there are some who feel it could have also been at India's behest.

This strategy could have helped the prime minister limit the damage. Although most newspapers led with the Padua story, its absence from the TV news has tended to convey the impression that the border skirmishes were little more than routine clashes between the border guards of the two countries.

The incident underlines the necessity of India and Bangladesh becoming more serious about resolving the existing border disputes. Currently, out of the 4,095-km border, the dispute is over just 6.5 km which the two countries have failed to settle through negotiations in the last 20 years. Much of the blame is apportioned to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the British engineer who was assigned the task of demarcating the border between two new independent countries—India and Pakistan—in just six weeks in 1947. His haste has left behind a legacy for which the subcontinent continues to pay a heavy price. The crux of the problem, as the Padua incident testifies, is that different nationalities have been arbitrarily assigned to people that they don't consider their own.
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