India has no option without supporting Hasina regime in the regime for various reasons. In the case of security of Northwest India and ensuring Indian strategic and business interest in Bangladesh, India needs Bangladesh’s Hasina regime.
On the other hand, the United States is taking one step after another regarding Bangladesh. The latest step is the new visa policy ahead of the elections. Foreign Minister Blinken announced this visa policy on behalf of the United States on May 24. But the US did not hold any talks with India before announcing this visa policy.
India is the major country of the subcontinent and India's role in influencing the dynamics of politics in the subcontinent is important. The US in particular is very dependent on India to break China's monopoly. But the US has been taking one step after another in relation to Bangladesh excluding India and these steps have now become a cause of discomfort for India. There has been a kind of reaction in India on how the new visa policy has been formulated keeping India in the dark.
In the days gone by, the US was always dependent on India to see Bangladesh issue through the lens of India. Especially after 2008, India completely depended on the United States regarding Bangladesh. In 2007, India and the United States adopted a common position and common policy regarding Bangladesh case. The US also agreed with India's position on restoring democracy and supported India's approach in the 2014 elections. The same situation happened in 2018. India helped Bangladesh to be a stable democratic Bangladesh time to time. But since then, the situation started to change. Especially after Joe Biden became the president, the United States is taking a more aggressive role in relation to Bangladesh and some decisions are being taken by bypassing India in adopting these aggressive roles.
India is the United States' key ally in maintaining the subcontinent's stability for strategic reasons. But diplomatic circles believe that India will respond negatively if it is excluded from a continent-wide nation's decision-making process. In this case, China's gain would be huge. The USA should realize this.
India is the biggest partner of USA for maintaining the stability of this subcontinent due to strategic reasons. But when India is left out of the decision-making process of a country in the continent, diplomatic circles feel that it will create an adverse reaction for India. On the other hands, this type of actions can help raise anti-India elements in Bangladesh would would pose a serious threat to the Indian interest in the region. Given its volatile and violent past, a slight misstep may make it politically vulnerable, which will be bad news for the subcontinent and especially for India.
India is not working in harmony with the United States' position regarding some important issuess in Bangladesh in recent times. India has some strategic position regarding Bangladesh. Diplomats believe that India will not accept any situation in which India's interests will be undermined as a result of continued pressure on Bangladesh elections. Because since 2008 Bangladesh has played an admirable role in suppressing separatists and radical fundamentalists. India gets its strategic advantage. India, therefore, feels that the political unrest in Bangladesh should not be taken to a point where the stability of democracy in Bangladesh is threatened and Indian separatist militant extremists gain ground. Former director-general of Indian NSG (National Security Guard), Jayanto Narayan Choudhury , said recently that the security challenges India faced in its northeastern region have been controlled and managed, in part thanks to the enormous assistance Bangladesh has provided. It is true that Bangladesh played a major role in ensuring peace in Northeast India.
Bangladesh is responsible for laying the foundation for a tranquil Northeast India. Northeast Indian provinces are gaining as regional states. Bangladesh has been crucial in the region’s efforts to reduce terrorism. Northeast India, especially Assam, has been liberated from separatism and extremism thanks to Bangladesh’s transfer of ULFA fighters to India.
The northeast region comprising India’s eight northeastern States (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim) is undergoing dramatic change. It has overcome several (but not all) security challenges and is now heading toward economic development. Political changes have been helpful. So is the extensive web of linkages with neighbouring Bangladesh. Besides, Japan has emerged as a significant development partner for both India and Bangladesh.
The third India-Japan Intellectual Dialogue (April 11–12, 2023), hosted by the Asian Confluence (ASCON), in Agartala, Tripura, was an ideal opportunity to assess the evolving thinking of experts and policymakers. It showed that the current decade may produce path-breaking changes in the northeast, bringing the troika of Bangladesh, India and Japan closer. Bangladesh declared its 'Indo-Pacific outlook recently. The USA, Japan, India are allied with each other to counter China. Now, the question is here that if India, Japan, Bangladesh are edging closer to build a regional triad on common value, why not USA would collaborate with Bangladesh in this regard? Japan, India, Bangladesh and USA must have mutual strategic interest in the region. Six months ago, the United States decided on a new visa policy for Bangladesh due to the fear that the next election will not be fair. But that is not the issue. When the United States takes such a position in relation to various countries, such a decision comes in the context of many 'misunderstandings'. Now, India has to paly role to dispel misunderstanding.
But some people also think that the strategy adopted by the United States in the name of democracy in Bangladesh has created a danger of destabilizing the country. In such a situation, it is assumed that what kind of attitude India takes towards the action of the United States will be understood very soon.
Rising US and Western pressure may drive Bangladesh government closer to China because its veto in the United Nations can block adverse resolutions seeking to haul up Bangladesh. its strategic alliance with the US to take on China makes it difficult for Delhi to take on Washington head-on over Bangladesh. If Bangladesh goes the Pakistan and Sri Lanka way, what’d be left for India in its neighbourhood? Beijing’s strategic encirclement of its biggest Asian rival would be almost complete. India's any mismanagement regarding Bangladesh case would benefit China. it will only add to India’s geopolitical woes in its east where endemic violence and Chinese ingress continues to stymie New Delhi’s geoeconomic aspirations.
On the brighter side, the country has witnessed unprecedented infrastructure-building activity, including the Padma bridge. The size of the economy grew by over 4.5 times. Per-capita income grew at a faster pace. From untold enemies, India and Bangladesh became development partners, with areas of cooperation ranging from economy to security. Connectivity increased manifold. Nearly 26 lakhs Bangladeshis visited India in 2019. Trade volume increased by nearly 4.5 times to $15.7 billion in 2021. This is not a welcome situation either for the region or for India. The only solace that Delhi may take that it must always stand with Hasina government at any cost for ensuring its own interest. Hasina stopped the use of Bangladeshi territories for cross-border terrorism, bringing a sigh of relief to the subcontinent which is already suffering from the breeding grounds of terrorists in Pakistan. It is natural, therefore, that in these difficult times, India should look forward to maintaining close relations with Bangladesh. The US should remember that.
But the economic crisis in Bangladesh has been brewing amid increasing prices of essential items, fuel, and frequent power cuts, a cascading spate of woes chiefly triggered by the ongoing Ukraine War that has forced the government to suspend gas and diesel imports amid high energy prices. Although Bangladesh’s macro-economic position took a hit in the heel during the waves of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the discontentment of the masses was majorly catalysed by the Ukraine factor that crippled the economy. However, the ruckus in Bangladesh will not be very good for India, especially when China’s incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are not stopping. Given the relationship between India and Bangladesh, India definitely can, and should play a role in facilitating and strengthening ties between Bangladesh and USA. As a friend of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, improvements can be made if India “pushes them a little bit” and “put[s] a little effort into it. Support from India in resolving the Rohingya situation can strengthen the bilateral ties more. It is said that Bangladesh is all-weather friend of India, Thus, India can prove that India is really all-weather friend of Bangladesh by standing with Bangladesh with its crisis moment. India has been a dependable development partner ever since Bangladesh gained its independence in 1971. it was India and the people of India who gave the people of Bangladesh shelter and accommodation and also helped them in gaining independence, with a population of 170 million, Bangladesh is one of the fastest-growing countries in the area and an important market for India.
Sharat Singh is a New Delhi based strategic and security affairs analyst.