Following a reported visit of three leaders of Bangladesh Nationalist Party to India recently, there are discussions in different forums on whether the opposition party is changing its policy towards India.
However, India does not see any “credible proof” for any clear shift in the BNP's policy towards New Delhi, sources in the Indian establishment said.
India's external affairs ministry is not even sure whether three leaders had backing from the party high-ups, the sources told this correspondent.
The ministry has learned that some of the top BNP leaders were surprised at the news of the visit.
And without credible evidence, there is no reason for India to change its attitude towards the BNP, a source in the external affairs ministry said.
India is closely watching whether the BNP takes part in the next general elections, especially if the party dumps its alliance partner Jamaat-e-Islami. None from the ministry spoke formally about this but sources there said Delhi will also look at the role of the BNP in dealing with religious fundamentalists.
One such source told Prothom Alo that based on some published news reports, the officials found a few points to be noted: First, the visit was arranged mainly on the BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman’s initiative; second, it was reported that Tarique said their previous “hostile” police attitude towards India was “wrong and misguided’; third, the BNP has so far failed to prove that it means it when its leaders say they want to change their India policy; fourth, the senior BNP leaders did not give any clear idea whether it is leaving Jamaat.
For the external affairs ministry, it is difficult to get credible proof about the BNP's narrative.
Three senior BNP leaders - standing committee member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, vice chairman Abdul Awal Mintoo and its international affairs secretary Humayan Kabir -- recently visited Delhi.
They spoke to the officials of India-based organisations that are considered as think-tanks. Among the organisations are Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Observer Research Foundation, Vivekananda International Foundation and Institute for Defence Studies. They also gave an interview to an Indian national daily newspaper.
According to different news reports, the BNP leaders wanted to persuade the Indian think-tanks and policymakers that the attitude the party had during its tenure was “wrong and foolish” and the party wants to amend the policy and build relations in a new way, which will be based on mutual trust and respect.
The senior leaders wanted to convince them that they went to India on Tarique Rahman’s instruction and Tarique wants to begin relations with fresh outlook leaving behind the mindset of the 1980s and the 1990s. The senior BNP leaders gave them message that India shoud support Bangladesh’s democracy in its own interest, and should not back a single political party.
Analysts who have knowledge of Bangladesh think the BNP has to go a long way to win India’s heart as India does not have good experience when the BNP was in power.
Former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh Veena Sikri told Prothom Alo on Thursday that the relations India now has with the Awami League have not been established overnight. It has a history, she said adding that during the AL's tenure, India and Bangladesh advanced on all fronts. She observed that such trust or reliability was not there during the BNP’s tenure.
Veena Sikri, however, claimed that the people of Bangladesh would decide about their elections and that India has never had any role in any country’s election and will not have any in the future.
Another former high commission Dev Mukherjee said that it is good news that the BNP wants to amend their mistakes of the 1980s and the 1990s. But, he said, Tarique Rahman himself made similar assurance before 2001 and later fooled India.
He also claimed that India always upholds the spirit of democracy and that the people of Bangladesh would vote in the elections. He expressed his expectations that that the election in Bagladesh would be free, fair and credible and every one would participate.
* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla version, has been rewritten in English by Mushfique Wadud.