Why India welcomes Bangladesh election result
WEB DESK: A fourth consecutive term in office for Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will provide India a sense of continuity and stability for regional security, despite criticism of democratic backsliding, analysts say.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a landslide victory in Bangladesh’s general election last Sunday, a result that was widely expected as the polls were boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies.
The Awami League secured 223 of the country’s 300 parliamentary seats.
Hasina will be prime minister for the fifth time in total, and the fourth time in a row, making her the world’s longest-serving female head of government.
India has welcomed the results, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating Hasina on her victory.
“We are committed to further strengthen our enduring and people-centric partnership with Bangladesh,” Modi wrote on X, formerly Twitter, earlier this week.
Bangladesh and India have mutual interests
Hasina’s victory in Bangladesh is important for India’s security interests, according to analysts.
The countries share a 4,100-kilometer-long (2,500-mile) porous border, which is an easy pathway for infiltration, human trafficking and terrorist elements. Bangladesh shares the border with the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
“Given the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, it becomes more important that India and Bangladesh remain close security partners,” C. Raja Mohan, a foreign policy expert and visiting research professor at Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies, told DW.
Myanmar’s civil war, with a rebel offensive posing a threat to the miliary junta’s grip on power, has led to growing concerns about a spillover of tensions into border areas in India’s northeast.
“Given the fact that India’s ‘neighborhood first’ policy is in a quandary, the Awami League’s return to power provides some level of stability on the eastern front. This is important given the continuing turmoil in Myanmar, which has its intense ramification in the northeastern states like Manipur,” said Shanthie Mariet D’Souza, the founder of independent research forum Mantraya.
Looking at the greater region, Mohan said India would like Bangladesh to become a fulcrum for regional cooperation in the Bay of Bengal littoral linking South and Southeast Asia.
“At the end of the day, New Delhi’s main consideration is that Bangladesh, or for that matter, any neighbor, does not do anything that hurts India’s security. That is the red line that Dhaka under Hasina has respected,” added Mohan.
India ‘unconcerned’ with democratic backslide in Bangladesh
D’Souza believes there were no surprises in the election results, given that the BNP had already boycotted the vote.
“New Delhi remains unconcerned about the backsliding of democracy in Bangladesh, given the fact that Hasina’s overwhelming victory assures the continuation of strong ties,” she said.
India “had rooted for such an outcome and had expressed opposition to attempts by the US to press Dhaka on human rights issues as well as Sheikh Hasina’s authoritarianism,” D’Souza added.
Critics have said Hasina has tried to turn Bangladesh into a one-party state and that her crackdown on political opponents and civil society groups has been severe.
“However, domestic political stability will remain elusive in Bangladesh, despite the election results in favor of the Awami League,” D’Souza told DW.
“This may translate to a significant level of political violence and chaos and their cumulative impact on Bangladesh’s slowing economy. All these can have potential repercussions on India’s security,” she added.
Foreign policy expert Mohan said that despite concerns over democratic backsliding, alternatives to Hasina are seen as a “bigger threat” to “peace and prosperity in the region.”
Anil Wadhwa, a former Indian ambassador, said India hopes for continuity in its strong ties with Bangladesh under Hasina’s leadership.
“India will look forward to an overall improvement in the relationship with Bangladesh and expects that economic and defense ties will increase by leaps and bounds,” said Wadhwa.
Balancing India and China
In recent years, both India and China have expanded their economic stakes in Bangladesh, which is being folded into the two countries’ growing geopolitical rivalry.
The big question is how Dhaka will continue to manage the competing expectations of both countries.
Under the Hasina government, Bangladesh has tried to balance these outside influences, accepting aid and partnership offers while trying to avoid dependence.
Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh exceeded $15 billion (€13.71 billion) in 2021-22. India recognizes Bangladesh as a vital eastern buffer, and provides critical support in ports and power grid access, essential for national growth.
On the other hand, Bangladesh’s two-way trade with China exceeded $25 billion (€22.85 billion) in 2022.
China is also financing large infrastructure projects, with Belt and Road Initiative financed infrastructure projects surpassing $10 billion.
Hasina’s election means “continuity and stability and there will be a momentum in bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh that have huge potential going forward,” said Veena Sikri, a former Indian high commissioner in Bangladesh.