India


Sheikh Hasina is sitting in her chair at the Prime Minister’s Office. Suddenly, the head of SSF, or BGB, or the Engineering Corp for that matter, suddenly comes into her office and tells her that Tanvir Mohammad Twoki, a brilliant young student, has been murdered and that the suspicion is that the family of Shamim Osman is behind it. Hasina stays silent. Or perhaps, more realistically, she launches several blistering ad hominem attacks against the bearer of the news, Khaleda Zia, “shushil samaj,” and her pet peeves of the day. However, she doesn’t order any specific course of action.

Would that make her culpable for the murder of Tauqi?

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Anandabazar, September 22, 2011:

Mamata Banerjee Has Doubts About Teesta Treaty

Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2011:

Sheikh Hasina Confident About Teesta Treaty

“…Why do I need a visa for Bangladesh? Why does Habibur Rahman Khan, the Bangladeshi co-producer of my films, need a visa for India? It’s absurd. And it’s political. I don’t need a visa for Nepal which has a different language and culture. But Bengalis living across the border need visas. Wah!…”

Eminent Bangalee film maker from India, Mr Goutam Ghosh, expresses his take on Indo-Bangla relationship. Wish his Bnagladeshi counterparts among Bangalee progressive society could think as eloquently and as clearly as Goutam Ghosh does. But unfortunately Bangalee progressives thought process remains confined in a very small box. This box-thinking makes our cultural elites blindly defend every action ( right or wrong) of India and blame a so called ‘anti India mindset of Bangladeshis’ for all bad bloods starting from building Tipaimukh dam to killing of Felanis to India’s noncompliance to signed treaties to creation of unfair trade/ tarriff barriers against Bangladesh to banning of Bangladeshi TV channels in India and so on.

The full interview of of Goutam Ghosh follows belows…

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Suddenly ‘Bangali’ and ‘Bangla’ have become high demand hot objects.

Some people and some leaders of the Bangalis living on west part of the Bangali inhabited land, which is currently known as Indian state of west Bengal, do not want the west qualification before the name Bengal. This article describes the phenomenon objectively while this article clearly protrays the childlish shenanigan related to the name change campaign. Athough one main reason for the name change is West Bengal citizens wishes to see their state name mentioned early in the alphabetical list of Indian states instead of being at the fag end because of the unholy ‘W’ at the top of the state’s name — there was no lack of patrons behind this move. Starting from newly elected CM Mamata Banerjee to ‘Times of India’ newspaper empire; there has been great enthusiasm regarding this campaign.

However, with rising tide of Indian nationalistic fervour and ever increasing clout of Hindi in West Bengal, the Banglis belonging to east side of Bangali inhabited land, now called Bangla Desh, a sovereign state, may legitimately ask what kind of Bangla would flourish in the Indian state of Bangla. Will that be the Bangla narrated in Amar Shonar Bangla or like this one “Ami vi Bangali achhe”.

On the other hand in the east side of Bangla land, Bangladesh, Bangali is again the hot item. A recent constitutional amendment mandates everyone in the nation to be identified as Bangalis. Although it may not be the problem with nations majority ethnic group, the Bangalis, the indigenous people living in diferent corners of the country find the 15th amendment constitution stripping them of their ethnic identity.

In this video clip, Mr Shantu larma, an ethnic Chakma and a leader of Chittagong Hill Tract indigenous people, asks prime Minister how she would feel if someone forces her to be identified as an ethnic Chakma.

However, by this newly enacted amendment, one cannot even criticize this sort of constitutional provision. Thanks to this 15th amendment, PM hasina, with the help of partisan thuggish high court Judges Manik and Gabinda Thakur et el, can hand down capital punishment anyone objecting to any clause in the constitution.

A more interesting phenomenon regarding the Bangali nationalism debate is sudden change of heart of our left leaning progressive intellectuals about ‘Bangladeshi’ nationalism. These folks has always found it a religious ritual to come down hard upon late President Ziaur Rahman for replacing “bangali” nationalism of heavenly 72
constitution wth “Bangladeshi” nationalism. But now these folks are all for inclusion of ethic groups in our constitutional identity, which is only possible with Bangladeshi nationalism.

Updated: Meanwhile, over at The Economist, the party continues.

The poisonous politics of Bangladesh: Reversion to type

Banyan: In the name of the father

Favorite sub-heading: The Sheikh of things to come. Wish I had thought of that myself.

The storm created by the article in the Economist and some of its allegations have, by now, reverberated through Bangladesh’s blogosphere. A question that keeps arising is the motivation behind this article. A close scrutiny of the Economist article makes clear that this article marks a clear break in continuity from previous Economist articles, as well as the general editorial line that the Economist has adopted towards the successive anti-BNP governments that have in power in Bangladesh since 2007. This article has cast doubts on the general fairness of the 2008 election (“bags of Indian cash and advice”) and the entirely positive predictions made about granting transit to India (”Indian security corridor”). It has hinted that Hasina’s shenanigans are not going entirely unnoticed in the outside world (“Sheikh Hasina, who is becoming increasingly autocratic”). It has emphatically burst Hasina’s favorite claim about, in general, being more honest than the previous government (“Corruption flourishes at levels astonishing even by South Asian standards”), as well as her boasts that her dynasty is better than the Zia dynasty (“Mrs Zia’s family dynasty, also corrupt”). And certainly most gratingly for Hasina, the article comes right out and points out that her obsession with her father is starting to border on the abnormal (“Hasina is building a personality cult around her murdered father”).

What could lead to such a dramatic u-turn? Not just some well-placed leads or a momentary whim. This article is the forerunner of large things to come.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is visiting Bangladesh next month. The questions has been asked: why does he need to come to Bangladesh all of a sudden? Part of the answer may be that we are in one of those rare moments when an Indian Prime Minister needs his Bangladeshi counterpart’s help, and not the other way round.

2010 was a magical year for India, and for Singh. India set a record of sorts by hosting the heads of state of all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, BJP continued its in-fighting and slide to irrelevance, and there were no clear challenges on the horizon. 2011 has seen a dramatic reversal of events. The 2G spectrum has seen the former telecom minister sent to jail. He has, in turn, implicated both Singh and Home Minister Chidambaram in the conspiracy. This scandal, its inept handling by the PMO, and the subsequent demands that the PMO be kept out of the ambit of the Lokpal bill, has irreversibly stained Singh’s image as a clean politician. The Supreme Court has finally instructed the police to inquire into vote-buying allegations regarding the no-confidence motion brought after the nuclear deal with the US. All of these present potent challenges to the government.

Singh has also been weakened by a coterie of senior ministers who have been leading the charge to bring Rahul Gandhi to the forefront. While the young Gandhi has been an abject failure in his mission of reviving his party in the Hindu heartland of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar, the full scope of the perils facing his party and his leadership will only be apparent when (not if) Congress loses the next election. However, Congress is now a reflexively dynastic party, and Singh has proved to be ineffective in keeping his council of ministers under control and prevent factionalism by those using Rahul’s name.

In this circumstance, Singh’s upcoming trip to Bangladesh represents the equivalent of the Indian cricket team making a tour of Holland. The Bangladeshi government will be fawning and servile, all demands will be met, photo opportunities will abound, and Singh can bask in the glow of taming a country where one in four individualis an ISI stooge.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that this article in the Economist is an effort by the anti-Singh faction in the UPA government to pre-emptively tarnish any of the gains that may accrue to him from the Bangladesh visit and further solidify his status as lame-duck prime minister. If we hypothetically assume for a second that bags of cash did change hands prior to the 2008 election, the receiver, Sheikh Hasina, would probably not divulge too many details. But the person giving the cash could. Coincidentally, in the absence of Sonia Gandhi for her mystery surgery, the four-person team which is in charge has not included Pranab Mukherjee, the senior-most Congress minister in the cabinet. It has included A. K. Anthony, the second-most senior Congress minister.

India has never handled dynastic transitions particularly well. The upcoming one promises to have enough drama to rival Mughal-e-Azam. But unlike past instances, Bengal will hopefully be spared direct involvement this time around. However, collateral damage, as evinced by the Economist article, may be unavoidable.

After evoking strong reactions, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s office has redacted his comments about Bangladesh from the official PMO website. Indian newspapers initially reported that the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry to explain those comments, although both the Indian and Bangladeshi officials are denying that at present. It would be extremely out-of-character for the current government to make such a strong move over these comments; so we should probably, just this once, take Mijarul Quayes’s word for it.

While the “25% of Bangladeshis support Jamaat” portion grabbed the most interest, Dr. Singh’s comments about Indian aid to Bangladesh was also intriguing. Here is what he said:

And that is why we have been generous in dealing with Bangladesh. We are not a rich country. But we offered it a line of credit of one billion dollars, when Sheikh Hasina came here.

To Dr. Singh, one billion dollars in line of credit to Bangladesh seems extremely generous. Keep in mind, Bangladesh has not received a single of those billion dollars do far. Moreover, let’s compare India’s treatment of Bangladesh to its treatment of Afghanistan:

•$100 million grant
•$70 million grant to build the Zarang-Delaram Highway
•$200,000 to the World Bank’s Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund
•$4 million grant to repair and build the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Kabul
•$4 million grant to build the Habibba School
•$52 million to the World Food Programme, for Afghanistan and Iraq
•$25 million to build the Afghan parliament in Kabul
•A gift of 3 Airbus airplanes to Ariana, the Afghan national carrier.

While these don’t add up to a billion dollars, keep in mind that the aid given to Afghanistan is through grants, which does not have to be repaid. The line of credit extended to Bangladesh, on the other hand, is credit, that must be paid back, with interest. Moreover, virtually almost all the credit has to be used to hire Indian firms and buy Indian goods.

How generous.

The Indian Foreign Minister, S. M. Krishna, is scheduled to visit Bangladesh soon, a point also mentioned by Manmohan in his comments. Yet, Krishna’s name figures high in the name of those who are expected to lose their jobs in the coming cabinet reshuffle. Intriguingly, part of the reason that Krishna may be fired comes from allegations of corruption regarding lines of credit extended by Indian to neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh:

The controversy (the [Ministry of External Affairs] has scarcely ever been dogged by the C-word) revolves around the award of contracts for projects and the line of credit, worth a few billions of rupees, extended to neighbouring countries, particularly Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and in Africa. This is said to have led to the shifting out of joint secretary T.S. Tirumurti, who till recently headed the Bangladesh-Sri Lanka-Myanmar-Maldives division (commonly known as BSM)…

But soon enough, what had earlier just smelt fishy now began to toss up evidence of the actual corruption. A few days after [the construction of a housing project in Sri Lanka through an Indian line of credit] was given the green signal, senior officials from the other two public sector entities called the BSM enquiring whether the [Ministry] expected a cut from the project. When asked for reasons, PSU officials disclosed that a businessman, claiming to be close to [the Foreign Minister's advisor], was demanding a cut. The BSM division promptly replied that its expectations were a “zero cut” from the housing project, and the businessman was asked to buzz off…

MEA officials counter that [a Joint Secretary was removed] because he would have insisted on stringent scrutiny of another line of credit pending in Bangladesh, where India is scheduled to build a railway line. (A line of credit is an MEA programme which has India finance a project in another country, with 85 per cent of it executed by Indian companies.)

Despite what Manmohan Singh may think, Bangladesh can get along perfectly well without his precious line of credit. And, if it turns out, that the money of Bangladeshi taxpayers is going to fuel corruption in India, then it would probably be better to cancel the line of credit altogether.

Now, how about sending some of that grant money our way?

Original article here.

Felani wore her gold bridal jewelry as she crouched out of sight inside the squalid concrete building. The 15-year-old’s father, Nurul Islam, peeked cautiously out the window and scanned the steel and barbed-wire fence that demarcates the border between India and Bangladesh. The fence was the last obstacle to Felani’s wedding, arranged for a week later in her family’s ancestral village just across the border in Bangladesh.

There was no question of crossing legally — visas and passports from New Delhi could take years — and besides, the Bangladeshi village where Islam grew up was less than a mile away from the bus stand on the Indian side. Still, they knew it was dangerous. The Indians who watched the fence had a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later. Islam had paid $65 to a broker who said he could bribe the Indian border guard, but he had no way of knowing whether the money actually made it into the right hands.

Father and daughter waited for the moment when the guards’ backs were turned and they could prop a ladder against the fence and clamber over. The broker held them back for hours, insisting it wasn’t safe yet. But eventually the first rays of dawn began to cut through the thick morning fog. They had no choice but to make a break for it.

Islam went first, clearing the barrier in seconds. Felani wasn’t so lucky. The hem of her salwar kameez caught on the barbed wire. She panicked, and screamed. An Indian soldier came running and fired a single shot at point-blank range, killing her instantly. The father fled, leaving his daughter’s corpse tangled in the barbed wire. It hung there for another five hours before the border guards were able to negotiate a way to take her down; the Indians transferred the body across the border the next day. “When we got her body back the soldiers had even stolen her bridal jewelry,” Islam told us, speaking in a distant voice a week after the January incident.

Other border fortifications around the world may get all the headlines, but over the past decade the 1,790-mile fence barricading the near entirety of the frontier between India and Bangladesh has become one of the world’s bloodiest. Since 2000, Indian troops have shot and killed nearly 1,000 people like Felani there.

In India, the 25-year-old border fence — finally expected to be completed next year at a cost of $1.2 billion — is celebrated as a panacea for a whole range of national neuroses: Islamist terrorism, illegal immigrants stealing Indian jobs, the refugee crisis that could ensue should a climate catastrophe ravage South Asia. But for Bangladeshis, the fence has come to embody the irrational fears of a neighbor that is jealously guarding its newfound wealth even as their own country remains mired in poverty. The barrier is a physical reminder of just how much has come between two once-friendly countries with a common history and culture — and how much blood one side is willing to shed to keep them apart.

India did not always view its eastern neighbor in such hostile terms. When Bengali-speaking nationalists in what was then East Pakistan won Bangladesh’s independence in a bloody 1971 civil war, they did it armed with Indian weapons. But the war destroyed Bangladesh’s already anemic infrastructure and left more than a million dead, presaging the new country’s famously unlucky future. Bangladesh is now home to 160 million people crammed into an area smaller than Iowa; 50 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, and the country bottoms out the list on most major international health indicators.

As bad as things are, they can get plenty worse. Situated on a delta and crisscrossed by 54 swollen rivers, Bangladesh factors prominently in nearly every worst-case climate-change scenario. The 1-meter sea-level rise predicted by some widely used scientific models would submerge almost 20 percent of the country. The slow creep of seawater into Bangladesh’s rivers caused by global-warming-induced flooding, upriver dams in India, and reduced glacial melt from the Himalayas is already turning much of the country’s fertile land into saline desert, upending its precarious agricultural economy. Studies commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department and almost a dozen other security agencies warn that if Bangladesh is hit by the kind of Hurricane Katrina-grade storm that climate change is likely to make more frequent, it would be a “threat multiplier,” sending ripples of instability across the globe: new opportunities for terrorist networks, conflicts over basic human essentials like access to food and water, and of course millions of refugees. And it’s no secret where the uprooted Bangladeshis would go first. Bangladesh shares a border with only two countries: the democratic republic of India and the military dictatorship of Burma. Which would you choose?

India has a long history of accepting refugees, from the Tibetan government in exile to Sri Lankans fleeing a drawn-out civil war. Faced with the threat of mass migration from the east, however, New Delhi has drawn a line in the sand. Rather than prepare expensive and possibly permanent resettlement zones, India began erecting a fence, complete with well-armed guards, in 1986. After the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections in 1998, the program was ramped up to placate anti-Muslim sentiment among the party faithful. The fence grew longer and the killings more frequent. After years of complaints from Bangladeshi politicians, India made promises on several occasions to switch to nonlethal weaponry, but has rarely followed through on them.

By next year, every available crossing point between India and Bangladesh will have been blocked off by the fence. But while tightened security has made the border more dangerous, it hasn’t actually made it much more secure. More than 100 border villages operate as illicit transit points through which thousands of migrants pass daily. Each of these villages has a “lineman” — what would be called a coyote on the U.S.-Mexican border — who facilitates the smuggling, paying border guards from both notoriously corrupt countries to look the other way when people pass through.

“Entire villages can cross the border with the right payoffs,” says Kirity Roy, head of the Indian human rights organization Masum, which together with Human Rights Watch released a bleak report on the border situation in December. No one is likely to manage the crossing without a lineman’s help, Roy explains. “If someone tries to sneak past the linemen without paying, they will find them out and tell the border guards to shoot them.” An inefficient bribe system, he says, explains how border guards could kill 1,000 unarmed people in the last decade.

The ugly immigration politics on the western side of the fence, where popular sentiment runs decisively in favor of walling off Bangladesh, have made a bad situation worse. The New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses estimates that there are already 10 to 20 million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India. (By comparison, there are an estimated 11.2 million illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States.)

The rise of global Islamist militancy in recent years has worsened the xenophobic streak in India’s already dicey relations with its Muslim neighbors, and Indian politicians have been quick to capitalize on it. By 2009, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram was declaring that Bangladeshis have “no business to come to India.” The opposition BJP isn’t rolling out the welcome mat either: Tathagata Roy, the party’s leader in the Bangladesh-bordering state of West Bengal, has called for lining the border with antipersonnel mines. If the predictions come true for immigration from Bangladesh, Roy says, India’s population of 900 million Hindus will have no choice but “to convert or jump into the sea.”

The border itself has hardened into a grim killing field. Although border shootings are officially recorded by Indian officials as “shot in self-defense,” the Masum and Human Rights Watch report found that none of the victims was armed with anything more dangerous than a sickle, and it accused the Indian Border Security Force of “indiscriminate killing and torture.”

Most of the dead are farmers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In January, Bangladeshi soldiers told us, six Indian soldiers lured a Bangladeshi farmer named Shahjahan Ali into a swath of no man’s land along the border. They stripped him naked, beat him, broke his legs, and mutilated his genitals before throwing him back into Bangladesh, where he bled to death from his injuries. “It’s like they are drunk,” says the Bangladeshi soldier who found Ali. “Like they are on drugs.” Powerless to fire back without creating an international incident with their vastly stronger neighbor, the Bangladeshi border guards can do little more than pick up the bodies.

Felani’s death, however, galvanized Bangladesh. Graphic photos of her dead body made the front pages of newspapers across the country, and political parties posted her picture with the caption “Stop Border Killing!” on seemingly every available wall in the capital city of Dhaka. Shamsher Chowdhury, a former Bangladeshi foreign secretary and current vice chairman of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, says, “The fence is our Berlin Wall.” The shooting seemed to have given India pause as well. In March, New Delhi once again agreed to strip its border guards of live ammunition, and for once actually did it. For the first month in almost a decade, Indian troops didn’t kill anyone on the border.

But by April the Indian soldiers had reloaded, shooting a Bangladeshi cattle trader and three others in separate incidents. It was a bleak reminder that while the fence itself may be a flimsy thing, the tensions that make it into a killing zone are remarkably durable.

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