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#4840, 23 February 2015

IPCS Discussion

Bangladesh and Nepal: Review of IPCS Forecasts

On 9 February 2015, the IPCS, in collaboration with the India International Centre, reviewed and released two papers published as part of the Institute’s Forecast 2015 Series. The papers were: Bangladesh in 2015 (by Prof Delwar Hossain) and Nepal in 2015 (by Pramod Jaiswal) These papers were put before an expert panel (comprising Maj Gen (Retd) Ashok Mehta and Amb Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, and Chaired by Amb Deb Mukharji), who presented their views as follows:

Amb Deb Mukharji 
Former Indian Ambassador to Bangladesh and Nepal

What has been happening in Bangladesh over the past few weeks is unprecedented. In Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in collaboration with the Jamaat-e-Islami party has virtually declared war on the people with several people and children have been burnt to death. The BNP appears to be trying to pay back the ruling Awami League for the sequence of events that took place in the country in 1996. However, today, the Awami League is, in terms of domestic power equations, stronger. A key question here is: is it really an Awami League-BNP power struggle, or is it the lack of personal equation between the two leaders? Or is there something simmering underneath as to what the Jamaat-e-Islami and the BNP represent? What kind of future do they envisage for Bangladesh, and what does the Awami League represent? 

In Nepal, federalism is one of the core issues that have caused the political impasse. The demand for federalism started long before the Maoist revolution, but was ignored and the people were suppressed and this idea had not gained prominence in the political debate. However, it is unfortunate that it has now been manipulated for political party interests, thereby rendering the entire political process directionless. Vis-à-vis China’s interests in the country, Beijing’s interests are very limited, but they are very forceful in imposing their interests. Their interests are primarily regarding Tibet’s security, and they aren’t concerned about Nepal’s stability. On the contrary, India’s interests in a stable Nepal are much higher; and New Delhi has a broader interest in a peaceful, stable and well-developed Nepal.

Amb Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty
Former Indian Ambassador to Bangladesh

The return of democracy in Bangladesh was good for India. But the dynamics of why the BNP and the Awami League behave the way they do is difficult to explain. One factor is the personal rivalry; the other is the Awami League’s secular approach and the BNP’s Islamic nationalist approach.  

On the domestic front, violence on the streets appear to have been organised. There was a boycott in the recent elections as the constitution was amended and the caretaker system was eliminated. This triggered domestic violence. The second reason was the war crimes tribunal, called the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). But most people believed that the ICT was designed to split the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami collaboration so that the Awami League can be unchallenged. The Awami League is by far the largest party, and the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami collectively are nearly as big, and had the potential to challenge the former. An important factor is that 30 per cent of Bangladesh’s population did not want separate country. The Jamaat-e-Islami and the BNP comprise people with this thought frame. Pakistan supports the BNP as it views Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League as against its interests. 

Over the years, the Bangladeshi army has become a more professional force and is no longer a Pakistan-trained army. It is likely that the army might not intervene unless there is total breakdown and chaos. This is what the BNP's goal seems to be – to get the army to intervene and maybe bring a caretaker system. The BNP feels that the only political tool they can use is violence. But the Bangladeshi people will not accept and/or tolerate this kind of violence for very long. They might even support the government if such violence is put down with a heavy hand. Sheikh Hasina is unlikely to back off, especially because the Awami League has quite a bit of support on the ICT front.

Externally, Bangladesh is in a happy position. It is being wooed by China, Japan and India. It has an opportunity to upgrade its infrastructure. There is positive movement on the economic front but the rising violence-levels will have an impact on it. If Hasina can clamp down on the violence, then the country is on a good trajectory.

Maj Gen (Retd) Ashok Mehta
Retired Major General, Indian Army, and Member, India-Nepal Track II Dialogue 

While South Asia was immersed in violence, Nepal was the only country where war ended and the euphoria of "New Nepal" pervaded. However, the peace process has gotten blocked. This blockade can be analysed in 2 parts: 

a. Nepal’s Evolutionary Process and India’s Role 
b. The Delay in Constitution-making

First, India has played a key role in Nepal’s political evolution since the inception of the modern Nepal in 1950 to the latest 12 point peace accord in 2006; the elections in 2008; and preventing the Maoists’ attempts to sack Nepal Army Chief Rookmangud Katawal and subvert the state. India plays a salutary role and is deeply involved in Nepalese politics given the strategic interests. Furthermore, India has had a twofold goal in Nepal: 1) Mainstreaming the Maoists and 2) Democratising Nepal. After the failure of the second experiment with drafting the constitution, India emphasised that the constitution should be made on the mandate of election and past agreements. 

Secondly, the major cause for the failure of constitution-making is the absence of leadership. Political parties in Nepal are deeply fragmented and the focus is more on government formation as opposed to constitution-making. The elections have also resulted in a skewed mandate. In the first election, the mandate was in support of revolutionary forces such as the Madhesis and the Maoists but in the second election, the mandate reversed to the traditional parties – the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the Nepali Congress (NC). 

Now, the opposition is in a protest mode and there is also a fair amount of fragmentation in the opposition (between the Madhesis and the Maoists). The economy is the biggest victim of this instability. It is a remittance-based economy and has the potential to grow anywhere. Vis-à-vis constitution-making, the point of convergence is absent and ethnic federalism has been a major thwarting factor. However, the meaning and relevance of federalism is yet to be understood by the Nepalese political elite. The only solution to the current impasse is that India brokers a compromise and help achieve a consensus among Nepal’s political parties.

Rapporteured by Kalpana Jha, Research Intern, IPCS

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