Bangladesh media on the Indian elections

BY Sreelata Menon| IN Media Practice | 07/06/2014
Dominant in every media piece is the underlying concern of what a Modi government might do to Bangladesh.
SREELATA MENON looks at what their newspapers are saying. PIX: An article in ~The Daily Star~

1971 may have brought Bangladesh her independence. However, the political maturity and acumen that necessarily go with the nurturing of a newborn nation were soon found wanting. Having given the principles of Democracy the go-by, more often than not in the 40-odd years since, Bangladesh is still struggling to come to terms with her devastatingly violent past. 

The run up to her last elections – even without the Shahbagh showdown- was extremely disturbing and even today, the Opposition leaders continue to spew venom and speak of sacrificing lives while threatening to topple any which way the elected governments. 

And caught in a time warp, Bangladesh’s mainstream media tries hard to change the discourse but past affiliations and present compulsions make it more ineffectual than otherwise. The social media on the other hand, energised by the youth of the country, is vocal, more aggressive and determined to make a stand for what it believes is Bangladesh’s rightful place in the sun. And yes India also figures hugely in that dialogue. For despite the fact that it was India who helped them become a free nation, she is surprisingly still viewed with suspicion and resentment. India, it is believed, has also a tendency to take unfair advantage of Bangladesh giving her nothing in return. So if tweets are an indication and media reports an index, what does seem like regular killings on the border, the non-signing of the Teesta agreement and the often expressed Indian indignation at the ‘illegal’ influx of Bangladeshis have only encouraged this fixation

Thus, a Bangladeshi on an average does not quite like India. You can sense it in the air and you can see it in the media. Yet they appear resentfully fixated on most things Indian. It is no less so with the recently concluded Indian elections. The results of which made the front pages in huge fonts. The media coverage in the run up to and after the elections has also been tremendous. Endless editorials and opinions have surfaced ad nauseam these last few months on ‘the way forward for India’ or ‘what might be the pros and cons of a BJP government as against a Congress one’, especially in the Bangladeshi context

Not restricted to the Indian media alone, is that constant obsession with Modi’s track record vis-a-vis Godhra and its aftermath. Qualifying Modi’s credentials for India’s top post, almost all media pieces have unfailingly highlighted it. And again thanks to Modi’s campaign rhetoric which has had everyone -not just in Bangladesh- but the world over worried, some experts have sought to give a definite communal cum religious slant too, to his/her opinion. Ms Sharbari Ahmed a Bangladeshi US resident who writes regularly for The Daily Star went as far as to say that the Indians by voting for Modi could well be embracing a serpent to their breast! 

But what is most certainly agitating the local intelligentsia is, whether Modi will translate into actual fact, on religious grounds, his various statements on Bangladeshi infiltrators. A fear again and again expressed by many, including well known writer ‘Chintito’ known usually for his tongue-in-cheek pieces. Thus, dominant in every media piece is the underlying concern of what a Modi government might do to Bangladesh. These fears could well have been fuelled and compounded by a spate of articles before and after by various India-based intellectuals like Praful Bidwai and others who write regularly for the Bangladeshi media. They make no bones about their distrust of Modi or the inefficacy of the previous government and have no qualms about displaying their apprehensions to the world at large. 

The other bone of contention that has everyone in Bangladesh believing that India, rightly or wrongly, has played dirty is the Teesta water-sharing agreement-a problem that first surfaced as early as 1952. As per the UN Convention, the Teesta is an international river and thus needs to be shared by the countries it flows through. Originating in India, it is one among fifty-four rivers common to India and Bangladesh and India controls its flow. Its waters are vital to Bangladesh as it irrigates large tracts of her rice producing areas as well. As per an earlier ad hoc agreement (1983), India was granted 39% and Bangladesh 36% of the Teesta waters. It was to be reviewed later and since Bangladesh’s need was dire, a more even distribution of the Teesta waters, it was believed, was required and agreed to in principle. So in the subsequent -yet to be signed-agreement it is presumably to be shared equally and more equitably. Something apparently objected to by Mamata Banerjee, her contention being that the increased volume to Bangladesh would cause West Bengal problems. Hence it hasn’t been ratified till now. 

So, the fact that the promised Teesta water-sharing agreement is still in abeyance has kept the country constantly pre-occupied before, during and after the Indian elections. 

Fifteen days after the results and the swearing-in of Modi, though the editorial by M Serajajul Islam,  in one of the main newspapers The Independent, still harped on a ‘BJP victory and Indian secularism’  by declaring that the veneer of secularism was no longer able to resist the push of Hindu Fundamentalism’,  you have a rather refreshingly different article by Syed Badrul Ahsan of The Daily Star who applauds India’s democratic process. And there was another comparative piece, by Ziauddin Choudhury, holding up India’s functioning democracy as an example. 

So, while most of the pre-elections coverage was negative and indulged typically in Modi bashing, the coverage after the elections has been by and large more positive thanks mainly to Modi’s brilliant diplomatic stunt that has everyone stumped. 

Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister, who is seen to be close to the former Indian government, Begum Khaleda Zia of the Opposition, who is supposedly anti India, and even the Jamaat who allegedly indulges in regular Hindu killings, have been prompt to congratulate him. And Speaker Shirin Chaudhury’s one-on-one meeting with Modi appears now to have put a positive spin on an otherwise fluctuating and wavering relationship. 

And while the media in yet another editorial debated on what Modi’s foreign policy could be- on the Teesta issue appeared this hope that things under a Modi government might augur well for Bangladesh. A new government, new beginnings- already promoting a perceptive softening of stance maybe? 

And finally a ray of hope for the Congress. Muhammad Zamir, former Ambassador and foreign affairs specialist, in an in-depth analysis of what might be, believes it’s too soon to write off the Congress party. 

Prime Minister Modi may perhaps have hoped with his very first inclusive action and subsequent bilateral interaction, to lay the ghost of the rhetoric of his election campaign and allay lingering apprehensions, but the anxiety over the Teesta water-sharing matter is palpable; the worry over the illegal immigrant issue is evident and the nervousness of an India perhaps going ‘Hindu’ appear to be genuine concerns that are all still hanging fire. 

But for the moment though, it’s a policy of wait and watch. And yes - hope. 

Relevant links:

Why are some Bangladeshis anti-Indian 
What if Modi comes to power?
Modi's Bangladesh bashing
What Does Bangladesh Think of Narendra Modi?
Likely agreement on sharing of water of Teesta River
Modi-fying Bangladesh-India relations          

A widely travelled freelance writer who enjoys writing on all kinds of topics, Sreelata Menon is also the author of books ranging from Freelance Writing for the Newbie Writer to Guru Nanak and Indira Gandhi for Penguin-Puffin.

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