Sheikh Hasina with Narendra Modi during a visit to India in 2017. Since 2014, bilateral relations between Modi’s India and Hasina’s Bangladesh have deepened, transcending ideological barriers between the BJP, which is rooted in Hindutva principles, and the ostensibly secular Awami League. Photo: IMAGO/Zuma Wire
Sheikh Hasina with Narendra Modi during a visit to India in 2017. Since 2014, bilateral relations between Modi’s India and Hasina’s Bangladesh have deepened, transcending ideological barriers between the BJP, which is rooted in Hindutva principles, and the ostensibly secular Awami League. Photo: IMAGO/Zuma Wire

Bangladesh is vexed by and wary of Modi’s unstinting support to Sheikh Hasina

This story is part of ‘Modi’s India from the Edges’, a special Himal series presenting Southasian regional perspectives on Narendra Modi’s decade in power and possible return as prime minister in the 2024 Indian election. To read the series and support Himal’s work on it, click here.

In the run-up to Bangladesh’s general election in January 2014, New Delhi took the unusual step of sending a top diplomat from its external affairs ministry to Dhaka to persuade General Hussain Muhammaed Ershad, the country’s former military ruler, to participate in the polls. Big questions had been raised over the fairness of the election. The incumbent government was led by Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, and the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had been placed under virtual house arrest, with police and roadblocks around her house in Dhaka. The BNP and other opposition parties were threatening to boycott the election. Ershad, the head of the Jatiya Party, was perceived as a potential kingmaker, able to bring to power whichever of Bangladesh’s two main parties he supported, but he was also threatening to withdraw from the election. 

He later told reporters that the Indian diplomat’s purported reason in asking for his participation was to prevent the rise of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a hardline Islamist party and an ally of the BNP. However, India’s move was seen as trying to legitimise a one-sided election. This marked a pivotal moment in the relationship between the two countries, as the action was widely interpreted as direct Indian interference in Bangladesh’s domestic politics with the aim of bolstering a favoured strategic political ally in the Awami League. He told it years later

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