India calls for free, fair polls in violence-hit Bangladesh

NEW DELHI (TIP): India called for free and fair elections in Bangladesh, stressing that stability of the neighbouring country had implications for the entire region. “We hope that the forthcoming elections will respond to the aspirations of the people of Bangladesh and that they will be free, fair, impartial and peaceful and find wide acceptability,” said Sujatha Singh, foreign secretary, on her first visit to the neighbouring nation. She also urged an end to the ongoing violence in Bangladesh, which has alarmed security circles in India.

In her meetings with the government and opposition leaders in Dhaka, Singh insisted on the importance of holding elections and the importance of wide participation for the elections to be credible. “I conveyed to the Prime Minister the high importance which India attaches to having good relations with Bangladesh and to peace and stability in Bangladesh. Both these are essential elements for ensuring the larger good of our region,” she said. Highlighting the nation’s progress, she said, India had a strong interest in a stable and independent Bangladesh.

She also stressed on how far Indo-Bangla relations had come, focusing on “cooperation in the areas of political understanding, security, trade and economic relations, economic development, energy and people to people exchanges”. The Awami League government has by carping on the unfinished agenda of Teesta agreement and the land boundary pact successfully overshadowed all the bilateral progress that had been achieved.

Singh made no bones about stressing on them, “energy (500 MW inter-grid connectivity and commencement of work on a 1320 mw power plant in Rampal); sub-regional cooperation in power and water and trade and connectivity; development assistance ($800 million credit line well on its way to implementation and $200 million untied grants-in-aid); trade (unilateral zero duty quota free access to all Bangladeshi products except 25 tariff lines that has led to significant increases in Bangladesh’s exports to India, particularly in garments); border haats; security, border management and border infrastructure.” She met foreign minister A H Mahmud, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Opposition Begum Khaleda Zia and Jatiya Party chief General H M Ershad.

She told them that political parties had responsibility to fight elections. Later, Ershad tweeted that she had said if they stayed away from elections, the field would be open to extremists. “As a fellow democracy, India hopes that the forthcoming elections will strengthen democratic institutions, practices and processes in Bangladesh,” Singh said. The election boycott by the Jatiya Party is a big blow to the Awami League government, which has been trying to get all other parties into the elections leaving BNP isolated along with Jamaat-e-Islami. The nation is in the midst of increasing violence, as BNP takes its opposition to the streets.

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