Al Qaeda connected Bangladesh Nationalist Party joins international conspiracy against India

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Indian, India, Bangladesh

In the aftermath of Sheikh Hasina’s re-election as Prime Minister for a fourth consecutive term, the political landscape of the nation has seen the sudden appearance of the “India Out” campaign, spearheaded by Al Qaeda connected ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), while the party has been also spreading this campaign in a number of Western nations through its leaders, activists and lobbyists, where BNP men are calling for an international boycott of India and Indian products. In Bangladesh, this movement, reminiscent of similar endeavors in the Maldives, seeks to leverage anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiments to challenge the legitimacy of the ruling Awami League (AL) government. However, the implications of this campaign extend beyond mere political maneuvering, delving into the realms of economics and geopolitics.

The genesis of the “India Out” campaign can be traced to the BNP’s historical adversarial stance towards India. Its founder, military dictator General Ziaur Rahman was in favor of “continuously confronting with India”, while he also was pushing-forward agenda of Islamizing Bangladesh thus turning it into a pseudo-Pakistan.

Key principles of BNP are spreading hatred against India and Hindus

After gaining independence in 1971, Bangladesh adopted secularism as a core principle, ensuring equal rights for people of all faiths. However, following the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, subsequent regimes, notably that of Khondaker Mushtaq Ahmad and military dictator General Ziaur Rahman, began to steer the country towards an Islamic republic. General Ziaur Rahman, trained in Pakistan, harbored deep hostility towards India and founded the BNP with the aim of advancing anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiment in Bangladesh, aligning the nation with a pseudo-Pakistani identity.

General Ziaur Rahman realigned Bangladesh’s foreign policy away from India and the Soviet bloc, strengthening ties with the United States, Western Europe, and Islamic nations. He pursued an agenda of Islamization, amending the constitution to emphasize Islamic solidarity among Muslim countries and introducing Islamic religious education as a compulsory subject for Muslim schoolchildren. The ban on Islamist and anti-Bangladesh parties and associations, including Jamaat-e-Islami, was lifted during his rule.

General Zia was trained at the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad. He served as a commander of the Pakistan Army in the Second Kashmir War against the Indian Army, for which he was decorated with Hilal-e-Jurat (Crescent of Courage) award by the Pakistani government. Hilal-e-Jurat, the second-highest military award of Pakistan out of a total four awards, was created on March 16, 1957. It is considered to be equivalent to the Conspicuous Gallantry and the Distinguished Service Cross. This award holds significant benefits for the recipient including social, political and financial benefits. Land and pensions are awarded as recompense for serving in the Army of Pakistan on behalf of the State for acts of “valor and courage” during battle “against the enemy”.

Throughout his life, General Ziaur Rahman was a diehard opponent of India. With such notorious hatred towards India and also towards Hindus, General Zia founded Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with the goal of nurturing anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiment in Bangladesh and gradually advance towards serving as a pseudo part of Pakistan.

Military dictator General Ziaur Rahman began reorienting Bangladesh’s foreign policy, addressing the concerns of the mostly staunch rightists coupled with some renegade leftist who believed that Bangladesh was reliant on Indian economic and military aid. He moved away from India and the Soviet bloc, developing closer relations with the United States and Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East. General Zia also moved to harmonize ties with Saudi Arabia and China, Pakistan’s ally who had opposed Bangladesh’s creation and had not recognized it until the assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975. He moved to normalize relations with Pakistan. While distancing Bangladesh from India, General Zia sought to improve ties with Islamic nations, while he had established deeper relations with Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Due to Zia’s move towards Islamic state policies brought his support and patronization from the Arab and Muslim world.

Ziaur Rahman believed that a massive section of the population was “suffering from an identity crisis, both religious and as a people, with a very limited sense of sovereignty”. To “remedy this”, he began a re-Islamization of Bangladesh. He issued a proclamation order amending the constitution, under whose basis laws would be set in an effort to increase the self-knowledge of religion and nation. In the preamble, he inserted the Islamic salutation “Bismillahir-Rahmaanir-Rahim” (“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful”). In Article 8(1) and 8(1A) the statement “absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah” was added, replacing the commitment to secularism.

In Article 25(2) of Bangladesh’s constitution, military dictator Zia introduced the principle that “the state shall endeavor to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity”.

Later, Zia introduced Islamic religious education as a compulsory subject for Muslim schoolchildren. At the birth of Bangladesh, many Islamists had supported the Pakistani Army’s fight against independence and been barred from politics with the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order of 1972. Ziaur Rahman undid this as well as the ban on Islamist and anti-Bangladesh parties and associations, including Jamaat-e-Islami.

In public speeches and policies that he formulated, General Zia began expounding ultra-Islamist and anti-India “Bangladesh Nationalism” and emphasized the national role of Islam as guide to principle of life. He even amended the constitution to change the nationality of the citizens from Bengali, an ethnic identity, to Bangladeshi while Bangladeshi nationalism excluded the country’s non-Muslim minorities, particularly the Hindu community.

After the formation of Bangladesh Nationalist Party in 1978, Ziaur Rahman took initiative for formation of political institutes and sponsored workshops for the youth to get active political lessons on Bangladesh nationalism by considering India as the “key enemy” of Bangladesh while he had openly propagated stating “survival of Bangladesh depends on continuous and committed confrontation with India”.

BNP and “India Out” campaign

Drawing inspiration from the Maldives’ playbook, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) aims to capitalize on nationalist sentiments and anti-incumbency fervor to undermine Sheikh Hasina’s authority. By weaving together narratives of alleged electoral fraud, religious grievances, and perceived Indian interference, the BNP seeks to erode public trust in the government.

The BNP’s rocky relationship with India dates back to decades of contentious interactions, marked by diplomatic spats and periods of strained bilateral ties. Throughout its political history, the BNP has often resorted to anti-India and anti-Hindu rhetoric as a means to garner support and distinguish itself from the ruling party. However, the current iteration of the “India Out” campaign represents a concerted effort to emulate the success of similar movements in the region, particularly in the Maldives, where the Progressive Alliance capitalized on anti-India sentiments to secure victory.

Central to the BNP’s strategy is the exploitation of religious and nationalist sentiments to galvanize support against both the incumbent government and India. By framing India as a meddlesome external actor undermining Bangladesh’s sovereignty and democratic aspirations, the BNP seeks to rally disenfranchised segments of the population, including hardline Islamist groups such as Jamaat-E-Islami and Hefazat-e-Islam. Through hashtags like #IndiaOut and #BoycottIndia, social media influencers and activists are mobilizing public sentiment against India, amplifying the campaign’s reach and impact.

At the heart of the “India Out” campaign lies a strategic attempt to disrupt Bangladesh’s economic trajectory, which has been synonymous with the Awami League’s governance. Over the past decades, Bangladesh has witnessed remarkable economic growth, transitioning from a struggling nation to a lower-middle-income country. Central to this progress has been the strengthening economic ties with India, exemplified by robust bilateral trade and collaborative infrastructure projects.

Bangladesh’s economic transformation has been nothing short of remarkable, with the country poised to graduate from the United Nations’ Least Developed Countries (LDC) list by 2026. Under the visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has embraced ambitious development agendas such as Vision 2041, aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and elevating the country to upper-middle-class status by 2030. Key to realizing these goals is sustained economic growth, facilitated in part by the country’s burgeoning trade relations with India.

India’s geographical proximity to Bangladesh naturally positions it as a crucial economic partner, with bilateral trade between the two nations witnessing exponential growth in recent years. Bangladesh has emerged as India’s primary trade partner in South Asia, while India ranks as Bangladesh’s second-largest trade partner in Asia. The symbiotic nature of this relationship is underscored by the fact that India is Bangladesh’s foremost export destination in the continent, with approximately US$ 2 billion worth of Bangladesh exports to India recorded in FY 2022-23.

The economic ramifications of the “India Out” campaign cannot be understated. By calling for the boycott of Indian goods and advocating for the severance of economic ties with India, the BNP risks derailing Bangladesh’s economic progress and undermining the very foundations of its development agenda. The disruption of bilateral trade and collaborative infrastructure projects could have far-reaching consequences, potentially impeding Bangladesh’s path towards sustainable development and prosperity.

Beyond the realm of domestic politics, the “India Out” campaign serves as a conduit for the BNP to forge alliances on the international stage. By courting China and other potential allies, the BNP aims to counterbalance India’s influence and bolster its own geopolitical standing. However, this strategic pivot towards China risks alienating traditional allies and exacerbating regional tensions.

Moreover, the campaign’s potential to pave the way for Pakistan’s involvement in Bangladesh’s affairs poses significant security concerns, further complicating the geopolitical landscape of the region. In essence, the “India Out” campaign is not merely a domestic political maneuver but a multifaceted strategy with far-reaching implications for Bangladesh’s relations with its neighbors and global powers.

The launch of the “India Out” campaign following Sheikh Hasina’s victory in the January elections has underscored the complexities of Bangladesh’s geopolitical dynamics. While the BNP seeks to challenge the ruling government through anti-India sentiments, the ramifications of this campaign extend beyond the domestic sphere. By targeting India’s economic relations and geopolitical influence, the BNP risks destabilizing Bangladesh’s economy and regional dynamics.

As Bangladesh navigates these turbulent waters, it must tread carefully, balancing the imperatives of domestic politics with the exigencies of economic development and regional stability. Ultimately, the fate of the “India Out” campaign will hinge not only on its domestic resonance but also on its broader implications for Bangladesh’s place in the global arena.

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