Being pro or anti-India has been a paradox in the politics of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which assumed an intriguing new dimension after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Bangladesh. Ever since Modi won the Lok Sabha polls last year and took power in the world's biggest democratic country, BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia has struggled endlessly to square up her "position" between the twists and turns of politics in her own country and the biggest neighbor.
Putting aside BNP's ever known anti-India stance, Khaleda declared before Modi's visit that her party was not anti-India and warmly welcomed the Indian premier on his maiden visit to Bangladesh. The ruling Awami League, known for its long running "friendship" with former ruling Indian Congress and getting friendlier with Modi's BJP government, raised eyebrows over Khaleda's sudden India-friendly gesture. Political analysts said Khaleda was eager to book a place in Modi's heart by stoking his "hidden anger" over AL's closeness with Congress and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's very good understanding with successive Indian governments.
BNP managed a time slot for Khaleda Zia to meet Modi despite his busy schedule in Dhaka. They met at the hotel where Modi was staying and had "one on one' meeting during which Khaleda offloaded her anger against Sheikh Hasina's government, branding it illegal and alleging that democracy has been absent in Bangladesh since AL won a "voterless" parliament election in January 2014 by "fraud." Khaleda earlier made similar accusations about the polls that her party and allies had boycotted, hoping for support for her demand for an early election supervised by a non-party caretaker authority.
She made the same plea to foreign leaders across the globe and to the UN, EU and others but made no headway. None of them responded, rather they advised Khaleda to give up violence and snap ties with the radical anti-independence party Jamaat-e-Islam. Somewhat blunt faced, the BNP chief lastly turned to Modi believing that his personal charisma as a South Asian leader and BJP's anti-Muslim policy that fits well against AL's policy of secularism would give a new mileage in her futile campaign to drive Sheikh Hasina from power.
But following her conversation with Modi, it was known that she also failed to convince the Indian PM about her political agenda. Instead, Modi reportedly asked her some embarrassing questions about internal politics that Khaleda Zia could not answer satisfactorily.
After Modi had left ending his two-day visit to Dhaka, Khaleda and BNP both expressed happiness over their talks and also welcomed many deals he had signed with Sheikh Hasina, including the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA). Khaleda said Modi's visit would enhance BD-India ties and the deals would be beneficial to both people.
However, as the media in both countries came out with more details of the Modi-Khaleda talks, it appeared more embarrassing for the BNP leader. Some of her party leaders said she went to meet Modi without consulting BNP policy makers and with no agenda other than venting her loathing for the incumbent Bangladesh government. Modi listened to her but gave no hint if he was buying what she had been saying. This frustrated many BNP stalwarts and also dismayed the party's grassroots, BNP insiders said.
Taking the cue, Khaleda now says the deals done with India would harm the people of Bangladesh and they did not reflect "friendship but amounts to slavery." She has played the slavery card many times before - while Bangladesh's image in the region and across the world has gone up and up. This further frustrated BNP and its partners in the 20-party alliance.
Modi dropped a clear message to Khaleda Zia that BJP or Indian government does not support Islamic radicalism, pointing to BNP's ties with the Jamaat-e-Islami. He praised Sheikh Hasina's government for helping India to tackle separatist insurgency in the north-east and being supportive in all regional and international forums. The LBA, signed 41 years after it had been agreed in 1974, added a new milestone in bilateral ties between the two neighbours. Modi went back with a broader smile - though one very critical issue of sharing water from the common river Teesta remained still unresolved. These further frustrated and infuriated Khaleda Zia - who appears to be losing hold on her own party due to policy differences - that now has caused her to take an anti-India stance again.
Political analysts say Khaleda's quick shifts in stance over India will do her more harm than any good because many in the BNP also want good friendly ties with India - not just in words but in practice. They are also annoyed because what they say the BNP Chairperson has been acting on the advice of her exiled elder son Tarique Rahman, BNP's senior Vice Chairman, bypassing others, some of whom were close lieutenants of his father and Khaleda's late husband General Ziaur Rahman, the country's first military dictator and founder of the BNP.
The BNP leaders say they are unable to understand Khaleda's recent gestures, especially about ties with India, and also her trumpeted plan to restructure BNP with "genuine" leaders. The genuinity test will most likely be taken by Tarique, Khaleda's likely political heir who has already drawn swords at "old and sick" party leaders and asked his mother to get rid of them.
Overall, analysts say, Khaleda is now in a difficult zone, desperate to save her party and herself while preparing for another battle for power - no earlier than 2019. Sheikh Hasina and her party have rejected Khaleda's demand for early elections and say she must wait for the next train (in 2019).