The ruling Awami League’s landslide victory in the recently-concluded general elections in Bangladesh has paved the way for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s fourth consecutive term in office. After her election win, Sheikh Hasina remembered close ties with India and credited the country for being “a trusted friend”.
India Today TV spoke to Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on the impact of these elections on India-Bangladesh ties, relations with China, and the current diplomatic flashpoint between India and the Maldives.
Here are the excerpts:
Q. What are your observations on the way these elections were concluded? Questions are being raised about the non-participation of the opposition parties and the fairness of the entire process.
This was the most free, fair, transparent and non-violent election in Bangladesh. Highly credible since despite a boycott by smaller groups and the opposition party, people voted en masse. This shows people have again expressed that they have the right to vote and that voting is the only way for the change of a government.
But some people have preconceived notions. There was some violence prior to the election. We also condemned it and our police will take care of it. Nowadays, you have all the CCTV cameras. They can easily identify real culprits. There is no place for violence in politics and no place for terrorists. Terrorists must not be encouraged by anyone.
Q. What would you tell the Western critics who say that now democracy is not stable in Bangladesh?
Democracy is very stable. You have seen the election where 120 million voters voted. This was a real, very competitive election. So, democracy is working in Bangladesh and we are one of the vanguard of democracy in the world. We have set up an example of a free, fair, transparent and credible election.
Q. How are you going to take forward the India-Bangladesh relations?
Our relation is already really solid. It’s not just today, because at our birth, India was the greatest help during our war of independence. They shed blood like us for independence. So we have a historical reason. And then, in recent years, under the leadership of our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we have developed a very good rapport and relationship. PM Modi has termed it as a golden chapter and we want to move forward on it. We have developed a strategic partnership, so we would move further to solidify the relationship between India and Bangladesh and all other neighbours.
Q. There is a flashpoint between India and the Maldives, with three Maldivian ministers making derogatory statements about PM Modi. Your views on that.
In our own value judgement in our society, we normally respect others, and we expect leaders before making any, you know, fictitious or attractive comment. So we think we should honour the dignity and the office.
Q: There is a growing influence of China in the region, be it in the Maldives or in Bangladesh. How do you see this?
This is a wrong perception. We don’t have too much influence of China in Bangladesh. China is a development partner. They have been helping us in some of our projects, either as a contractor or as an expert. But if you look at how much money we have got from China, it is less than 1 per cent of GDP. So, it is nothing.
There is propaganda that Bangladesh is also becoming indebted to China. A country could be in debt of another country if its foreign borrowing is more than 55 per cent. Our total borrowing is only 13.6 per cent. The fear in India is not genuine. China is a friend and a development partner. We are very prudent in receiving any aid or fund. So people should not be afraid that Bangladesh would succumb to the Chinese.
Q. How do you see the effect of CAA getting passed in India? Will it have an impact on Bangladesh?
India has a strong, mature government. Their leadership is mature and they have inherited strong values and traditions. So, for India, this is their problem. India will not do something that will hurt the Indian values and principles. So we are not worried about it.