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Bangladesh: Sheikh Hasina sworn in as Prime Minister

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Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina has been sworn in as prime minister of Bangladesh for the third time along with her 48-member cabinet. This is Hasina’s third stint as Prime Minister since 1996 when she became the head of government for the first time after Bangladesh returned to democracy from a prolonged military rule. Hasina’s Awami League had won two-thirds majority in the January, 5, 2013 parliament election held amid massive violence and boycott by the opposition parties.

Elections were marred by clashes and boycott: There were violent clashes between opposition activists and police during Bangladesh’s general election, amid a boycott by the opposition. The squabbling between Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia become a bitter sideshow as both women, who have dominated Bangladeshi politics for two decades, vie to lead the country. A key factor in the latest dispute was the role of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic political party. The party is a key ally of Zia, and was a coalition partner in the government Zia led from 2001 to 2006. As Bangladeshis has got the same faces from the last government to form the next one, their real concern will remain the violence. Legitimacy will be the ruling party’s biggest headache, at home and abroad. The election leaves the political crisis exactly where it was before voting started. The key to any possible dialogue between the two rival political camps will hinge on what has so far remained elusive - compromise.Bangladsh.eps

Challenges ahead for the new government in Bangladesh: The foremost challenge for the Shiekh Hasina government will be to tackle the opposition parties in the country that have vowed to continue their protest and have even called for a blockade of roads, rail, and waterways to put pressure on the new government. The life of the new government in Bangladesh depends on the cooperation of the opposition parties. Some fear that the new government will be short-lived since Hasina faces a deepening political crisis and mounting calls for new polls from the international community and the opposition. Another significant challenge for the new government will be to reform the policy of the security forces, which needs to be undertaken in a more comprehensive manner. Though the Islamist extremists have not carried out any major strikes in last few years, it will be not be right to say that they have been completely wiped out. One should keep in mind that the militant outfits like JMB and HuJI-B have the capacity to undertake major attacks since reports suggest that the JMB has gone for a major recruitment drive. Over the years, the Sheikh Hasina government has achieved dramatic success in containing extremist forces in Bangladesh. However, the corrosive nature of violent and disruptive street mobilisation by political parties like BNP and its allies supported by JeI has the potential to destroy the tenuous stability that has been secured after decades of disorder. Bangladesh has made very steady gains, but is still at risk of sliding back if the government wavers even slightly.

Will Sheikh Hasina government further improve ties with India: It can definitely be hoped that the new government in Bangladesh will try to resolve all the pending issues with India, including the Land Boundary Agreement. Sheikh Hasina has already expressed hope that she wants good relations with India with the interest to fight poverty and enhance mutual benefits. On the other hand, India has also denounced the bloodshed, and has said that the Bangladesh polls were a constitutional requirement and the democratic processes must be allowed to take their own course in the country.

India' Foreign Policy: India has longstanding ties to the Awami League, which New Delhi installed in power following its military intervention into the 1971 uprising against Pakistan that led to the formation of Bangladesh. India is also satisfied with the Awami League's help in cracking down on various separatist movements in India's North-east. In late 2009, Dhaka police arrested banned insurgent outfit United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) chairman and founder Arabinda Rajkhowa, whose organisation wants to establish a separate statelet in Assam. A Bangladesh court's landmark decision to award a death sentence to one of India's most wanted fugitives, Paresh Barua, another ULFA founder and alleged mastermind of several terror strikes in Assam. New Delhi plans to take initiatives internationally to counter pressure on Dhaka to hold a fresh election and use its position as a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to work against any move to designate the elections "undemocratic". India should support Bangladesh - the nation, and not any particular party. It has suffered reverses by following the latter policy in Nepal (Sushil Koirala's Nepali Congress Party) and Maldives (President Mohammad Waheed). It must fulfil its promises to Bangladesh, such as ratifying the Land Border Agreement and clearing the Teesta Water settlement, that have been languishing for far too long, reducing India's reliability in the eyes of all neighbours. India can help recovery of Bangladesh's textile exports that have fallen 50 per cent in the past 3 months due to violence. It must encourage investments by Indian IT and telecom firms in Bangladesh. It needs to hasten construction of infrastructure and highway corridors connecting mainland India with Bangladesh and India's North-east all the way to East Asia and ASEAN nations.