The ruling Awami League-led coalition’s landslide victory in Bangladesh’s general elections will give Sheikh Hasina her third consecutive term as prime minister. The ‘Grand Alliance’, as the coalition is known, has won 288 of the 300 parliamentary seats that were contested. Another 50 seats are reserved for women and allotted to parties based on their electoral performance. Thus, the AL-led coalition will overwhelmingly dominate the new parliament. Its victory is not surprising. Under the AL government, GDP has grown at an annual rate of 6% over the past decade and has worked in Hasina’s favour.
Additionally, Hasina has been systematically weakening her rivals. The chances of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) were crippled from the start as former prime minister and BNP chief Khaleda Zia and other leaders are in jail. Their absence during the election campaign cost the BNP dearly. Senior lawyer and secular politician Kamal Hossain, who was once a close ally of Hasina, led the opposition charge in the elections but failed to make an impact. The AL’s victory is its biggest ever. However, its triumph in what was a virtual one-horse race is a tainted one as the AL has been accused of misusing State apparatus to its benefit during the campaign, and stuffing ballot boxes and intimidating voters on polling day.
India has welcomed the AL’s return to power. It has been sensitive to India’s security concerns over the past decade. For instance, it cracked down on anti-India terrorist groups taking sanctuary on its soil and thus contributed to the success of India’s counter-insurgency efforts in the North-East. Such support from Dhaka can be expected to continue. However, several issues could prove troublesome in the coming years. One is the sharing of the waters of the River Teesta. Although New Delhi and Dhaka are said to have agreed on the issue, domestic politics in India is standing in the way of an agreement being signed. Disputes over water turn emotional easily and India should sign the agreement with Dhaka to prevent the issue from roiling bilateral ties with Bangladesh. The politics of illegal migration in Assam, which the BJP has stirred up for electoral gain, could gather momentum in the run-up to the Indian general elections, putting additional strain on bilateral relations.
While AL governments have been friendly with India, Delhi should not take this friendship for granted, especially in the context of China’s deepening economic and defence ties with Bangladesh. Dhaka is part of the Belt and Road Initiative. So far, it has avoided excessive dependence on China by drawing on Indian and Japanese support, too, for infrastructure projects. Any insensitivity on Delhi’s part could push Dhaka into China’s embrace.