US calls for fresh polls in Bangladesh, India reacts cautiously

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Awami League's Sheikh Hasina

Dhaka:  The United States has said Sunday's polls in Bangladesh were not credible and it wants fresh elections in that country. In contrast, India has said the elections were part of its neighbour's internal and Constitutional process. New Delhi is reportedly backing current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as it is wary of opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia's stand on extremist groups.

But the Ms Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) today welcomed the second part of India's statement that said it was for the people to decide who their representative should be. Predictably, the party also welcomed the US' stand, while the ruling Awami League is unhappy about it.

"US and other friends who are talking of fresh elections, I think they should come forward in a very strong way and talk to the BNP leaders and force them to stop violence and come forward for constructive talks," said Hasanul Haq Inu, Bangladesh's Information Minister.

His party is also just slightly happier with India's stand. "India has said elections in Bangladesh are a constitutional requirement. We appreciate the Indian position," he added.

Ms Zia is under house arrest, BNP claims, and unable to react to global views on the polls. But her party's spokesperson welcomed both the US' reaction and, surprisingly, India's as well.

"It is a logical step on part of the US to ask for fresh elections. India's statement, too, has a positive element," said Shamsher K Chowdhury, Vice Chairman, BNP.

India is a major factor in Bangladesh's politics. Over the years, it has tended to side with the Awami League as Sheikh Hasina has been seen to respond more positively to its concerns over the neighbouring country being used by terrorists and insurgents to launch attacks on its soil . Ms Zia's response, meanwhile, is viewed as less proactive.

"During BNP's rule, they were harbouring terrorists, religious militants and international terrorists across the country," said Mr Inu, adding, "That affected India's internal position to some extent," he added.

"Sheikh Hasina believes poking one's nose into internal matters of other countries is against the foreign policy and the constitution of Bangladesh. So when she came to power, she took special care to dismantle the terrorist hubs in this country," he also said.

What happens next in Bangladesh will be closely watched, especially by India. New Delhi cannot strongly support an unpopular election. But it also doesn't want Bangladesh to slip into the hands of a BNP that is in coalition with the Jamaat-e-Islami, a party that Sheikh Hasina has publicly termed as a terrorist group.


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