Former Indian president Pranab Mukherjee has advised Awami League supremo and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to field at least 25 Hindu candidates in the parliament polls due in Bangladesh this year.
Top Awami League sources told Northeast Now that Mukherjee discussed electoral prospects with Hasina during his recent visit to Bangladesh in some detail.
“One of his advice was to Hasina was to field more Hindu candidates and make more Hindu ministers if Awami League returned to power,” said an influential Awami League minister, but on condition of anonymity.
Hindus are between 10 to 11 percent of Bangladesh’s population and quite as much of the country’s electorate. But they are a decisive factor in 50 to 55 of the 300 parliament seats.
Awami League ministers say if the Hindus support the Awami League wholeheartedly as they usually do, the ruling party can make a clean sweep of these 50 to 55 seats. That would mean they can come to power if they win 100 to 105 of the remaining 245 to 250 seats.
It is reliably learnt that Awami League leaders are upset with the Indian legislation that seeks to provide Hindus coming to India after 1971 with citizenship.
“If the Hindus are attracted by this impending legislation to leave Bangladesh, the Awami League will lose its surest vote bank,” says Shamsul Arefin, author of a magnum opus on Bangladesh elections and head of the think tank Bangladesh Peace Research.
It works well for Awami League if Assamese parties and groups like AGP oppose the legislation in Assam and finally its ally BJP to drop it or cold storage by sending it to a parliament select committee.
“It is convergence of political interests. If AGP, AASU and like-minded groups managed to pressurize the BJP to back off from this legislation, the Awami League is relieved of possible communal fallout in Bangladesh,” said a senior Bangladesh diplomat in India.
BNP leaders, aware of India’s clout in Bangladesh, have been trying to reach out to BJP-RSS, assuring them of fielding at least 50 Hindu candidates and making 5 ministers if they win.
So Mukherjee’s advice to Hasina is meant to ensure (a) the BJP-RSS dispensation continues to back the Awami league in Bangladesh politics (b) win over the Hindu voters in Bangladesh by fielding effective and popular candidates (c) help the Awami League get over the loss of support amongst Hindus due to push-out of Chief Justice S K Sinha, the first Hindu to hold such a high office.
Mukherjee has also advised Hasina to field young and popular Hindu candidates who can not only browbeat other Hindu candidates fielded by BNP and Jatiya Party or the new Bangladesh Janata Party. The idea is to have a new genre of tough Hindu leaders who not only sure victory for Awami League but also emerge as the nodal point for resistance against radical Islamists during riots and breakdown of law and order.
So Mukherjee has pitched for candidates like Ajay Sarkar in Khulna, Shyamal Roy in Brahmanbaria and Sujit Roy Nandi in Chandpur. Sarkar is so much more popular than present MP Narayan Chanda and is known to be a tough leader, as is Shyamal Roy who can replace existing law minister Anisul Huq who has let down the Awami League and upset Hindus by his mishandling of the Chief Justice issue. Sujit Roy Nandi can replace Dipu Moni in Chandpur and the former foreign minister can be moved to Dhaka-7 with a strong Hindu vote bank, but if Moni insists on co contesting from Chandpur, Roy Nandi can be moved to Dhaka-7.
A list of 20 young Awami League politicians like Kushtia’s rising leader Sufi Farooq has been handed over to Hasina to be groomed as future leaders . India wants former Tajjuddin’s son Sohel Taj to be projected as the future leader alongwith Sajeeb Wajed Joy and Radwan Mujib Siddique, sons of Sheikh Hasina and sister Sheikh Rehana . Joy is PM’s Infotech adviser, Siddique heads the party’s Center for Research & Innovation.
India feels this triumvirate should take charge of party after this year’s election because Hasina is ailing. Sohel Taj is hugely popular with Bangladesh’s Gen Next, Joy is a technocrat with definite ideas of modernization and Siddique (Bobby to friends) is a suave backroom political strategist who loves playing long term.
“They form the nucleus of a future collective leadership for Awami League,” says Bangladesh watcher Jayanta Ray.
Mukherjee has also asked Hasina to effect key changes in army and police and other security forces. In keeping with previous Indian advice to secure these forces with loyal and efficient officers, Mukherjee has pitched for Moklesur Rahman as the country’s police chief, going against Hasina’s preference for Javed Patowari wbo helped Hasina compile a Rojnamcha (political diary) with key documents. Patowari is seen by Indian analysts as pro-BNP, unlike Moklesur Rahman who distinguished himself by successfully ensuring conviction in 2004 Chittagong Arms Case and other key trials like the 2004 bomb attack on Hasina’s rally.
Mukherjee has also pitched for Lt Gen Aziz as the next army chief and not Lt Gen Mahfuz who is considered as a front runner now.
The Awami League leaders want these two as head of Bangladesh army and police.
It is believed Mukherjee has handed over a comprehensive list of officials to be changed and new ones to be installed well ahead of elections. “These are Indian choices, not Mukherjee’s, but has been communicated through him,” said a top Awami League leader.
Mukherjee has also advised Hasina to forget past differences and appoint Industry Minister Amir Hussain Amu as the next Home Minister and Mashiur Rahman as the adviser in charge of Home affairs. Delhi is upset with present Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal who recently met BNP leader Rafiqul Islam in Zurich between January 1 and 5.
The meeting raised eyebrows in ruling party circles as well. Kamal is also considered as inefficient and his conduct is often becoming of a Home Minister. Amu is seen as a master organizer, knows the party organization like the palm of his hands, but is also capable of command and control of security forces and administration. Amu, Rahman and political advisor H T Imam are seen as the core team to pull the party through the polls.