As crisis in Maldives is in full throttle, a new one is brewing right besides another neighbourhood in the east.
Bangladesh is seething with protests, is on the verge of full blown riots and uncertainty looms in the opposition space of its political circles.
Khaleda Zia, the former PM of Bangladesh and the chief of Bangladesh Nationalist Party or BNP was sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment related to an embezzlement case. She along with her son was charged for a financial misappropriation related to an orphanage and this episode has thrown her political future in to its impending darkness. BNP was quick to announce her son, Tarique Rahman as the successor, although he too has been convicted of the same charges. The sentencing has sent shockwaves across Bangladesh and its ramifications will be felt not just domestically but also around the region.
How will Zia's conviction impact the much volatile nature of the Bangladesh politics?
Firstly, direct impact of 'sentencing tsunami' will be on the prospects of Khaleda Zia in contesting national elections which are scheduled in December. In accordance with the Bangladeshi law, Zia may be barred from fighting elections as the sentencing is more than two years. This will prevent her from holding or vouching for any office during parliamentary polls. Nevertheless, she can appeal in the higher courts and apply for a stay, which may squash the conviction and grant her reprieve.
With judicial process in the midst, Zia's political future hangs in tumultuous balance. If disallowed, BNP may imitate a rampage on the streets, although electorally it will certainly benefit PM Hasina Sheikh of the Awami League, who is facing severe anti incumbency and expected loss of popular support over the years
Secondly, in lieu with Zia's uncertain direction and possible end to her political career, PM Sheikh Hasina's stature and dominance will be instantaneously strengthened.
It's important to note that BNP and its staunch ally Jamaat -e- Islami had ordered a blockade in 2014 on the eve of general elections. After failing to get their demands of holding polls under a neutral govt, BNP boycotted the elections which gave Sheikh Hasina an easy victory. These next five years helped PM Hasina to consolidate power like never before where the press was muzzled, more authoritarianism was demonstrated and the opposition virtually was tormented. Another bout of BNP and Zia not contesting general elections will hand over more power to Hasina on a platter to rule for the next five years with ease.
Thirdly, Bangladesh will head towards an internal turmoil. As seen during the blockade enforced in 2014, much public property was destroyed and more than hundred people were reportedly killed under the guise of violent protests by BNP and its supporters.
Another bout of fresh violence will terrorize Bangladesh. Economy will have to bear the cascading effects of worsening law and order situation. This may eventually even embolden Islamic groups to seize the opportunity and carry terrorist attacks to further push the country into more chaos and instability. The news of arrest has already thrown the country on an edge where more political demonstrations and protests are expected, many individuals have been injured in clashes and the police is on a high alert.
Fourthly, bipolarity of Bangladeshi politics may exhibit a sea change towards a unipolar formation. National politics in Dhaka has been a power struggle between the two queens of polity. Both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina are descendants of erstwhile Bangladeshi independence era leaders and have imbibed similar dictatorial pursuits of its fascist forefathers. Their rivalry began in 1991, when Khaleda Zia stormed to power for the first time and then in succession and in alteration, the power scuffle between the warring begums has been bloody and revengeful. With Zia in the dock and even her son and political heir embroiled in the orphanage scandal, the ability of BNP to mount a come back seems difficult. There are other charges of corruption too with respect to Zia. The opposition space occupied by BNP will become rudimentary without an actual representation and mandate. This will make Hasina Sheikh more powerful than ever before and bipolarity embedded in the national politics will cease to exist.
Lastly, how will newly emerged internal problems of Dhaka's affect its relationship with New Delhi?
Khaleda Zia recently accused PM Hasina of selling her country to India which came at the time of her visit to Delhi and meeting PM Modi.
India has enjoyed an exceptionally cordial and warm association with PM Hasina. The relations are expected to grow even as a cautious New Delhi is silently observing the developments towards east. Although, PM Hasina is staunchly pro-Indian, very recently the Chinese had tried to hobnob with Dhaka by handing over an aid of 26 billion dollars, investing in Chittagong port and selling two submarines. Nevertheless, PM Hasina is expected to draw a line and keep a strategic distance in lieu with maintaining good relations with India. Sri Lanka’s problems with the Chinese in developing a port and the subtle attempts by Beijing to make it into a military base must also be somewhere at the back of Hasina’s mind. On the other hand, even if the tilt is towards Hasina, New Delhi will be bothered about the possibility of no opposition in Bangladesh and may be slightly vary of an all-powerful PM Hasina. With respect to the possibility of Zia in power, she would have furthered relations with the Chinese for their subtle outreach. Zia in the past has harboured Chinese inclinations in her foreign policy and this has annoyed the Indian side. India meanwhile had her own set of problems with Zia such as her tactical support to Islamic militancy and granting protection to North East separatist leaders. All said and done, burning streets of Dhaka has certainly made New Delhi take a stock of the situation and it will be monitoring the emanating outcome.
Khaleda Zia has denied allegations of corruption and has termed it as a political vendetta. Meanwhile, PM Hasina has welcomed the court’s decision and remarked it as a 'punishment for all her past wrong doings'
The war of words will always stay but hopefully the condition on the ground won't further surge into a major conflict. With nearly three decades of rivalry taking its twists and turns, the people of Bangladesh are watching as their future continues to be a pawn in the hands of two politically ambitious ladies. Meanwhile, another mightier Maldives seems to have emerged for New Delhi as it continues to wait and watch.