by Ashish Kumar Singh & Kamruzzaman
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit (June 21-24) to the United States was expected to deepen and diversify ties between the two countries. According to Bangladeshi media, this visit was also significant for Bangladesh. The news of Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States was widely covered by the mainstream media. Recently, the United States imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite police force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and its seven officials, signaling a shift in Bangladesh’s foreign policy toward a fair national election in 2024. With Joe Biden as President, democracy and human rights are once again a professed cornerstone of US foreign policy. Bangladesh’s policy has shifted as a result of this. The imposition of sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite police force, the Rapid Actions Battalion (RAB), and its seven officials in December 2021, as well as serious warnings through 2022 and early 2023, clearly revealed that the United States administration is keeping a close eye on Bangladesh (Riaz, 2023a). Since 2016, China’s growing influence in Bangladesh as well as the United States’ focus on the Indo-Pacific region has increased Bangladesh’s geopolitical significance. As a result, the United States appeared to employ a carrot-and-stick approach toward Bangladesh. The United States donated the most COVID-19 vaccines to Bangladesh, but such generosity was accompanied by concerns about the erosion of democracy. These efforts, which did not go through New Delhi, demonstrated that the “US is no longer watching Bangladesh through the Indian lens.” As Bangladesh prepares for an election and the US puts pressure on the Bangladesh government to hold a free and fair election, discussions about India’s role in Bangladesh have resurfaced. Since the United States announced its new visa policy to support a free and fair election and democracy in Bangladesh on May 24, 2023, the public debate in Bangladesh and in the media has centered on two questions: whether India will continue its unqualified support for the Hasina regime and whether there will be a divergence between the United States and India’s position on Bangladesh’s democratic future. In the event of such a split, whoever wins will likely determine the course of Bangladeshi politics for the foreseeable future (Riaz, 2023b).
According to the Daily Prothom Alo, Modi will play significant roles in exchanging his views on Bangladesh’s national election and new visa policy. The new US visa policy aimed at ensuring free and fair elections in Bangladesh has heightened political tensions in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden will openly discuss the issue (Bandyopadhyay, 2023). The relentless US election pressure, as reflected in the new US visa policy, is not only a source of concern for Bangladesh, but has also caused some discomfort in India. The implementation of this policy, its potential impact on South Asian geopolitics, and the issue of election-related regional stability are all sources of concern for India. Political and diplomatic circles in India and Bangladesh have had several discussions about the US’s new policy. Bangladesh has been assured that Prime Minister Modi will discuss this issue with President Biden during his upcoming visit (Bandyopadhyay, 2023). The Business Standard, a well-known English newspaper in Bangladesh, reports that Modi’s visit to the United States has nothing to do with Bangladeshi politics. Obaidul Quader, the minister of road transport and bridges, is quoted in this newspaper.
The visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States has nothing to do with Bangladeshi politics. Quader also stated that the US visa policy will be implemented in order to ensure free and fair elections in Bangladesh, and that the Indian Prime Minister has no say in the matter because India is a democratic country. Although India is a true friend of Bangladesh, there is no reason to believe that they will put us [Awami League] in power. Obaidul Quader also stated that the Awami League is unconcerned about what Modi’s visit to the United States has to do with the Bangladesh elections (The Business Standard, 2023). India has no say in the debate between two independent and sovereign countries. In that sense, India believes that whatever is going on between the United States and Bangladesh is between those two countries. That is why India has not issued an official statement regarding the new visa policy and US election pressure. India has repeatedly stated that it is up to the people of Bangladesh to vote for and support the parties of their choice. India does not and will not violate such rights. However, because Bangladesh’s political patterns have a direct impact on India, it cannot turn a blind eye. That is why India is naturally interested in regional and geopolitical developments (Bandyopadhyay, 2023).
Kalerkantho is a prominent Bangla newspaper in Bangladesh. It discusses Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen’s statement that “there is no need for Bangladesh’s advocacy regarding the Modi-Biden meeting.” In terms of the next national election, the Foreign Minister did not prioritize Modi’s visit. According to the United States, the government is committed to holding a free and fair election in the country. He stated that all political parties must demonstrate sincerity and commitment to ensure a free and fair election. India is a fully developed democratic country. Bangladesh is also a democratic South Asian country (Kalerkantho, 2023). Despite the heated debate in the media, there has been no official word from New Delhi on the new US policy or the growing tension between the US and Bangladesh. New Delhi has remained deafeningly silent. Unlike in 2014, India is keeping the US-Bangladesh conflict out of the public eye (Riaz, 2023a). India’s reaction to the imposition of sanctions on RAB was muted, though Bangladesh sought India’s assistance in overturning the decision. Many people wondered if New Delhi had been consulted on the matter, and there is no evidence that New Delhi ever raised the issue with Washington (Dhaka Tribune, 2022). India is not opposed to US pressure on Bangladesh, which it recognizes will make Hasina more vulnerable and reliant on India to act as an intermediary between Bangladesh and the US, as well as a countervailing force to China (Anwar, 2023). The more vulnerable the Dhaka regime is, the more clout New Delhi has (Riaz, 2023a).
The Daily Star covers the news about Modi’s visit to the United States. According to their news coverage, the visit is expected to expand cooperation between the two countries in the defense industry and high technology sectors, with India gaining access to critical technologies that Washington rarely shares with non-allies. This special invitation reflects the vigor and vitality of the partnership between two democratic nations. This news coverage also mentions that Modi’s visit coincides with differences between Washington and New Delhi regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Daily Star, 2023).
The Dhaka Tribune covers Modi’s visit to the United States under the headline Modi to talk tech, trade on US visit. This newspaper focuses on the two countries’ trade policies. India’s massive market and potential as a replacement for China-dependent supply chains make it appealing, but its ties with Moscow continue to irritate Washington. Two democracies will work together to secure global technology infrastructure, establish governance standards, and combat techno-authoritarianism” in fields such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics. The Dhaka Tribune was founded in 2023.
The United States is India’s largest trading partner in goods and services, and the two countries work closely in science and technology, education, health, defense, and security. The initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies has added new dimensions and broadened collaboration between the two countries in the defense industrial cooperation, space, telecom, quantum, artificial intelligence, and biotech sectors. Two countries are also working together to advance our common vision of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific (Daily Sun, 2023).
The relationship between India and the United States is complicated. Both countries emphasize strategic interdependence, which is reflected in their close cooperation through various multilateral frameworks, the Indo-Pacific strategy, and bilateral engagement in defense and trade. However, in recent years, the United States has focused on India’s own democratic erosion. Furthermore, some are questioning India’s foreign policy’s dependability and whether India is a safe bet for the US against China. Whether or not the Bangladesh issue will be discussed at the Biden-Modi meeting. When compared to other pressing issues around the world, as well as several other areas of disagreement between the US and India, Bangladesh may appear less significant, but larger geopolitical considerations pertaining to the Indo-Pacific region undoubtedly demand that Bangladesh be given attention. It is incumbent on the US to assure India that it will keep its promise to defend Bangladesh’s democracy, and that its broader South Asian policy will not be shaped by its relationship with New Delhi. It will be interesting to see how India manages the tension between its global aspirations and regional preferences.
Anwar, A. (2023, January 1). As US, China Fight Over Bangladesh, India Is the Real Winner. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2023/01/as-us-china-fight-over-bangladesh-india-is-the-real-winner/
Bandyopadhyay, S. (2023, June 18). Bangladesh to feature in Modi’s discourse. ProthomAlo. https://en.prothomalo.com/international/india/pmqecc0jro
“Momen: Delhi’s support sought after US sanctions on RAB”. (2022, April 26). Dhaka Tribune. https://www.dhakatribune.com/nation/2022/04/26/momen-delhis-support-sought-after-us-sanctions-on-rab
“Modi heads to US to deepen ties”.(2023, June 21). The Daily Star. https://www.thedailystar.net/news/asia/india/news/modi-heads-us-deepen-ties-3351821
“Modi to talk tech, trade on US visit”(2023, July 20). Dhaka Tribune. https://www.dhakatribune.com/world/2023/06/20/modi-to-talk-tech-trade-on-us-visit
“Modi leaves for US, says ‘together we stand stronger in meeting shared global challenges”.(2023, June 20). The Daily Sun.https://www.daily-sun.com/post/696053/Modi-leaves-for-US-says-together-we-stand-stronger-in-meeting-shared-global-challenges
“No need for Bangladesh’s advocacy regarding Modi-Biden meeting” (2023, June 24). The Daily Kalerkantho.https://www.kalerkantho.com/english/online/national/2023/06/19/54130
Riaz, A. (2023a, June 6). What the new US visa policy for Bangladesh means. Atlantic Council.https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/southasiasource/what-the-new-us-visa-policy-for-bangladesh-means/
Riaz, A. (2023b, June 15). Bangladesh election 2024: What role will India play? Atlantic Council. Retrieved from: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/southasiasource/bangladesh-election-2024-what-role-will-india-play/
“Modi’s visit to US has no connection with politics of Bangladesh: Quader”. (2023, June 20). The Business Standard.https://www.tbsnews.net/bangladesh/politics/no-outside-force-can-influence-elections-quader-653270
(Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate of Political Science at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. Kamruzzaman is a Monitoring and Documentation Coordinator for the LAMB-UNFPA FRRei Project in Bangladesh.)